Surprising a grand total of no one, former White House Press Sec. Jay Carney will return to the spotlight on Wednesday night in a new role as a political analyst. His first task will be to assess the incredible proficiency with which President Barack Obama delivered his speech on America’s strategy to deal with the ISIS threat. Great speech or greatest speech? The anticipation is pure torture.
“Jay’s unique experience as both a journalist and a White House press secretary make him an invaluable voice for the network as we cover the final two years of the Obama Administration and look ahead to the coming campaigns,” said CNN’s Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist. “We’re fortunate to have Jay on our air tonight to provide analysis and insight surrounding the President’s address to the nation.”
White House press secretaries serve in a role which necessitates having some media savvy, and they are often swept up by cable and network news outlets to serve as commentators when they leave their post in the public sector. Carney’s move is not surprising, and he may end up being a strong analyst. But being a strong analyst means surprising the viewer on occasion with a counterintuitive take or two, that that often means running afoul of a press secretary’s political allies.
For the most part, at least in the early months of a network contributor contract, former press secretaries continue to serve as representatives of their former employer. It takes a bit of time and experience before the spokesperson sheds their instinct to be protective of the administration for which they once flacked.
That does not mean it is an impossible feat to evolve from spokesperson to analysts. Former Obama Press Sec. Robert Gibbs has proven himself to be a persistent critic of the White House when criticism is deserved, and it was particularly warranted during the Obamacare rollout. As an MSNBC contributor, Gibbs irked the White House with his candor.
Gibbs said he believed the administration would eventually do away with the onerous and regularly delayed employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. He said Obama made the “wrong move” when the president repeatedly pledged that all Americans could keep their insurance plans. He preemptively criticized the president for not moving fast enough to jettison those responsible for the launch of HealthCare.gov, even going so far as to call the White House’s inaction “inexplicable.”
A former press secretary can also become an effective and compelling pundit or host by displaying the kind of candor which is an undesired trait in a flack. Fox News Host Dana Perino has exhibited that kind of honesty in her current role. As a Fox contributor, Perino revealed that the Bush White House had essentially frozen out the increasingly left-leaning MSNBC in the later years of the 43rd President’s administration. She also disclosed the George W. Bush’s personal feelings about being so heavily criticized by one of her predecessors, Scott McClellan.
Being a compelling and insightful political analyst and serving as a loyal press secretary are often conflictual roles. Carney, a former reporter, may make a quick transition and shed his instinct to be protective of Obama. But his last briefing as press secretary occurred as recently as mid-June. The notion that Carney is ready to serve as a completely independent political analyst just yet is a dubious prospect.