On The Job: Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

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Robert Gibbs is the chief spokesman for the White House under President Obama. When the press has questions, he's the one who has to answer them. Daily. Gibbs talks with Michele Norris about the job and how he prepared for it.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

BLOCK: Do they give as good as they get?

The press corps always wants more information than the current White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, is willing to reveal. Sometimes there's pushback, sometimes there's sparring. Today, there was humor.

BLOCK: Let me give you a quick run- through of the week ahead. At 6:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, the president will announce his Supreme Court nominee.


BLOCK: Gotcha. I'm done.

: I sat down with Robert Gibbs in his office this week. Yesterday, you heard about policy, today a little bit about work. His desk is stacked with papers and surrounded by cherished photos: his son playing on Sasha and Malia's swing set, and a large photo of President Obama watching Gibbs during his first on-camera White House briefing.

BLOCK: The photographer took that picture, and what I think is so great about it is underneath, you can see on the television, it's actually the very first time I went out to brief. And he's watching, and he called me in right before I went out to wish me good luck. I think he also - I can't see the front of his face, obviously, in that picture because it's taken from behind. My sense is there's an enormous smile on his face. There was enormous happiness in that somebody else was finally doing this, and that he would soon be able to provide me suggestions with how to better phrase things.

: If you were taking a flight someplace and someone sat down next to you, they had never seen a White House briefing, they didn't know anything about this process, and you had to explain to them what you did for a living, how would you describe it?

BLOCK: That's an excellent question. It has been described to me that people - that my job, I'm the human piñata, that for 45 minutes to an hour every day, the White House, on camera and for all the media involved, goes out in the form of me, and answers any question that a journalist might have about the news of the day or any of the policies of this administration.

Despite the fact that it's described as the human piñata, it's far and away the most fun I've ever had. I enjoy it immensely. I think if you didn't enjoy it, it would get old very fast.


: Have you always enjoyed it? Was it fun at the beginning?

BLOCK: It was, it was. I can remember the very first time I went out there. About halfway through, I actually thought to myself, wow, I'm out here doing this. And then I thought I'd better start thinking about what I'm about to say.

It's unique in the sense that there is nothing that happens that involves this administration that somebody doesn't have to go out and talk about. I actually think it's very healthy for our democracy that each and every day, somebody has got to go out and explain to the American people what the president is thinking every day.

: How did you prepare for it?

BLOCK: I talked to a lot of former press secretaries.

: I ask that question because I talked to a former press secretary who said that he wished that he had let people throw bowling bowls at him, and even then he wasn't sure that it would have been enough.


BLOCK: You know, there's no real way to prepare, in all honesty. I mean, I spent time with Joe Lockhart and Mike McCurry and Dana Perino, the most previous press secretary. Each of them gave me advice on how to get ready, but also I think they all understood that there isn't really a way to get ready. The great thing is I have access very clearly to the president and his thinking, and to anybody in this administration, on what the policies of our government are, if I have questions about how decisions have been made.

: Robert Gibbs, thank you very much.

BLOCK: Thank you.

: We've been speaking to Robert Gibbs, press secretary at the White House.

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