White House change of style: Jay Carney takes podium as new press secretary

Former journalist Jay Carney, Obama’s new press secretary, briefed White House reporters for the first time, hinting at a style that was less combative and more inclusive than his predecessor's.

By , staff writer

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    Jay Carney holds his first press conference of the Obama Administration

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Former journalist Jay Carney faced a packed White House press room Wednesday to deliver his inaugural briefing as President Obama's new press secretary. The 53-minute session was both less combative and more inclusive than some of those presided over by his predecessor, Robert Gibbs, whose term ended Sunday.

“I do work for the president but I am also here to help the press,” said Mr. Carney, a former Washington bureau chief for Time magazine who reached deeper into the briefing room than usual to field questions from reporters. His job, he added, was to “give the best information I can give.” In response to a question later in the briefing he added that he wanted “to work with you … to get the access that we can give and that you need.”

Every seat in the briefing room was filled and reporters and photographers crowded into the aisles to watch Carney’s initial briefing. “I really appreciate the turnout,” Carney said dryly as he took the podium. “I have never seen this room this crowded.”

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In his opening remarks Carney, who served as Vice President Joe Biden's communications director for the last two years, stressed his loyalty to the president. That was a given with Mr. Gibbs, who had been with Mr. Obama since his campaign for the US Senate.

“We obviously all here serve the president,” Carney said in response to a question from AP correspondent Ben Feller. “I work to promote the president and the message that he is trying to convey to the American people. But I also work with the press to try to help you do your job.”

Questions on budget and Middle East

He talked about the meaning behind the location of the press secretary’s office in the West Wing. “It is somewhat symbolically located about halfway between the briefing room and the Oval Office, and I think that says something about what the nature of the job is.”

The questions the Yale University educated Carney faced Wednesday focused on the reaction to the fiscal year 2012 budget that Obama unveiled Monday, upheaval in the Middle East as a result of the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and White House relations with the press.

It is risky to draw too many conclusions from one briefing. But in his initial outing, Carney seemed less combative in responding to reporters’ questions than his predecessor, often deflecting sharp questions with a calm restatement of the Obama administration’s position.

And Carney appeared to be making a conscious effort to take questions from a wider selection of reporters. During some of Mr. Gibbs’ briefings, there was an extraordinary emphasis on the reporters sitting in the first row where wire service and TV reporters are located.

At one point he said, “let me move on here” as he finished taking questions from the second row. Later, moving deeper into the room for questions he said, “I want to get you and then experiment a little.” The assigned seats in the briefing room follow a pecking order that is as clearly demarcated as that in any high school cafeteria. Yet by the end of the briefing, Carney had taken questions from reporters in six of the seven rows.

Avoided being pinned down

While including more reporters in the briefing process, Carney avoided being pinned down on a variety of press access issues, in response to questions posed by long-time ABC News correspondent Ann Compton.

How often would the president hold press conferences? “I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule,” Carney said.

Will meetings between the president and his cabinet be open for coverage? “There are no hard and fast rules,” the new press secretary said.

As to how often he will hold briefings, Carney replied he would do so frequently. “I just want it to evolve. I don’t have a new plan to lay on the table. I want to see how it works.”

In response to a question, Careny said Obama “wished me well” before the briefing. As the session ended, CBS Radio correspondent Mark Knoller asked Carney whether the experience was as bad as he feared. Back in dry wit mode, the press secretary responded, “better than I ever could have imagined."

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