Former Time journalist to be Obama press secretary

In this image released by the White House, Vice President Joe Biden jokes with his Communications Director Jay Carney and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his outer office in the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/The White House, David Lienemann)

January 27, 2011 5:00:04 PM PST
Jay Carney, who built a career covering politics and presidents before joining the White House himself, on Thursday became President Barack Obama's choice as his next press secretary and chief defender. A broad, weeks-long shakeup of the administration settled into place as Obama sought to rejuvenate and reshape his staff for the rest of his term.

The naming of a new press secretary means Americans will be seeing a new face all over TV coverage and in newspapers on behalf of Obama: Carney, 45, who looks the part but has never done a stint behind any briefing room podium. He spent two decades as a journalist for Time magazine, including as a White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief, before changing career paths to become Vice President Joe Biden's communications director in 2008.

Sometime in the next few weeks, Carney will replace Robert Gibbs, who served as Obama's spokesman, friend and trusted counselor in the White House. Gibbs is quitting for a lighter schedule and a more lucrative career in the private sector after a grueling, years-long run at Obama's side, but he will remain an adviser and will serve on the president's re-election campaign.

Carney has only gotten to know Obama over the last two years and is not expected to have the influence that Gibbs did. But White House aides assured that Carney would have all the access he needed to speak with credibility on Obama's behalf, and his fast rise to the top of Obama's press operation reflects how well he is regarded by the president.

Obama chose Carney over several candidates whom he gave serious consideration, including ones who know the president better and also work inside the West Wing.

They include Gibbs' two deputies, Bill Burton and Josh Earnest, and Jen Psaki, the deputy communications director. The White House also gave a hard look at longtime Democratic strategist Karen Finney and at Doug Hattaway, a Democratic communications consultant.

White House aides were quick to speak of Obama's respect and confidence in those who ultimately didn't get the job. For Obama, what seemed to push Carney to the top was his dual history of being a reporter and a spokesman; the way he handled his work for Biden; and his experience. He is roughly a decade older than some other candidates.

Named to the job but not quite in the role yet, Carney offered reporters a response that won't hold for long: No comment.

That's been his style over the last two years - keeping his name out of the news in deference to his boss, Biden - but that will change as he and Gibbs work out their transition.

Gibbs said Carney would be great at one of the toughest jobs in politics, saying he had smarts, a tireless work ethic and, most importantly, the confidence of Obama and Biden.

"The hardest thing is going to be getting to know the president - his nuances and subtleties," said President George W. Bush's first press secretary, Ari Fleischer. "In other words, when you sit in on all these important meetings, what is it that the president wants you to say - and, more importantly, what does he want you not to say."

Obama's new chief of staff, Bill Daley, announced Carney's appointment and a package of other personnel changes in an e-mail to staff on Thursday, saying they would provide more clarity and coordination. As a former journalist, Carney may be more sympathetic to the needs of the White House press corps than Gibbs has been, although Carney is known for occasionally blowing up at reporters when he thinks they're getting the story wrong. He also must build relations quickly with the reporters who cover the White House.

Being a former journalist is no guarantee that the relationship will be any tighter than it was with Gibbs.

"As anyone who has made that transition knows, there is a reason you're separated by the podium," said Tony Fratto, another spokesman from the Bush White House. "The journalists are on one side of the podium and you're on the other side of the podium, and it's always clear to every journalist who the press secretary is speaking for. It's not about friendships and not about personal relationships so much as the need for the press secretary to faithfully represent the views of the president."

Carney worked for Time magazine for 20 years, most recently serving as Washington bureau chief from 2005-2008. He covered the White Houses of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and was on Air Force One on the day of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He speaks Russian and was based in Moscow for Time during the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in northern Virginia, Carney is married to ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman.

Finney was among those quick with a gracious congratulation. "He has big shoes to fill with Robert's departure, but given the many accomplishments in his career and the respect he's earned in politics and media, Jay is more than up to the task," she said.

Among the other White House moves announced Thursday: Alyssa Mastromonaco, Obama's director of scheduling and advance work, was promoted to White House deputy chief of staff for operations; White House health reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle becomes deputy chief of staff for policy; and Obama aide Rob Nabors will be the new White House legislative director. The current legislative chief, Phil Schiliro, will stay for a while to help Daley manage all the transitions.

The makeup of the White House senior staff has been changing for weeks as Obama throttles into a new phase of his presidency.

The next move will come when one Obama's senior advisers, David Axelrod, leaves the White House on Friday. David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, is now on the West Wing staff and led the press secretary review along with Daley and communications directors Dan Pfeiffer.

The separate press and communications shops in the White House are now being merged, under Pfeiffer's leadership.


Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Erica Werner, Julie Pace and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Load Comments