White House Press, Obama Aides Square Off

Reporters doubt the veracity of Press Secretary Jay Carney.

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The fallout from Washington's ongoing scandal investigations now includes escalating complaints about the effectiveness and credibility of President Obama's public-relations team.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is under considerable criticism for his failure to straightforwardly and fully answer questions at his daily briefings, which have frequently descended into testy exchanges with reporters.

And Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser who helps to shape the president's message, is taking hits for his combative and dismissive approach to answering questions on five talk shows last Sunday. Overall, the president's communications team is getting low marks from many quarters.

[READ: White House: Obama Kept in Dark About IRS]

Politico is carrying a lengthy story today that "reporters are increasingly skeptical about Carney's demeanor and the veracity of some answers to questions about recent administration scandals."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 21, 2013.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 21, 2013.

Carney's briefing Tuesday was particularly rough. At one point, the press secretary irritated reporters by ridiculing their questions about the various scandals, including revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has targeted conservative groups. "You know, we could go down the list," Carney remarked.

"...We could say, what about the president's birth certificate? Was that legitimate?"

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on the IRS Scandal]

Journalists aren't sure if Carney has been intentionally misleading them, or if he and his colleagues just don't have access to the information needed to answer media questions. "WH keeps shifting its stories on IRS," tweeted Ron Fournier of the National Journal, a former White House correspondent, Tuesday. "Can they not get facts straight? Do they not want to? Either way, costs them credibility."

Lanny Davis, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, was sharply critical of Pfeiffer. Davis said the White House aide showed his inexperience when he came across on TV as too combative and vague, and when he quarrelled with TV interviewers.

Much of the Washington press corps is also upset about the Justice Department's crackdown on leaks, which has included seizing the phone records of journalists at the Associated Press. White House officials say the administration is trying to balance the need to protect classified information related to national security with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.