Monday, November 8

President Obama's visit to India, Day 3: Bully for Bob "Iron Foot" Gibbs

(AP Photo)

New York Times
November 8, 2010
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is known for his angry tirades directed at [American] reporters. But Mr. Gibbs turned his famous intensity on Indian security officials Monday morning — in defense of the American press corps — after the officials tried to bar reporters from attending a meeting between the leaders of the two countries in New Dehli, according to reporters on the scene.

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

But when the time came for them to enter, Indian officials refused to allow more than five of them. Gibbs loudly protested the change, and at one point threatened to pull Mr. Obama out of the meeting with the prime minister 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.”

... Mr. Wilson reported, half in jest, that the American reporters have begun calling themselves “the White House eight” to reflect the difficulties with the Indian officials. Earlier in the trip, the group of White House reporters clashed with Indian officials on the tarmac of the airport.

Security in India around Mr. Obama’s visit has been exceedingly tight — and no wonder, given India’s strong memories of the Mumbai terrorist attacks of two years ago. Reporters and others attending Mr. Obama’s joint conference with Prime Minister Singh on Monday were subjected to intense pat-down searches.

White House reporters and the president’s press secretary are usually considered adversaries. But it is not uncommon for White House officials to become protective of the American press corp while overseas.

Still, the threat by Mr. Gibbs to intervene as boldly as he did on behalf of the press was a unique moment in press-White House relations.

And as the group of reporters drove to their next destination on the trip – the parliament building for a speech by Mr. Obama – they had an extra passenger in the press van, just in case: Mr. Gibbs.
Politico's report on the same incident adds:
... The incident follows repeated confrontations between Indian security and the White House press corps since Obama arrived in the country on Saturday.

White House reporters were held outside the entrance to Obama and Singh’s joint press conference Monday for two hours because Indian officials refused to allow them in and repeatedly changed the rules for entry, such as whether or not laptops were allowed inside.

At the airport in New Delhi, Indian officials refused to allow members of the White House press pool that travels on Air Force One to stand under the wing of the plane to photograph Obama’s exit and greeting of officials on the tarmac, including Singh. U.S. officials also had to overcome several obstacles put up by Indian officials to clear in members of the press corps to Obama’s town hall with students in Mumbai on Sunday. ...
Erica Werner's report for AP on the incident adds that the eight reporters were allowed inside "for all of about one minute" and:
Local reporters said their White House counterparts were being treated that way because Indian journalists suffered through similar treatment when Singh visited the White House last year.
A minute is better than nothing. I'd always assumed Gibbs was a bit of a milquetoast. Clearly I hadn't watched enough of his press briefings.

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