FishPoolDC: Our Insider’s Notes from Yesterday’s Press Briefing

Sorry, we’re a day late due to some technical difficulties…

To Release or Not To Release: WH took a 180 in announcing they’ve drawn new battle lines in a FOIA-initiated lawsuit to release photos of detainee abuse by U.S. personnel. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who had previously (see: late April) painted the release as a lost cause, now said he would not “get into blame for this or that” before noting that there was “significant legal momentum” from the previous administration to allow the photos public showing. The original lawsuit, the appeal, and additional court rulings had discouraged the Obama team from fighting the inevitable, but Gibbs said today that the president initiated the new move because he believed the “strongest case” was not being made to the court, in the interest of national security. As for what this new “strongest case” might be, Gibbs added that research to his lengthy to-do list.

Huh?: The abrupt shift in policy left more than a few reporters scratching their heads as Gibbs struggled to provide figurative language examples to illuminate the reverse decision. He compared the detainee abuse issue and pending investigations to a murder case, noting that crime scene photos don’t move the investigation forward; he argued that the OLC torture/enhanced interrogation memos release was “not analogous.” The relative importance/damage of photo release reached a particular murky point earlier when Gibbs said they “provide a disincentive for detainee abuse investigation.” “Try that again. I don’t follow,” CBS’s Bill Plante replied. Gibbs’s answer — seeming to argue that the photos only inflamed the issue and inhibited proper investigation — left ABC’s Jake Tapper unsatisfied, who shook his head in unison with Plante.

More Homework: In response to ABC Radio’s Ann Compton, Gibbs clarified that POTUS had not seen the photos at the time of previous focus on the issue in April. While he’s not seen the entire collection, Obama has seen a “representative” grouping. Gibbs pledged to check on whether that was the “trigger” for Obama’s change of heart.

Asker/Askee Reversal: In a press secretary tactic is used sparingly but usually finds success (if not simply self-satisfaction), Gibbs used the ole Ask-the-Reporter to catch CNN’s Ed Henry off his game by turning the tables to challenge the network’s use of waterboarding imagery. “Why do you do a graphic on CNN?” he drilled the correspondent, which led to a meek “We’re trying to show people–“