White House press secretary Jay Carney steps down after three years

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 9:14am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 June, 2014, 5:41am


US President Barack Obama has introduced his new spokesman, a man who will soon be one of the most visible faces of the US government around the world.

"Today the flak jacket is officially passed to a new generation, Mr Josh Earnest," Obama said half-jokingly on Friday in introducing his choice to be the new White House press secretary.

He named Earnest to replace Jay Carney, who announced that he was stepping down after 3½ years of presiding over daily briefings, press conferences, thousands of kilometres of travel and the unpredictable whirlwind of the 24-hour news cycle.

"I am grateful and excited and relish the opportunity to spend the next couple of years working with you as you work to do that very important work," Earnest said after being introduced by Obama. "And that job in this aggregated media world has never been more difficult, but I would argue that it has never been more important."

Already the top deputy to Carney, Earnest is the son of a psychologist mother and a private-school athletic director father from the suburbs of Kansas City.

He moves now into the centre of the media storm in one of the most demanding jobs in Washington in terms of hours and portfolio. He will have to be on top of worldwide current events, almost instinctively know what questions reporters might ask, and serve as a traffic cop of sorts between the media and a White House that relishes keeping its cards close to its chest.

Carney brought rare but practical experience to the job as a former reporter who once covered the White House for Time magazine. He left journalism to become communications director for Vice-President Joe Biden and then moved over to serve as Obama's press secretary in 2011.

"He comes to this place with a reporter's perspective," Obama said after interrupting Carney mid-sentence as he responded to a question on Ukraine in the press briefing room. "That's why, believe it or not, I think he will miss hanging out with you."

Obama called Carney one of his closest friends and advisers, and said he was "not thrilled" when Carney first told him in April that he wanted to leave.

Carney, 49, has been press secretary for longer than usual for such a high-pressure job. Many occupants stay for only a couple of years before leaving.

Carney replaced Robert Gibbs in the post in January 2011 and stayed on through Obama's 2012 re-election.

According to the president, family and friends, Earnest is more than up to the task. "Oh yeah. Absolutely," said his father, Don Earnest, 65.

"He's certainly excited about that opportunity," he said. "Those opportunities are rare and pretty gratifying."

Additional reporting by Reuters