Why Are Robert Gibbs and the White House Press Corps Laughing About a Torture Investigation?

There was a time during the Bush years when I was addicted to the White House press briefing. Not watching it, but reading the transcript. There was something sort of awe-inspiring about the back-and-forth, the inane dialogue of the whole artificial process, in which Scott McClellan (though never the pugnacious asshole Ari Fleischer was) would respond to reporters with answers that were so baldly dishonest, they did not even need to be shrewd. It was as if there were a common understanding: "I am bullshitting you, and you will accept it." And for the most part, they did. Some reporters would appear obviously frustrated in their attempts to follow-up. But others just seemed genuinely glad to be there. (How long did you say the president's bike ride with Lance Armstrong would be again? Right on.)


McClellan of course, went on to write a book attacking the administration on whose behalf he so dutifully lied. But that's another story.

White House press secretaries have always been bullshit artists, of course, and the press room is their stage. As Matthey Yglesias pointed out earlier last year, "Reporters ask questions that they know perfectly well won't be answered, and then the press secretary does his best to dodge him. Nine days out of ten, the result is a not-very-amusing spectacle for mid-day C-SPAN viewers. If the world is lucky, the Press Secretary commits some kind of gaffe. But nothing real is ever learned."

Which brings me to Robert Gibbs. As communications director for Barack Obama during the election, Gibbs no doubt did a masterful job responding to many of the ugly smears against the then-candidate. But today, when he stands before the White House press corps -- a group of people who obviously find him an affable fellow -- it feels more and more like he's insulting our intelligence.

Take the issue of torture and accountability for Bush's crimes. Yesterday, Mother Jones Washington editor David Corn asked Gibbs whether the Obama administration would cooperate with the Spanish court that is bringing forward an investigation against former Bush officials for their role in making illegal torture a policy of the U.S. government. As Corn wrote later, "He had a predictable response: 'I don't want to get involved in hypotheticals.' He quickly pivoted to point out that Obama has moved to prohibit torture at Gitmo and elsewhere."

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