Wednesday was a major news day at the White House. The president had reversed course on his initial decision to allow the release of photos showing harsh detainee treatment at Guantanamo Bay. The daily briefing -- perhaps the best venue for tough questioning -- was pushed back nearly an hour, likely to accommodate the development of new talking points.
But then, as the questions began, the inquisitive mood was abruptly broken. In the span of roughly ten minutes, the cell phones of three members of the White House press corps went off four times.
Under normal circumstances, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would either have kept talking or simply joked through the bizarre musical interruption. This time, he actually took the cell phone of one offending member of the fourth estate and chucked it into the back room. On another occasion he asked Bill Plante of CBS to hand over the cell phone only to watch as Plante had a conversation.
"Gibbs wants to take my phone," he said, "but I don't think it is a good idea."
The press secretary responded: "I assume it's your banker with a suit like that."
Later in the briefing yet another phone rang, with Gibbs once again force to plead with the journalist to put his or her phone on vibrate.
One would think that, in the context of an hour-long briefing, the rest of the White House press corps would be downright furious that precious time was being wasted on silly antics. Whether intentional or not, it granted Gibbs the opportunity to lighten the mood or kill some time. And yet, judging by the reaction of those in the room, the cell phone interruptions were not only not a big deal. They were downright hilarious. There were howls of laughter in the room.
Not everyone, to be sure, was feeling jolly about the chain of events.
"I was frustrated," emailed The Daily Beast's Anna Marie Cox, who was sitting in the briefing room (I was watching on TV). "It was a side show that could not have worked out better for Gibbs, in terms of timing, or reminding us that he's the one who controls our access to information."
After the briefing, other reporters were grumbling about what happened as well, according to another source in the room.