If reporters had played a drinking game during Tuesday's White House briefing, the number of times that spokesman Jay Carney uttered the word "unfettered" would have knocked them off their feet.
After responding to dozens of questions on scandals related to the IRS, the Department of Justice and Benghazi, Carney looked as if he could use a drink.
Remembering that he was once one of them, Carney resisted channeling Cyrus Beene from the ABC hit Scandal and brushing off reporters with "asked and answered" when asked repeatedly about President Obama's response to the news that the Justice Department had secretly obtained phone records of Associated Press reporters.
He instead explained 15 times that the president is "a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and facilitate a free flow of information."
Based on Twitter reports, "unfettered" was the word that stuck in most reporters minds, but Carney used "balance" more — 21 times — as in the need to strike one between the desire to protect national security interests by preventing leaks of classified information that could endanger American lives and an "unfettered" press.
On the IRS matter, Carney chose to reserve comment until a report from the agency's inspector general has been released. And, to reporters' frustration, he frequently said "if the reporting is true on this," even though the agency has already admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups.
"It is our understanding that its release is fairly imminent, and once we have that report, we'll be able to assess next steps," Carney said when asked what the consequences of Obama's outrage would be. "But you can be sure — and I would point you to the president's response yesterday — what his feelings are about this kind of action, if it in fact took place."
Benghazi also was a hot topic that according to Carney Republicans have politicized.
While Obama "has committed himself to doing, to finding out who did it, finding out why and to taking the steps to ensure our diplomatic personnel are protected and our facilities are protected, so that what happened in Benghazi doesn't happen again," he said, GOP lawmakers have from the start tried to "score political points," which is "unfortunate."
Asked if the White House is feeling under siege from unfolding scandals, Carney replied, "Absolutely not."
"We are focused on, you know, these fundamental issues that the American people sent this president to this office twice now to focus on," he said, like growing the economy and creating jobs.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)