Poor Robert Gibbs. For the second time in the past year, he has had to resort to threats against his hosts to remove Barack Obama from an event, this time in India, where Indian officials attempted to limit the number of reporters allowed into a photo op with Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Gibbs literally had to stick his foot in the door to force the issue:
The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson—who was on White House pool duty Monday and filed the report for theWhite House press corps—wrote that “Gibbs announced loudly and persistently on steps of Hyderabad House that he would pull” President Obama out of the meeting “unless ‘the White House 8,’ as we’ve come to be known, were all allowed in.”
As the discussion continued, Gibbs grew more animated.
“At one point, Gibbs literally had his foot lodged in the closing front door, asking if the Indian security officials pushing hard to shut it were going to break his foot,” Wilson continued. “More angry words ensued, and after Gibbs convinced them, through high volume and repetition, that he was serious” about pulling Obama, the press secretary had the security retinue’s full attention.
Gibbs’ intervention worked: The Indian officials eventually allowed the full American press delegation into the event, along with a larger group of Indian reporters.
This must be what’s known as smart power around the Obama White House, throwing one’s weight around in another country to ensure that more American reporters can take pictures of two men sitting in chairs. As Tommy Christopher reports at Mediaite, that’s all that any of them got from the two world leaders in the end anyway:
After all that, of course, it turns out Gibbs risked his foot for a 60-second photo op, during which neither world leader uttered a syllable.
I asked Gibbs if he had any comment about the incident, and how his foot was feeling. His response (via email):
“We had an agreement to get a certain number of people in to the meeting. We simply stood up for that which is our job. Thankfully they didn’t take me up on closing the door and breaking my foot.”
Tommy thinks that this was an impressive moment for Gibbs, standing up for the press corps. I agree that Gibbs tried his best to help out American reporters in gaining better access. However, isn’t there a sense of proportion missing here? If it was a press conference in which both leaders would be speaking and answering questions, then certainly Gibbs should demand access for the White House press corps. But isn’t a pool report good enough for a 60-second photo op while both leaders remain mute? The Indian officials must have wondered why Gibbs was making such a fuss — and the rest of us should wonder whether Obama would have meekly complied with his press secretary’s demand to insult Singh and India by walking out had India called Gibbs’ bluff.
At least we won’t get a sequel to this episode titled Not Without My Foot.