Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beer, "The Cone of Silence," and a "Teachable Moment"

In today's press briefing, much ado was made about the meeting of the President, Prof. Gates, and the Officer Crowley, the cop who arrested Gates. While the press was concerned that they drink the proper brew, we continue to be diverted by some serious matters facing our country that is the legacy of the W, Rove and Co.

Frankly, I think the President made the wrong choice. Bud light? Come on. Certainly a can of Dale's Pale would have been much more flavorful. But let's see what the mainstream media asks about this incident...

First, is the press overly distracted with polls or should the American people be more concerned with Gates getting arrested v. the massive problem we have with health care in America?
Q So, polls. Two of them, one on health care, showing 46 percent disapproving of the President's handling of health care, and then on the Gates issue, with 41 percent disapproving -- different poll, but 41 percent disapproving of how the President is handling -- handled that incident. Is this something that --

MR. GIBBS: Forty, I'm sorry --

Q Forty-one disapproving of how the President has handled the Gates incident. Is this something that you are all worried about? They're coming at the same time. The Gates incident is pulling away from attention on health care; even the President has said that. How are you -- how are you going to get past this?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think he -- well, I think he said that last week. I don't -- I haven't noticed that --

Q Actually he said -- I believe it was yesterday, didn't he? That people aren't talking about health care as much?

MR. GIBBS: I don't remember that.

Q Maybe I'm wrong.

MR. GIBBS: I know he said that last Friday. I don't think the President believes that that incident has posed a distraction; here we are next Thursday.

Q Well, it's pulling down his approval rating, particularly among working --

MR. GIBBS: The Gates situation?

Q Yes, among working-class --

MR. GIBBS: I think that's a lot to extrapolate into one --

Q I'm just telling you what the poll has said, so I'm wondering if you're worried about it and what you guys can do about it.

MR. GIBBS: I neither believe the premise nor am I worried about it.
Humm...sounds like a Bush Administration deflect, doesn't it? Further...
Q And back to the Gates event today at the White House, why not allow the press to get closer to the table to be able to at least have some sort of conversation or something with the parties involved?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I mentioned to Jake, if those two gentlemen want to talk to you guys, there's no prohibition --

Q Right, but that's if they want to, but typically when you have events --

MR. GIBBS: In other words, shouldn't I just simply make them talk to you. (Laughter.) I appreciate the -- that's --

Q Well, no -- no, I do want to follow up on that. I mean, specifically, there are events that happen here at the White House, we're invited in, we get a chance to either ask questions of the parties there, and if they choose to come out we can get additional information from them. In this case, we won't have anything there and most likely won't get anything when they come out.

MR. GIBBS: Well, you'll have to ask them on the latter part.

Q But what about on the earlier part?

Q What about the President? I mean, why is the President in a cone of silence on this? (Laughter.) You're saying those two can come out and talk, but he can't.

Q He wants to make it a teachable moment. Why --

Q What's the lesson he wants to teach?

Q We're students, we're his students, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: The President feels comfortable with the way this is laid out, and looks forward to --

Q But why doesn't he see this as an opportunity, if he wants to make it a teachable moment, to come out and talk and teach what he learned, what he wants the nation to learn?

MR. GIBBS: You guys will have a chance to talk to the President -- one of you will later today, and maybe you can ask him.
Well, given that the President, Gates and the Officer involved are all intelligent men, I'm not certain what that teachable moment might be, but I don't think the press has the right to sit at the same table of a private meeting among three people trying to work out a great misunderstanding.

But don't let this stop the press from pressing further.
Q Two questions, Robert, first one having to do with the Gates-Crowley meeting today. If we're not going to be able to listen to the conversation and the three men are not going to talk to the press afterwards --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know -- the decision by Sergeant Crowley or Professor Gates to talk to the press is entirely up to them.

Q Okay, but you're not going to orchestrate it here at the White House is all I meant.

MR. GIBBS: Again, I've not talked to them or their representatives. If they want to go to the stakeout they're certainly welcome to do that.

Q Okay. But I guess the question, as the President said -- the President said he wants this to be a teachable moment. How do you envision this being a teachable moment?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- I think many people would have hardly imagined something like this happening this time last week. I think having them get together to talk -- the President talked to both of these men last week. They're decent, honorable, good men. To get together and talk about what's going on in this country is a positive thing, even if you're not able to hear each and every word of it. I think that kind of dialogue is what has to happen at every level of -- every level of our society if we're going to make progress on issues that have -- we've been dealing with for quite some time.

Q I guess I could just request I'm sure on everybody's behalf that we find out and have as thorough a debrief from you as possible so that we can make it as much of a teachable moment as possible.

MR. GIBBS: I will try to get that -- like I said, I won't be there, but I will endeavor to see what I can get.

Q Right, but you're close with one of the guys who will.

MR. GIBBS: I know the President, yes.
Of course, the press,presses on, and we find out that the families of the gentlemen will be attending, and of course, the Union Rep will be the consigliery for the cop.
Q If you could provide us with some more logistics of the event this evening, apparently you decided you don't want to splash beer on Malia and Sasha's picnic table -- probably a smart thing. Can you talk about --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- (laughter) -- I don't -- yes, for any number of probably good reasons, that's a -- I don't know if -- I know there were a couple of different locations that were being talked about -- some of this, weather permitting. Obviously there's a couple of different tables, one right out by the Oval Office and then one down a bit in the Rose Garden, and I'm not sure where we landed on that yet.

Q The picture we're going to get appears to be the three principals, but there are a number of people coming here, by my understanding. Are they all going to get together? What are you doing with the other guys?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know what -- I know that each of -- each -- Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley have family that are coming with them. I know there -- they will arrive here, be greeted, taken on a tour. They'll have a chance to get some pictures, they'll see the President. And I don't know if -- I don't know if the President will meet together with all of them as a big group or not. I can certainly check on the logistics of that.

Q You've got police union officials coming, as well?

MR. GIBBS: They may be coming certainly with Sergeant Crowley.
Interesting. But really, how does this meeting advance the conversation and public discourse on race dynamics in America might have been a better question. Instead we get this.
Q Robert, going back to Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates, what do you hope, tomorrow morning when you wake up, what do you hope you will have accomplished?

MR. GIBBS: No more questions about what kind of drink they're going to drink? (Laughter.)

Q Okay, but besides that, what do you hope you will look back --

MR. GIBBS: Small expectations.

Q -- what do you hope to -- what's your best-case scenario for looking back and seeing, we accomplished this last night; we were able to --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think -- let me answer this not as the press secretary to the President but as a -- just as an average American citizen. I'll take my tie off and I'll be right back. Look, I think, again, just as the President said, this is -- obviously you had a situation many days ago that got a lot of attention, not the least of which was because of his word choice, which he's come out and said he wishes he hadn't used those words -- or that word; that each of these two individuals, again, are accomplished at what they do; they're honorable, decent men; that he believes this entire situation -- if we step back and have a better dialogue amongst each other and have a conversation about common hopes and common opportunities and common dreams, that we can make headway on some of the issues that have -- that we've been wrestling with for a long, long time.

And I think the President hopes that -- I don't think the President has out-sized expectations that one cold beer at one table here is going to change massively the course of human history by any sense of the imagination, but that he and the two individuals -- Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates -- can hopefully provide a far different picture than what we've seen to date of this situation, and hopes, again, as I've said both today and before, that this is a conversation and a dialogue that happens not just because it's sponsored by or at the invitation of a participant or the President, but happens in communities, large and small, all over the country, in order to make progress through better understanding. And I think that's what the President wants to do today.
Wow, did he really take off his tie, or is Gibbs talking for the President? Even so, that's one long run on for one Presidential Press Spokesmodel.

Of course, the press is not satiated
Q Can it be a teachable moment if the American people do not hear something that several of them -- several sides have asked for, including Professor Gates, I think, and that's the word "apology" during the conversation today?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't want to get ahead of what may or may not be talked about. I think that's a bit premature, and I'd leave it obviously to individual participants, to Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley, to make those comments and conversation.

Q You don't expect them to --

MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to either of the individuals so I can't even surmise on what to expect.

George, do you have a follow-up?
But the press goes on.
Q I've a question on the health care event yesterday. But on the Gates thing, the President has said he wants this to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who --

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, are we on health care or Gates -- I'm sorry.

Q Gates.

MR. GIBBS: Okay, I'm sorry.

Q So he said he wants it to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who first proposed it, he, through his surrogates called these guys to the White House. But is he the teacher in this teachable moment?

MR. GIBBS: I think all of us are participants in a moment that we hope can teach all in this country that dialogue and communication will always improve the situation. I don't think today is -- I don't think the President looks at himself as, and I don't think today the President believes or the situation will be that one will be the teacher and others will be the students. I think the President believes that, hopefully through the example of communication and dialogue, that that can be a positive and lasting lesson for others.

Q Dialogue about what?

MR. GIBBS: About the situation that happened in Cambridge.

Q But how is that teachable for everybody? How is that teachable for the nation if it's just an incident between two men?

MR. GIBBS: Jake, it's something that's been covered quite a bit. I think it's something that has been -- you all have spent an awful lot of time covering. I don't think it's about an incident just involving two men. I think if it was an incident involving just two men you might not have done so many stories.

Q Well, some people think it's an incident about racial profiling; some people think it's an incident about disrespect for police; some people think it's -- I mean, there are a million different things that it could be a teachable lesson about, and we're not getting any --

MR. GIBBS: Not a million, but I don't doubt that there are more than just one.

Q We're just not -- you say it's a teachable moment. About what? Communication? I mean --

MR. GIBBS: No, I think it's a -- well, I think communication will help be part of -- I don't think -- again, Jake, I hate to surmise -- I hate to sort of move backwards in a hypothetical. I doubt you could have imagined a week ago in reporting this story that you'd have these two individuals here drinking beer with the President, right?

Q But we wouldn't have imagined that they'd be here and we wouldn't hear anything that's going to happen -- from the President. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I think you're feigning surprise on that one, Mr. Reid. But I think --

Q No, I really -- he's not using this as an opportunity.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate --

Q The only thing we're hearing that's a teachable moment example is we're going to get a photograph out of it or some film. I don't understand -- I mean --

MR. GIBBS: We don't have to do that.

Q Do you think the coverage has been -- it's been good that people have been covering this issue? You said there's been a lot of coverage. Is that a good thing?

MR. GIBBS: Some of it I think has, sure. I think --

Q Think how much more you could get if he came and talked to us.

MR. GIBBS: I feel like I'm trying to -- I feel like I'm buying a car.
Perhaps Gibbs should have said something like he's trying to sell a used car here. There's no good answer to the questions the press pose like the questions the press pose are not really good questions. Gibbs and the press are endeavoring in an unnecessary rhetorical charade, where Gibbs started to use the "teachable" moment as a means to deflect an honest answer to a small set of legit questions; which should have been like this:
Q - Can we come to the table and record the conversation?

Gibbs - No.

Q - Why not?

Gibbs - because it's meant to be a private conversation among the President, Gibbs, and Crowley to square away some major misunderstandings over a beer.

Q - Oh.

Gibbs - Perhaps the American people can find this as an instructive and productive way to sort out difference. Let's move on to something more important.

Really, the teachable moment is that the event occurred and that people are talking about it & the main players are sorting it out, no? Or is it that the press expects a conversation among three (or more men) about this incident be instructive when we learn the outcome of the conversation?

Regardless, if you haven't had a conversation about the state or race relations in America based on what happened in Gate's home, maybe you should.

What say you blogosphere?

Blog on friends. Blog on all.

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