How The White House controls the story




Barack Obama 8 SCBill Burton is the baby-faced political op with a little too much junk food under his belt—and, at 31, with one of the political world’s longest résumés in media relations—who runs the pressroom at the White House. He’s got possibly the littlest office in the West Wing, but it’s where you want your West Wing office to be, guarding somebody more important than you. Burton is guarding his boss, the president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs—who guards the president—from me. The Obama presidency is striving to be the most open and available in modern history, hence—and I am here on the 98th day—its first 100 days of remarkable staging, including dogs, wife, children, mother-in-law, bailouts, and handshakes and bows with dubious world leaders. But what it doesn’t want to be open about is the staging itself. One of its least favorite subjects is media. As much as the Obama-ites don’t want to be as defensive and recalcitrant as the Bushes were when it came to the press, having methodically reviewed all lessons from recent administrations, they also don’t want to seem as clever, pleased with themselves, and publicity-crazed as the Clintons, who talked endlessly of media strategies—precisely because they are much more clever and publicity-crazed.

Even though I’ve been invited to the White House for a talk with Gibbs, there’s an abrupt cancellation when, after some chitchat with Burton, it becomes clear that my interest is in process rather than, per se, message. And then a kind of sudden vaporization—no Gibbs, according to Marissa Hopkins, his assistant, “for the foreseeable future.”


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