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Poll: Is Gibbs a defender of the press or an American bully?

Posted by Rob Anderson  November 8, 2010 03:34 PM

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs isn't known for being the most graceful of communicators. Anyone who has watched a White House press briefing knows the man dishes out a fair amount of verbal jabs and cutting remarks. Unsurprisingly, Gibbs hasn't changed his tone while visiting India alongside President Obama — but instead of turning his ire on the press there, Gibbs found himself today defending members of the US media against Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's security team.

An altercation began when security refused to admit some of the reporters slated to cover one of the president's appearances in New Delhi. Here's what went down:

American and Indian officials had agreed to allow a pool of eight American reporters into the beginning of the meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But Indian officials then refused to allow more than five of them to enter. Mr. Gibbs loudly protested and at one point threatened to pull Mr. Obama out of the meeting if the security officials did not relent.

“At one point, Gibbs literally had his foot lodged in the closing front door, asking if the Indian security officials pushing hard to shut it were going to break his foot,” reports Scott Wilson of The Washington Post. “More angry words ensued, and after Gibbs convinced them, through high volume and repetition, that he was serious about pulling POTUS, we all made it inside.”

Reaction back at home has mostly broken down into two camps. Write ups in the New York Times and at CNN, for example, painted Gibbs positively, remarking that the press secretary had "defend[ed] reporters" and calling his move "bold" and "unique."

On the other hand, blogger rivrdog labeled Gibbs the "Chief Bully," and Wonkette mocked the "angry" Gibbs, paraphrasing him this way: "YOU DO NOT TELL AMERICANS THEY CAN HAVE FEWER THINGS THAN THE EXACT NUMBER OF THINGS THEY WANT TO HAVE. USA! USA! USA!"

I think both camps are missing the point: It's Gibbs's job to help journalists get the information they need as soon as they can get it. He isn't brave for doing the thing he's paid to do, but he shouldn't be labeled a bully, either. Gibbs did his job effectively, and, in the end, that's what matters.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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