Tales from the Trail

Market drop reveals secret of White House podium: it doesn’t do real-time news

May 6, 2010

The stock market was dropping quickly, down more than 900 points for a bit, and market reports were citing Greece’s financial troubles. The White House briefing was in full swing.

Reporters facing President Barack Obama’s press secretary found they had up-to-minute information that Robert Gibbs did not.

OBAMA/One reporter asked about the stock market’s drop below 10,000 ”in the last few seconds, while you’ve been talking.” Gibbs had no immediate answer. “Let me go find out. You guys have — I’m going to start bringing my computer.”

But what about that fancy podium with all the gizmos, can’t he just call up the news with a fingertip? Apparently not.

Gibbs pressed one of the buttons on the podium and turned to the screen behind him — “These little things just say the White House, and you click on them, and they go to a blank screen, and then it goes back to the White House … this doesn’t do a thing,” he said.

“You just have to understand that I — while they appear to be television screens, they’re largely unhelpful. I don’t know. Let me go find out,” Gibbs said.

The market story changed. Initial news reports about the Dow’s biggest ever intraday point drop – 998.5 points before climbing back –pointed to concerns about the Greek financial crisis, but later on a trading glitch was suspected in which an erroneous trade was entered by someone at a big Wall Street bank.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Gibbs at press briefings in March, and January 2009)

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