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December 20, 2008

Robert Gibbs, New Face Of The Administration (Or, Lower That Drawbridge!”)

Gibbs portrait.jpg

Between this portrait and the NYT Mag article profiling Obama communications guru, Robert Gibbs, I give him six months, or less, as White House press secretary and podium fixture.

Why? Because Gibbs ultimately is too close to Obama, and vice-versa, to comfortably allow the kind of feigned innocence or deniability his new gig requires.

More significant than that, though, is the fact Gibbs doesn't interact well with reporters and is not one to suffer social graces. Curious, for a major PR piece, and as the incoming Administration's face to the media and the public, Gibbs offers The Times photographer absolutely no social connection, no warmth, no personality. (Oddly, he is not even pretending to look at the paper either.)  Instead, as an information geek who has always been more comfortable in the background, what we see is someone who much prefers the proximity of, and contact with his various communication devices.

I'm was also interested in the presence of the large Callie Shell photo of Obama's worn shoes and feet propped up on the desk. The image of Obama posing that way with those romantically well-worn soles only distances us that much more from Gibbs, highlighting how far from "putting his own feet up" Gibbs appears. In the NYT article, by the way, Gibbs draws two analogies to describe the relationship between the press secretary and the press, one involving a moat, and the other where they connect via drawbridge. Advocating the latter strategy (thank goodness), doesn't the angled desk, reinforced by the circle of communication devices, seem to form something of a moat with the papers and the photograph forming a drawbridge?

If there was one personable and heartening element in the picture, it would be the football, which — although compositionally awkward as it sits too close to Gibbs's work space — is a symbol, nonetheless, of his close connection to Obama, the two being big sports friends, and fantasy sports buddies.

Overall, why a strategically gifted, behind-the-scenes player ends up as press secretary, rather than Communications Director, say, is hard to figure. The Gibbs picture doesn't look all that workable to me.

(There are at least two more items in the picture which caught,  by the way, but which I didn't mention. Any ideas … and analysis?)

From: Between Obama and the Press (NYT Mag)

(image: Brian Ulrich for The New York Times)

  • Dick Durata

    I think that might actually be a basketball. In any case, it is peripheral in the photo.
    He looks like a geek; the tie is horrible, the shoulder is puffed up by the ill-fitting jacket, and the hair detracts rather than adds to his presence. He seems to be looking at another computer monitor, not a human being.
    Flattering it ain’t.

  • MS

    Perhaps Gibbs is the right person for the job because Obama interacts directly with the press — and more to the point, he interacts quite directly with the rest of us. So perhaps Obama does not need a warm and fuzzy intermediary to shmooze up to the media (who are reputed to like Gibbs very well, because he is informed and straightforward).
    What if Gibbs is the face of directness, instead of the face of a tap dance meant to deceive, which is what we have seen now for so many years.
    In the photo, I notice all the gizmos: 3 computers and at least 3 phones. (Are we playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ to find the hidden items in our view?)

  • demit

    I think it’s a television that Gibbs is watching. The blue glare on the cabinets behind him doesn’t seem to be coming from the computer monitor.
    Is one of the things which caught (presumably) your eye the money tucked under the pile of papers in front of him? What a weird detail. Maybe it’s his turn to buy the office pizza?

  • Michael (The BAG)

    MS, One item was the generic pink preppie tie, which I think also reflects RG’s lack of concern about presentation. But yes, there’s another item. I’ll come back to it.

  • Michael (The BAG)

    What was that, 4 seconds? Yeah, I was looking at the cash. If that’s a 5, its got Obama’s favorite president on it. Maybe just pizza money, but curious. Also, that thing/device just to the left of the cash, what is that? And what’s under it?

  • MikeSanD

    The item to the left of the money looks, to me, like one of those mini-wallets, a credit card holder.

  • Susan Abe

    Actually, I think he’s doing what people who haven’t been trained to do media often do — he’s looking at (and listening to) the reporter who’s talking to him instead of the camera that’s watching him. You see it all the time in Person-on-the-street interviews.

  • Susan Abe

    Oh, and the thing next to the money looks to me like — well, remember the interminable discussions about whether Dubya was wearing a wire so his staff could feed answers into his ear during whichever debate that was? A slim rectangular object mounted under his jacket at the back of his shoulder? It looks like it has a wire with an earbud at the end looped around it and what could be a charging cord extending toward it.

  • M. Scott Brauer

    I think that black rectangle next to the cash is actually just a normal, half-fold, leather wallet, with the imprint of credit cards on the top side. The wires might be headphone/mic attached to the two phone-like things in the lower left corner, and they’re entangled with the wallet as part of the general disorder of the desk. I imagine he pulled his wallet out of his pants or jacket, pulled some money out, and then he just set it all down on the desk, pushing aside the phone things as the wires trail behind.

  • M. Scott Brauer

    And this sure strikes me as a strangely ordinary photo for the NYT magazine. It seems so haphazard, so uncomposed, as if the photographer had 2 minutes and Gibbs wouldn’t even leave his desk. And yet, the desk looks more orderly than mine (and I’m not the press secretary of a president-elect) as if there’s little work to be done.

  • Zoey & Me

    Most news people live in a cluttered environment, the tie seems to scream for attention, not in Gibbs personality, so all that means is his Mom dresses him funny. If you followed the campaign Gibbs is a very intelligent person, a crisis PR type, and no . . not an entertainer type. He will play good cop, bad cop on the world stage. That’s the way O man wants it and it might work.

  • Stephen C. Rose

    My nickel says wrong.

  • Books Alive

    Turning the computer to have a better look at the photo in the foreground, I see shoes with soles worn through. That’s an Illinois tradition, with Adlai Stevenson being the historic example and Daniel Biss, who recently posted such a photo of his shoes on his website. Unfortunately, Daniel’s vote total came up just a bit short of victory, similar to Stevenson. So, whose shoes are these?
    As far as Gibbs’ sartorial style, I just hope he doesn’t feel he has to keep appearing in “new outfits” as the retiring Dana Perino seemed to do. Obama did well with his simple suits and ties; that will be fine with me if Gibbs does the same.

  • oliviacw

    Some of the gizmos (lower left) are TV remotes, so I agree that the blue glow comes from one or more TVs. I noticed that he’s holding a really cheap pen – one of those ones with a clear body and a shiny blue cap. [BIC Cristal, $2.29 a dozen at your local office supply store].
    I’m not sure what he’s got up on his computer screen – it looks like a stock report web page, but the chart is trending up, so that can’t be it these days!

  • John

    It’s the NY Times Website on the CPU, about the only thing in the picture that is specifically placed (and the football).

  • Vaughn

    He is bombarded by all types of media, (old and new). television screen glows, internet, blackberry, phones, remotes, books, faxes and printouts, newspapers, pen, money, etc and finally the candid stare of the camera. Trapped into the corner of the desk and still seems a bit cool and reserved in front of it all.

  • T.

    1)This picture brought the image of Karl Rove to mind, with more hair at the crown of the head. Another, Joe Andrews – a kind of ‘Rove-like’ figure on the Democratic side, you know, that guy from Indiana. The resemblance may be symbolic, perhaps?
    2)Interesting note about the shoes. I believe that is the shoes that the staff would tease Obama about. In fact, Gibbs, in a Rolling Stone interview just before the elections, claimed that they were so embarrassed by those shoes that they bought him a new pair for his birthday. BTW, is that Obama’s basketball?
    3)The electronics strewn across the table is a reminder that Obama himself no longer has access to his, and is losing the battle with lawyers and Secret Service to retain some sort of communication device, according to the current issue of Time.

  • susan

    When Gates aggressively challenged Fox’s Hannity, I liked him.
    This was posted on Huffington:
    “During the presidential campaign, Gibbs, 37, served as communications director and was among the few who could frankly tell Obama what needed to improve.
    He didn’t hesitate to tell the media when he thought they got it wrong, either. He fiercely guarded Obama’s image.
    One critic called Gibbs “the bland face of brazenness” when he said Obama’s decision to resign from his church amid the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was “a deeply personal decision, not a political decision.”
    Others were surprised when he called Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly a “bully” and asked Sean Hannity, “Are you anti-Semitic?” in response to the TV commentator’s questions about Obama’s relationship to William Ayers, a 1960s radical.
    A former roommate who worked with Gibbs on Capitol Hill said Gibbs has been a successful press secretary because he combines top-notch political skills with a quick wit.”

  • caraf

    Politics and shoe history: Adlai Stevenson’s famous hole-in-shoe photo. Won a Pulitzer in the fifties.

  • elfpix

    It seems to me that what the image is showing is Gibbs’ embrace of every mode of communication currently available. We have 2 TVs (judging from the reflections on the cabinets behind him) a computer monitor, a blackberry, two phones and at least one remote, images on paper, an implement for writing, material upon which to write, money and possibly a wallet, earbuds, a laptop under the monitor, highliter pens, possibly a computer printer over on the left side and, last but not least, a football.
    So what’s lacking? A musical instrument, a bluetooth headset, a cassette recorder, a rostrum? How the hell much more does the poor guy need?!
    I mean, if you can’t communicate with just about everyone in this country with that array of possible tools, you just ain’t cut out for the job!

  • Joy

    This could mean so many things, but it’s interesting that the word “OFF” is so clearly legible on the newspaper in the foreground.

  • Oscar

    Do you trust the media? Neither do I. Hence, Gibbs. Did you see him face down Hannity? This is a man who will not be bullied–which makes him exactly the right guy for what will no doubt be a tough job.

  • Captain Obvious

    I see the stock tracker on the computer, which represents (one of) the biggest reason Obama was elected. I also see the small bill, only 5 dollars, loose on the desk, right next to his wallet. Is this the small donations that they didn’t have to report? Whose money is that?
    On another note, he doesn’t have many pictures of family, or posters, or anything hanging up. Looks very messy and temporary.

  • yg

    for a big whig within the campaign, gibbs betrayed a shocking lack of awareness and inability to defend obama’s pro gun record. how do you work for a campaign and not know your boss’ record backwards and forwards and able to recite it in your sleep?

  • yg

    another thing about gibbs, he was involved with the 527 group that tarred howard dean by conflating him with osama bin laden during the ‘03 democratic primary. why hasn’t he ever been taken to task for that or shown any contrition?

  • sohbet

    I think it’s a television

  • Wolfpack Girl

    By the way, before anyone comments on his pink tie again…Robert Gibbs is an NC State alumni and he is honoring Kay Yow the NC State Women’s Basketball Coach who died of breast cancer on Saturday.

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