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Standing Room Only for Spokesman's First White House Briefing

(AP)
From the size and density of the throng of reporters jammed into the White House briefing room today, you might think they were handing out bailout money.

Actually, it was just Robert Gibbs, holding his first formal session with reporters as Press Secretary to Pres. Obama.

"How are you all?" he said to the journalistic crowd, hoping some common courtesy would break the ice and take some of the bite out of us.

"How are you?" a reporter responded. "Nice to be here," said Gibbs. "I'm great."

Etiquette over – the barrage of questions began – the the press version of enhanced interrogation techniques.

-What's your response to republicans critical of the President's decision to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay?

-What assurances can you give the American people that these detainees just won't wind up out on the streets?

-Why didn't you let press cameras and microphones cover the President re-taking of the Oath of Office last evening?

-Why can't we identify the senior officials who briefed us on the President's Executive Orders.

-Why does the President support a former defense contractor lobbyist for the #2 job at the Pentagon?

-Since the President is freezing the pay of top staffers, will he lead by example and take a pay cut?

On that last one, Gibbs said the President's salary is set by statute – but he'd have to find out if Mr. Obama plans to take less than the $400,000 a year authorized by law.

Through all the grilling, Gibbs remained even-tempered, even pleasant. Never raised his voice or became visibly irritated.

He put off an answer to a reporter's question about the Administration's new policy on interrogating detainees saying "it's fair for you to conclude that I want to make sure I don't make a mistake."

Near the end of the session that ran 49 minutes and 20 seconds, the questions turned to the lighter side – giving him a chance for humor – a long-standing technique by press secretaries to maintain a civil tone in the briefing room.

Asked how the new First Family was getting settled in the White House, Gibbs disclosed that after spending his first night in the Executive Mansion – Pres. Obama "had to ask somebody where he was supposed to go next. It's a pretty big house," said Gibbs.

At one point in the session, veteran reporter Helen Thomas asked point blank – "is the President against torture?"

"Yes," Gibbs said.

Perhaps the briefing gave him new insight into the word.

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