Robert Gibbs’ heady Washington rise was certified on a humid day in June when a procession of media and political fancies gathered in tribute to Tim Russert, the “Meet the Press” host who died of a heart attack several days earlier. The memorial service was a sweet, solemn and star-struck occasion that, as these events often do, yielded a neat snapshot of the Celebrity Washington food chain — who was up, who was down, who was winning the week.
By Mark Leibovich
The New York Times
In a smiling stampede of congratulations, mourners were wearing out the red-carpeted aisles of the Kennedy Center to get to Gibbs, a journeyman campaign flack who had latched onto Barack Obama’s Senate race four years earlier and has been his chief spokesman ever since. By now a senior adviser to Obama, Gibbs was here, along with Obama’s chief strategist and message guru, David Axelrod, to represent the soon-to-be Democratic nominee.
“The new It guys,” declared Anne Schroeder Mullins, a gossip columnist for Politico.com, noting the shameless run on Gibbs and Axelrod. “I bet they’re being inundated with people trying to book Barack on their shows.”
Above: Barack Obama with Robert Gibbs, left, and David Axelrod during a flight to Florida in May. The leakproof campaign team has given way to a transition process that is much harder to control. Photo: Doug Mills; New York Times
The paradox of this scene was that the Obama campaign’s communications strategy was predicated in part on an aggressive indifference to this insider set. Staff members were encouraged to ignore new Web sites like The Page, written by Time’s Mark Halperin, and Politico, both of which had gained instant cachet among the Washington smarty-pants set. “If Politico and Halperin say we’re winning, we’re losing,” Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, would repeat mantralike around headquarters. He said his least favorite words in the English language were, “I saw someone on cable say this. . . .”