Robert Gibbs used humor today to try to defuse the spat with liberals stirred up by
Asked about suggestions he should consider resigning, Gibbs said he did not plan to leave. He then added what was clearly a scripted joke, a reference to the flight attendant who slid to freedom earlier this week: "There's no truth to the rumor that I've added an inflatable exit to my office."
It got a laugh, but it didn't stop the questions.
Pressed, Gibbs blamed his comments on frustration: "I will say, you know, I watch a lot of cable TV, and you don't have to watch long to get frustrated by some of what's said. And I think that's what that answer was born out of."
In fact, though, just about everything Gibbs says is carefully calculated, and some members of the "professional left" think there was nothing accidental about Gibbs' comments. With that in mind I had this exchange with Gibbs today:
Question: "There are some people who believe you're smarter than you're admitting, and that this actually was a calculated, premeditated effort to send a message to the so-called professional left. Did you misstep, did you put your foot in your mouth, or did you say something that you meant?"
Gibbs: "I hope -- I think I have both my feet firmly planted on the floor and nothing in my mouth to speak of."
Asked if it was a mistake or something he said in error, he avoided a direct answer and said, again, that it was born of frustration.
In fact, Gibbs was airing the White House's long-term frustration over what they consider to be unreasonable criticism from the left. For example, they still find it hard to believe that the president defied the odds -- after a century of effort by health reformers -- by passing health care reform, and some on the left still focus on the failure to pass single-payer, or least a public option.
So having Gibbs fire a calculated shot across the bow - in part to show moderate and independent voters that the president is no crazy liberal - might just make good political sense.
This is the second time in a few weeks that Gibbs has been a piÃ±ata for liberals - the last was when he said Republicans might win the House, infuriating Nancy Pelosi.
It took a while for that one to blow over, and it appears he's ready to put this one behind him. Asked if he saw Keith Olbermann criticize him last night, Gibbs said "I was watching my BlackBerry for primary returns and watching the Braves game on the Internet."
Translation: He doesn't have time for this.
Chip Reid is CBS News' chief White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here.