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Media Puts Gibbs In The Tank

For all those who say the press corps is in the tank when it comes to the Obama White House, here's the news.

You're wrong. It is the other way around.

Just ask the guy who makes a living speaking for President Barack Obama.

Robert Gibbs, the White House's sharp-tongued jouster with the press, turned jester on Thursday afternoon.

He sat inside a dunk tank on the South Lawn and let reporters try to knock him in the water by nailing a target with a softball.

And we took him up on it.

For the fun of it. For charity. For the challenge.

For the joy of taking Robert Gibbs down. Which we did.

How did it come to be that the president's most visible spokesman ended up soaked before a happy group of media, including camera crews?

On one level, he was simply being a good sport.

Obama was hosting a luau-themed picnic for lawmakers on Thursday evening, and the dunk tank was part of the fun. Reporters asked Gibbs about it at his daily briefing, one bit of sparring led to another, and Gibbs agreed to be target practice once reporters said the light moment could raise money for charity.

Keeping its word, the press corps is gathering donations on behalf of Gibbs for the charity of his choice: Capital Area Food Bank.

Beneath the levity, though, was another slice of life inside the off-and-on relationship between the press secretary and the press corps. The White House tries to keep up good relations, as do reporters, and this was a moment to put aside the contentiousness for 15 minutes.

But beneath, the natural tension is always there. It was just one day earlier that reporters jabbed hard at Gibbs - as he did sharply back at them - about whether Obama had planted a questioner at his news conference. So it goes each day. Some up, some down.

And sometimes, a mood changer.

The announcement came over the overhead address system in the press area of the West Wing: "Ten-minute warning to Robert Gibbs in the dunk tank."

About 50 members of the media gathered, which was just about everybody left in the place.

As we walked toward the South Lawn, Obama popped open a door on the other side of the Rose Garden. He smiled but said he couldn't come out. "He won't let me take a shot," Obama said of Gibbs.

Near the bottom of the lawn sat Gibbs, in gym clothes, perched in a tank. A coconut marked the spot from which the throwers would take their aim, a decent distance away. The rules: three people, three chances each.

First came Fox News correspondent Mike Emanuel. He missed his three.

"One down, two to go," Gibbs said.

Next up: this reporter from The Associated Press. Two misses high of the target.

Bring it down, I thought. Who am I kidding, just throw it, I thought.

Bam. Success. Down goes Gibbs.

High fives all around, then a wet handshake with Gibbs. Hey, it's all professional.

(CBS/Mark Knoller)
Gibbs climbed back onto his spot and gave Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times her three shots. He emerged unscathed, and that was supposed to be it.

But CBS News correspondent Bill Plante, at left, decided to give it one shot. That's all it took. His single throw was perfect, and Gibbs got soaked again.

So, for one day, Gibbs got his.

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