Spotlight On Would-Be Obama Press Secretary

President-elect Barack Obama isn't revealing much on White House jobs, but all bets are on senior adviser Robert Gibbs to be tapped as press secretary. Anne Kornblut, a political correspondent at the Washington Post, says Gibbs is a low-key Southerner with a reputation for not losing his cool.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Other than naming his chief of staff, President-elect Barack Obama is not revealing much about who else will staff his White House, but that's not keeping us from guessing. All bets are on Robert Gibbs to serve as Obama's press secretary. Gibbs is one of Obama's top advisers. Anne Kornblut is a political correspondent at the Washington Post. She's been covering the presidential campaign for almost two years and she joins me here on the studio. So glad you're here.

Ms. ANNE KORNBLUT (Political Correspondent, Washington Post): Thank you.

NORRIS: So, why Robert Gibbs?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Gibbs is.

NORRIS: Obvious choice?

Ms. KORNBLUT: He's a very interesting choice and he is somewhat obvious. He's very close to Barack Obama, he has been with him since the 2004 campaign, his Senate campaign, really with him before anybody else in the country knew what a big box star Obama was going to be. And he's traveled with him almost throughout the entire campaign. So there's kind of a mind meld between the two of them. He's got a great sense of humor and he really is able to speak to what's going on in Obama's mind.

NORRIS: He was sort of the head of the communications team in the Obama campaign, but we didn't really hear that much of him or see that much of him in front of the cameras throughout the early stages of the campaign.

Ms. KORNBLUT: He started out as the official communications director and then he got promoted up to sort of a senior counselor, sort of a consigliore who traveled on the road with Obama, would come back on the plane and be the enforcer, that was his nickname among reporters when they were pestering Obama too much or writing things that he didn't like. But he was very much a presence, so even though he wasn't on camera too much, although toward the end we see him a little more. He was very much felt there on the plane.

NORRIS: Now, the job that we're talking about, the White House press secretary is one of the most high pressure jobs in Washington. You sit in this televised briefing every day facing the press pool fielding really difficult questions. Any clues from the campaign as to how he might handle the pressure in the hot seat, or I guess in this case would be the podium.

Ms. KORNBLUT: He's low key, he's a southerner, he's got this great drawl that I think has some people underestimate his intellect and his ability to talk about policy. He may not be as cool under pressure as the candidate himself was. Nobody was. But given that he traveled nonstop, he got a reputation for, you know, although at times being tough on reporters for never really losing his cool certainly not in the way some other campaign staff have.

NORRIS: Is there an example of how he used his sense of humor to diffuse a situation?

Ms. KORNBLUT: He had at the end of the campaign a really interesting exchange with Sean Hannity over a guest that had been on Fox News where he brought out evidence from his jacket pocket saying this guest was an anti-Semite, and he actually turned the interview around on Sean Hannity. I think that's a good example of Gibbs being able to really take command of the podium, do something funny and in that case partisan without being bombarded by the pressure. I mean you're surrounded by partisans, it was there at the debate, I'm sure you remember he was there in the debate spin room. Turning around Sean Hannity's own show on him.

NORRIS: And Sean Hannity was a bit flustered on that.

Ms. KORNBLUT: He was.

NORRIS: He also worked in the John Kerry campaign. Did you cover him during that campaign?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Somewhat, yes.

NORRIS: How has he evolved?

Ms. KORNBLUT: It's an interesting question. He left the Kerry campaign during one of the upheavals early on. It wasn't necessarily a great fit.

NORRIS: He couldn't protest.

Ms. KORNBLUT: He couldn't protest, that's correct, when Jim Jordan was fired as the campaign manager. And earlier on in his career at that point and then part of that when he worked on Senate campaigns, he had a reputation for being a real disher. He would.

NORRIS: A disher. But what does that mean?

Ms. KORNBLUT: Well, leaking information, talking to the reporters about gossip. He's become less of that role. He's in a much more elevated position now, but he certainly knows how to talk to reporters. He gets the game of politics and really loves it as a sport. And he's not that cynical. I mean, in an environment, in a world where people tend to be cynical, I think as the face of the Obama administration early on, he's not one who's going to be cynical about the work that reporters do.

NORRIS: Anne Kornblut, thank you so much for coming in to talk to us.

Ms. KORNBLUT: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was Anne Kornblut of the Washington Post talking about Robert Gibbs, an Obama adviser and reportedly the leading contender for the job of White House press secretary.

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