Experts: Carney's Departure Comes as Press Grows More Wary of Obama

Friday, 30 May 2014 09:48 PM

By Todd Beamon

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White House press secretary Jay Carney's resignation capped a tenure that saw the media grow increasingly restless toward President Barack Obama amid of a bevy of scandals, including the controversy that led to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's departure on Friday, experts told Newsmax.

"I wish him well," Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush for nearly two and a half years, said in an interview. "He served a long time in a very hard job. Regardless of politics or ideology, or whatever anyone thinks of him or his boss, it's a hard job and a wonderful job."

Democratic analyst and pollster Doug Schoen likened Carney's performance to that of the inept sergeant of the television sitcom "Hogan's Heroes."

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

"Press secretaries have a natural life of only about one term, so I am frankly surprised he has stayed as long as he has," he said in a statement. "That being said, he played the 'Sergeant Schultz' role well.

"He spouted the party line, avoided difficult questions, and maintained he knew very little about most subjects beyond what he had already said.

"A job well done, from the president's point of view."

And Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of advertising at Boston University, was even more caustic.

"Despite the fact that the press knows that he lied to them repeatedly, that he was part of the cover-up of a whole bunch of administration scandals, he will still get a job for probably several million dollars a year," he told Newsmax in an interview. "The irony would be if he goes into a healthcare provider."

In a surprise announcement, Obama said Friday that Carney would step down next month after more than three years in the job.

Carney, 49, succeeded Robert Gibbs in February 2011 after working for Vice President Joe Biden. He had been a journalist, once covering Russia and the White House for Time magazine, for 21 years. He also worked for The Miami Herald.

Obama named Carney's No. 2, Josh Earnest, 39, as his successor. He first worked on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

Obama described Carney as one of his closest friends and advisers, adding that he was "not thrilled" when Carney first told him in April that he wanted to leave.

Carney has been press secretary for longer than usual for such a high-pressure job. Many occupants stay for only a couple of years.

His departure had been rumored for months, and Carney has sparred publicly in the last year with the media over a bevy of scandals.

They include new revelations surrounding the administration's response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, the singling out of conservative groups for  special scrutiny by the IRS, the widespread outrage over the National Security Agency's surveillance programs — even over whether Obama had still supported the embattled Shinseki as the VA controversy spiraled out of control.

"It is an exceptionally mentally demanding job," said Fleischer, 53, who served Bush from January 2001 to July 2003. "The hardest part is not the hours.

"The hardest part is that your mind never rests. You're constantly thinking, planning, war-gaming, engaging in intellectual chess — worrying and wondering about what the next question is, and do you have the answer, and do you have it in time to show up for a briefing that is scheduled on live TV.

"It's constantly working in an intense, pressure-filled environment without a safety net," Fleischer added. "That's what makes it both a wonderful job, and a job in which you thrive, but also a grinding, grueling burnout job."

Fleischer told of the Sunday in January 2002, when Bush briefly lost consciousness after choking on a pretzel during the National Football League playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins.

The press secretary was watching the game at his Washington home — rooting for the Dolphins, who eventually lost 20-3 — when he got a call from White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.

"I had to call a briefing and tell the press," Fleischer began. "I hung up with the chief of staff. I spoke to the White House physician. The president called me.

"I started thinking through all the questions I would get, what I would say. I spent the rest of my Sunday dealing with the president. Goodbye, Sunday."

He explained: "There's always something happening. You can't really relax. You have to get ready. You just never know when something is going to go 'boom' — and you've got to be on the phone to deal with it or explain it."

Perhaps what is most amazing is that Carney had stayed on the job for so much longer than most press secretaries have in recent years. The longest-serving in recent administrations was Mike McCurry, who served under President Bill Clinton for three years and eight months, from December 1994 to August 1998, Mediaite reports.

"For Jay, he'd been there an awfully long time," Fleischer told Newsmax. "That's an unusually long time for a modern-day press secretary."

The job requires an unwavering loyalty to the president — and it cannot be done otherwise, he added.

"You're fortunate to be the press secretary. I always considered it an honor to take that podium and stand my ground on behalf of a president I believed in. You don't do the job if that's not your approach.

"You have to believe in your heart — and if you do, it empowers you to stand your ground and take the podium," Fleischer said.

Even if it means taking a beating from the press, especially during controversy.

During Fleischer's tenure, for instance, the Bush White House faced attacks over statements justifying the invasion of Iraq in March 2003; allegations of Vice President Dick Cheney's ties to Halliburton and its former KBR Inc. engineering subsidiary; and disclosures that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative.

In 2007, Fleischer testified that he had revealed Plame's identity to reporters after learning it from Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a lawyer who was Cheney's chief of staff.

Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the case, and sentenced to 30 months in prison, though Bush later commuted the prison sentence.

"When things are bad, it wears you down and out, because it's hard to take the podium on a good day," Fleischer told Newsmax. "It's even harder when the press is aggressive or hostile.

"When you know you're going to get drilled and grilled, the job becomes a lot harder. That, too, is why you burn out."

Fleischer noted how the press has grown tougher in its coverage of Obama in the last year.

"It took the White House press corps many years to get aggressive and tough with President Obama and his staff, but they've been doing it recently.

"What was regular in all eight years of George Bush has now become the regular pounding and briefing inside the Obama White House," he said.

But it's still not enough, Berkovitz said.

"They still don't really scrutinize Obama," he said. "The press has continued to do the 'gloves-off' coddling of Obama. The amount of actual, hard-hitting coverage of Obama is minimal."

Regardless, Carney is going to have a lucrative future, both Fleischer and Berkovitz readily acknowledged. The Mediaite report suggested he was planning to quit while his White House visibility was high. Carney makes $172,000 a year.

Carney dismissed rumors that he would serve as ambassador to Russia, having covered the collapse of the Soviet Empire for Time. He said his wife, ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman, and two children wouldn't welcome such a move.

Carney said he first planned to spend the summer with his children.

"With the history of press secretaries, it doesn't matter whether they have been considered successful or whether they have been considered abject failures," Berkovitz told Newsmax. "They all land on their financial feet and get high-paying jobs despite the fact that they've disgraced themselves in front of the press."

But Fleischer, who briefly worked for CNN and his now running his own sports communications firm in White Plains, N.Y., retorted: "I don't think that's fair or right. He'd been there for three and a half years.

"The White House is not the Hotel California," he added, referring to the images conjured up in the classic Eagles song. "You are allowed to leave.

"Jay is going to experience a weight that falls off his shoulders," Fleischer said. "The life of a former press secretary is much more relaxing than the life of a current press secretary."

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama's Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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