Barack Obama's Press Secretaries

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
President Barack Obama surprises White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, one of only three people to serve in the role for Obama, during his last briefing for the administration at the White House in January 2017. Mark Wilson/Getty Images Staff

President Barack Obama had three press secretaries during his eight years in the White House. The Obama press secretaries were Robert Gibbs, Jay Carney, and Josh Earnest. Each of Obama's press secretaries was a man, the first time in three administrations that no women served in the role. 

It is not unusual for a president to have more than one press secretary. The job is grueling and stressful; the average White House spokesman stays in the job for only two and a half years, according to the International Business Times, which described the position as "the worst job in government." Bill Clinton also had three press secretaries, and George W. Bush had four. 

The press secretary is not a member of the president's Cabinet or the White House Executive Office. The White House press secretary works in the White House Office of Communications.

Robert Gibbs

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After taking office in January 2009, Robert Gibbs, a trusted confidant to the former U.S. senator from Illinois, became Obama's first press secretary. Before doing so, Gibbs served as the communications director for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

Gibbs was Obama's press secretary from Jan. 20, 2009, through Feb. 11, 2011. He left his role as press secretary to become a campaign adviser to Obama during the 2012 presidential election.

History With Obama

According to an official White House bio, Gibbs first began working with Obama long before he decided to run for president. Gibbs served as the communications director for Obama's successful U.S. Senate campaign in April 2004. He later served as Obama's communications director in the Senate.

Earlier Jobs

Gibbs previously worked in similar capacities for U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, a Democrat who represented South Carolina from 1966 to 2005, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow's successful 2000 campaign, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Gibbs also served a press secretary for John Kerry's unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign.


One of the most notable moments in Gibbs' tenure as Obama's press secretary came before the 2010 midterm elections when he lashed out at liberals who were dissatisfied with Obama's first year and a half as president.

Gibbs described those liberals as the "professional left" who "wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president." Of liberal critics who claim Obama was little different than President George W. Bush, Gibbs said: "Those people ought to be drug tested."

Personal Life

Gibbs is a native of Auburn, Alabama, and a graduate of North Carolina State University, where he majored in political science. At the time of his work as Obama's press secretary, he lived in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife, Mary Catherine, and their young son, Ethan.

Jay Carney

Jay Carney
Win McNamee/Getty Images News

following the departure of Gibbs, Jay Carney was named Obama's press secretary in January 2011. He was Obama's second press secretary and continued in that role following Obama's 2012 election victory giving him a second term.

Carney announced his resignation as Obama's press secretary in late May 2014.

Carney is a former journalist who served as Vice President Joe Biden's communications director when he first took office in 2009. His appointment as Obama's press secretary was notable because he was not a member of the president's inner circle at the time.

Earlier Jobs

Carney covered the White House and Congress for Time magazine before being named Biden's communications director. He also worked for the Miami Herald during his print journalism career.

According to a BBC profile, Carney began work for Time magazine in 1988 and covered the collapse of the Soviet Union as a correspondent from Russia. He began covering the White House in 1993, during President Bill Clinton's administration.


One of Carney's toughest jobs was defending the Obama administration in the face of intense criticism over how it handled the 2012 terrorist attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.

Critics accused the administration of not paying close enough attention to terrorist activity in the country before the attack, and then not being quick enough to describe the event afterward as terrorism. Carney was also accused of becoming combative with the White House press corps toward the end of his tenure, mocking some and belittling others.

Personal Life

Carney is married to Claire Shipman, an ABC News journalist and former White House correspondent. He is a native of Virginia and graduate of Yale University, where he majored in Russian and European studies.

Josh Earnest

Josh Earnest left, with Jay Carney right
Josh Earnest, left, appears with White House press secretary Jay Carney in May 2014. Getty Images

Josh Earnest was named Obama's third press secretary after Carney announced his resignation in May 2014. Earnest had served as the principal deputy press secretary under Carney. He served in the role through the end of Obama's second term in January 2017.

Earnest was 39 at the time of his appointment.

Said Obama:

“His name describes his demeanor. Josh is an earnest guy, and you can’t find just a nicer individual, even outside of Washington. He is of sound judgment and great temperament. He is honest and full of integrity.”

Earnest, in a statement to the media following his appointment, said:

“Each of you has a critically important job to describe to the American public what it is that the president is doing and why he’s doing it. That job in this disaggregated media world has never been more difficult, but I would argue that it has never been more important. I am grateful and excited and relish the opportunity to spend the next couple of years working with you.”

Earlier Jobs

Earnest served as the principal deputy White House press secretary under Carney before succeeding his boss in the position.

He is a veteran of several political campaigns including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s. He also served as a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee before joining Obama's campaign in 2007 as the communications director in Iowa.

Personal Life

Earnest is a native of Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 1997 graduate of Rice University with a degree in political science and policy studies. He is married to Natalie Pyle Wyeth, a former official in the U.S. Treasury Department. 

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Murse, Tom. "Barack Obama's Press Secretaries." ThoughtCo, Apr. 12, 2021, Murse, Tom. (2021, April 12). Barack Obama's Press Secretaries. Retrieved from Murse, Tom. "Barack Obama's Press Secretaries." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 30, 2023).