What Press Secretary Pick Says About Obama and the Media

With former reporter Jay Carney's new administration gig, some decry the D.C. cocktail party circuit, others liberal bias.

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President Obama has named former reporter Jay Carney to be his press secretary, replacing Robert Gibbs. Before he went to work for Joe Biden in December 2008, Carney spent two decades writing for Time magazine, plus several years as a TV talking head. The White House press room has seen few ex-journalists at the podium.

Carney's decision to work for the vice president surprised many Washington reporters, who didn't know he was a Democrat, Politico's Keach Hagey reports. Former journalists have struggled with the job--famously Jerald terHorst, who quit after working for President Ford for a month when he was blindsided by his boss's decision to pardon Richard Nixon. Hagley's colleague's Josh Gerstein sees the appointment as a "radical departure" for the White House, which has had an antagonistic, campaign-style relationship with the press. Still, Gerstein says, while working for Biden, Carney "established a reputation for being feisty and blunt with journalists ... Some saw him as a newcomer trying to prove his bona fides to the campaign clique."

We covered first reactions to the Carney pick yesterday. But now new questions have emerged: What does Carney's appointment mean for Obama? And does it confirm conservatives' long-held suspicions about liberal media bias? And, after reading the opinions below, doesn't D.C. just kinda make your skin crawl?

  • Carney's of the D.C. Cocktail Party Circuit, The Guardian's Michael Tomasky writes.
Carney is a card-carrying and evidently venerated member of The Village, as it's sometimes called: the true A-list of Washington media insiders who go to one another's parties and donate to one another's charities and such, and who, rather less benignly, establish what passes for conventional wisdom in Washington. ... The fact that Carney is liked and respected by the local media probably redounds to the president's benefit on the margins. It's not like anyone in the White House press corps will sit on a juicy story because they like Jay Carney, but they'll maybe give a little more weight to his spin...
  • Obama Is Now an Insider  "Among his other attributes, Jay Carney is a cool dancer," The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman writes.
I know that because I saw him and his wife, Claire Shipman, getting down on the tented dance floor of a fancy Georgetown wedding years ago. Jay Carney, who went to Yale and was a foreign correspondent in Moscow, is -- besides being smart, savvy, loyal and well-connected with the right sort -- suave. Why bring this up? Because by choosing him as his new press secretary, President Barack Obama has completed his swift and thorough transition from crusading outsider to shrewd insider as he prepares to deal with the wild folk of the Tea Party, Karl Rove and the Republican kneecappers, and an electorate still fearful that the world is spinning out of control.
  • Carney Will Keep His Cards Close  "Back when Bush named [Scott] McClellan as his spokesman, Carney told me that while the longtime aide was a very pleasant guy, 'I wouldn't expect the press office to become a treasure trove of hot tips.' That would be good advice for Carney’s ex-colleagues as well," The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz writes. " Carney may prove to be a good sparring partner and valuable source, but he's not about to forget that he's fronting for the president. He will deflect questions, learn a dozen ways to say no comment ... And if he occasionally feels sympathy with those on the outside looking in, he's likely to keep that to himself."
  • Toeing the Liberal Line, Tim Graham writes at News Busters collects several Carney clips from years past that he says prove his bias. "How much of a liberal and Democratic partisan was new White House press secretary James Carney at Time magazine? One clue: "After George W. Bush went jogging with him in 2000, Carney turned around on his fellow Yale alum and 'reported' that 'Bush tore into McCain like a pit bull let loose in a slaughterhouse.' Balance and equanimity were not Carney's style."
  • The Real Press Bias  Carney's appointment, Jonathan Bernstein observes, was announced the same day Obama got two new deputy chiefs of staff and a director of legislative affairs. Those jobs are way more important than press secretary, Bernstein writes, "and certainly isn't most important by an order of magnitude. Yet that's how the press is playing the announcement ... This is pure press bias: the press either believes that the person they spend time with is the most important, or are willing to pretend he is in order to (they hope) get more access."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.