Ex-journalist Jay Carney to be named White House press secretary

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 27, 2011 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will name Jay Carney as his new White House press secretary, taking the unusual step of picking a former journalist to speak for him and his administration.

Obama will name Carney as soon as Friday, according to a senior administration official. He will replace Robert Gibbs, who is resigning but who will continue to act as an outside adviser.

Carney was a reporter and Washington bureau chief for Time magazine before becoming Vice President Joe Biden's communications director at the start of the administration.

As such, he will be on of the few journalists chosen by a president to speak to the press. The last one was the late Tony Snow, a conservative columnist and TV anchor who served as press secretary in George W. Bush's second term. Before that, the last one was Ron Nessen, a former NBC reporter who served in Gerald Ford's White House.

"I think I bring the perspective of knowing a little bit more maybe about what motivates journalists," Carney told the Washington Post when he was named to Biden's staff two years ago.

"I think I probably see pretty clearly that often when a negative story seems to be breaking that there's not an ax to grind or an agenda or anything like that, but just a reporter chasing a story."

Ted Glasser, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, noted that a journalist as spokesman doesn't necessarily mean more openness.

"Having a former journalists as press secretary could, though there are no guarantees, improve and expand the White House's commitment to open and uninhibited public communication," he said.

The Obama White House has had mixed relations with the press, granting extensive access to elite East Coast news organizations while shunning reporters from outside the New York-Washington corridor.

Martha Joynt Kumar, a professor at Towson University in Maryland and one of the nation's top scholars of White House communications, said journalists know what reporters want and need to tell a story.

"In recent years, however, press secretaries have had backgrounds in federal government offices, particularly executive branch ones," she said. "That is because government programs and activities are so vast that it takes a strong background in information gathering. A press secretary has to answer questions related to much more than what is going on in the White House and what the president thinks."

That's why, she said, two of the people widely acclaimed as good press secretaries were people who knew their way around the federal government before coming to the White House — Marlin Fitzwater, who was press secretary in the Reagan and first Bush White House, and Mike McCurry, who was press secretary in the Clinton White House.

"They knew where to get the information they want to provide and how to make sure it is accurate," said Kumar.

She said Carney would be well served by having worked in the vice president's office for two years.

"Carney is up to speed on all of the presidential priority issues," she said. "What Carney brings to the job is a background in the press and a relationship with the president as well as knowledge of the executive branch and the White House."

Carney, who is married to TV journalist Claire Shipman, covered Miami and Moscow for Time before moving to Washington to cover the Clinton and Bush White Houses. He won the Gerald Ford Prize for reporting on the presidency in 2003.

(Margaret Talev contributed to this article.)

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