Gibbs puts foot down (literally) for “the White House Eight” in India

November 8, 2010

RTXUDCZ_CompWhite House press secretary Robert Gibbs has had his share of confrontations with reporters. But on Monday, it was Gibbs who came to their defense when Indian officials tried to limit access to a meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Gibbs went so far as to risk getting his foot jammed in the door to help gain access on behalf of journalists who were about to be blocked from covering the bilateral meeting.

He also made clear that if the full contingent of eight “pool” reporters was not allowed in, Obama was prepared to cancel the meeting.

Gibbs led the charge to get the White House pool into the Indian Parliament, according to my White House colleague at Reuters, Alister Bull.

The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson reported that Indian officials sought to cut the number of reporters to five from eight.

Wilson, in his pool report, said the U.S. press wranglers “lobbied hard for the eight, but no luck until Gibbbs announced loudly and persistantly on steps of Hyderabad House that he would pull POTUS (out) of  bilat with PM Singh unless ‘the White House 8,’ as we’ve come to be known, were all allowed in.”

“At one point,” Wilson reported, “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.”

“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, to hold with larger Indian press contingent, for start of extended bilat.”

The pool eventually made it inside but Reuters’ Bull says there has been confrontation about access since Obama and the U.S. press entourage arrived in India on Saturday.

One theory is that the tension stems from the fact that some Indian reporters were unable to cover the arrival ceremony a year ago when Singh visited the White House because rainy weather forced the event inside.

Press wranglers in many administrations are used to going to bat for the White House reporters on overseas trips but it is highly unusual for the press secretary to step in, especially to the point of risking a broken foot.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed (White House press secretary Robert Gibbs (R) argues with an official from the Indian Prime Minister’s office after White House journalists were initially barred from a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, New Delhi, November 8, 2010.)

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