Gibbs Set To Be Obama's Point Man With The Press

Robert Gibbs, incoming White House press secretary i i

Robert Gibbs sees his new job as a sort of daily high-wire act "without a net." Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Robert Gibbs, incoming White House press secretary

Robert Gibbs sees his new job as a sort of daily high-wire act "without a net."

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Robert Gibbs and President-elect Barack Obama walk to an airplane. i i

Gibbs prepared for his new role by serving as communications director for the Obama presidential campaign. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Robert Gibbs and President-elect Barack Obama walk to an airplane.

Gibbs prepared for his new role by serving as communications director for the Obama presidential campaign.

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

A White House press secretary has to walk a fine line, serving the president as well as the press.

Filling that position for President-elect Barack Obama is Robert Gibbs, a key strategist during the presidential race who explained and defended Obama's message.

Gibbs has the bulk of a football player and if there's anything he loves as much as politics, it's college football.

So right after President-elect Obama held a news conference in Chicago, Gibbs stood outside joking with a reporter. He said Obama is ready to tackle the big issues, including changing the way college football's Bowl Championship Series is run:

"We're ready to solve it," he said. "Social Security and the BCS."

Gibbs was Obama's communications chief during the presidential race and in this new job he knows he will be an even more visible face of the administration during regularly televised briefings:

"Look, the White House press secretary, for better or worse, walks out on a high wire for about 45 minutes a day with no net and if the press secretary has a bad day my guess is the White House has a bad day," Gibbs says. "There's some pressure on that but I'm looking forward to it."

Gibbs began working for Obama in 2004 after he won the Democratic primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. Chicago Sun Times bureau chief Lynn Sweet says Gibbs was among a small group of advisers who began crafting a presidential plan for the senator almost immediately.

Sweet says with that kind of history, Robert Gibbs as White House press secretary was nearly a given:

"The most important thing I think to know about Robert Gibbs is that he is a fierce, fierce protector, defender of President-elect Obama," Sweet says. "And I think it's fair to say that President-elect Obama has a lot of trust in him."

An example of Gibbs' style — and his willingness to confront Obama critics — has become a YouTube sensation on the Web.

During a television appearance last October, Fox News Host Sean Hannity repeatedly tried to tie Obama to 1960s radical Bill Ayers.

Gibbs contended that Hannity's show had run an anti-Obama program featuring a guest who often made anti-Jewish remarks. Therefore, he said — following guilt-by-association logic — perhaps Hannity should be considered an anti-semite.

Robert Gibbs has crafted a name for himself as a keen political strategist at the age of 37. His interest in politics or at least his involvement began when he was much younger. Just ask his mother:

"Yes, both my children were passengers in my car as I did various volunteer jobs for the League of Women Voters in Auburn, Ala.," Nancy Gibbs remembers with a laugh.

Later, the family's dinner conversations about current events and the enthusiasm of a high school government teacher helped influence Gibbs' choice of politics as a vocation. He worked first on congressional campaigns, then Senate races.

Political strategist Jim Jordan hired Gibbs as spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and as press secretary for John Kerry's 2004 run for president.

"He was excellent — always has been and still is — at building close relationships with reporters," Jordan says. "Of understanding what they need to do their jobs. Of finding the right balance between helping reporters and helping his boss and I think that shows up even 'til today."

New York Times Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny says Gibbs' relationship with reporters is mixed:

"There's no question that this campaign controlled information and distributed it on a need to know basis perhaps much more than other campaigns," Zeleny says.

The Obama camp has promised an open and transparent administration. Gibbs says that as White House Press Secretary, he expects to put the promise into practice and to be held accountable if it isn't.

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