Meet Jay Carney, the Veep's Chief Spokesman
Jay Carney describes his not-so-long-ago former self as an "old school" journalist who took his vows of objectivity very seriously. Today, just three months after leaving Time magazine, he's already an entrenched partisan trumpeting the message of Vice President Joe Biden.
He owes it all to Tony Blinken, Biden's longtime trusted national security aide, who is a close friend of Carney. They play in a loosely formed -- and admittedly terrible -- rock 'n roll band. Bringing Carney over to the administration apparently is what it took to keep the band together.
Carney, 43, discussed his radical mid-life career transformation during an interview in his new office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. He talked about everything from the challenge of keeping work secrets under wraps from his wife, ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman, to the more pressing challenge of keeping his gaffe-prone boss's foot out of his mouth.
Here are the highlights:
Q: You left journalism after 20 years with Time magazine. How is life on the other side?
Carney: It's great. I have had very little trouble adapting to this new role, which is completely different from what I was doing before.
Q: During the campaign were you ever swept up in Obamamania? Were you yearning to be part of the movement?
Carney: I wasn't...Personally, I was impressed by and believed in what then Senator Obama was saying during the campaign and what his program was, and also have long admired Joe Biden. It was something I never expected to happen but it kind of happened very quickly after the election. And here I am.
Q: I wanted to ask you about your boss, Joe Biden. He's long been known for having a little bit of foot-in-mouth syndrome. And part of your job obviously is to keep his foot out of his mouth. How's that going?
Carney: I think that in politics, people get stereotyped or they have reputations that they have to contend with. And the thing about the vice president...most of what people attribute to him as being gaffes are really examples of his candor... Vice President Biden is not capable of not telling you how he feels... But I believe the feeling among the president's staff is that the value that the vice president brings in terms of experience and candor - you know, his truth telling capacity - far outweighs the occasional verbal miscue, which I think are wildly exaggerated. But politicians get reputations, especially ones who have been around as long as Joe Biden, and you have to live with it.
Q: You had at one point a close professional relationship with Senator McCain and then it turned testy. Do you ever talk to him anymore?
Carney: I haven't talked to him much since the campaign, or at all. And I haven't seen him but I look forward to it. That's the nature of the profession. And campaigns are hard. I don't think there are any hard feelings.
Q: What has most surprised you about being in this new role?
Carney: Well, I have to say I've yelled at a few reporters. No, I'm not going to say who. But look, people get it wrong sometimes...That was a little bit of a weird experience getting on the phone and chewing out a reporter or an editor for something I thought was totally wrong.
Q: Do you feel like the veteran Democratic loyalists in this administration fully accept you - Ron Klain, for example - who've been die-hard politicos all their life?
Carney: I've had some funny experiences, not in the White House, because everybody was aware from the beginning when I was brought on...When the president was going to give his joint address to Congress, I accompanied the vice president. And before the president came, the vice president went onto the floor of the House. And I was behind him. And when I got to the well there John Boehner, the minority leader, looked at me like "what in the heck are you doing here?" He actually said that - "Carney, what are you doing here?" '
Q: One of the most notable members of the press corps is your wife, Claire Shipman, correspondent for ABC News. How do you avoid blurting out scoops over the dinner table?
Carney: I just don't, partly because we don't get to see each other that much thanks to my new job...We're figuring it out as I go. She's not a beat reporter at the White House. That's something she did before. She does some political stories. I tell her, 'Call Gibbs, call Rahm' or something like that when she's working on something. Because I can't be a source. But she's cool with that.
Q: How many reporters have asked you for jobs?
Carney: People are interested. There are two things at work: Obviously the media business is in distress, much like the whole economy, but maybe in a little more distress. But it's not like I have an inbox full of resumes from reporters.
Q: Usually the revolving door involves politicos going into journalism - George Stephanopoulos being a prime example How was going through that door in reverse?
Carney: I think I bring the perspective of knowing a little bit more maybe about what motivates journalists. I think I probably see pretty clearly that often when a negative story seems to be breaking that there's not an ax to grind or an agenda or anything like that, but just a reporter chasing a story.
Q: I understand this somewhat radical transformation really has its roots in rock 'n roll?
Carney: Very bad rock 'n roll.
Q: Because you and Biden's longtime trusted national security aide, Tony Blinken, were or are in a band together. Is this what it took to keep the band together?
Carney: We get together about once a year with some other friends and travel somewhere and rent a recording studio and write and record as many songs as we can in one day. You wouldn't want to abuse any listeners by forcing them to listen to the music we make. But it's a lot of fun.
Mary Ann Akers
March 11, 2009; 7:35 PM ET
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