by Anna Post
At a White House briefing yesterday, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was speaking to members of the press when a cell phone rang. He handled it perfectly, asking the owner, John Gizzi of Human Events magazine, to put it on vibrate. His tone used humor to stem Gizzi's rudeness—especially as it was the third time he'd asked it to be shut off. I know some corporate cultures are lax in their attitudes toward cell phones and BlackBerries, but this is, um, the White House. And televised. Show a little respect!
Figuring the third time was the charm, Gibbs returned to his briefing, only to have the phone ring a fourth time. Not only was Gizzi thoughtlessly rude to have left it on so many times, he was actively rude to ignore the request to switch it off.
Gibbs then did what so many of us have dreamed of in restaurants, movie theaters, and crowded airports: He confiscated the phone and tossed it down an adjacent hallway (claiming someone caught it), and then literally shut the door on the while thing. It made my day watching how well he handled it.
But it gets better. Another phone goes off, and instead of ignoring it, the phone's owner, CBS reporter Bill Plante, actually takes the call! He blew it twice: He should have had the phone on vibrate—especially after Gibbs made his nationally televised point—and if he was going to take the call, he should have left the room first and then answered. Perhaps it was a play to get some face time and attention for CBS? If so, I can only say that in this case, not all press is good press.
The White House press corps clearly needs an etiquette briefing: Keep phones on silent or vibrate when in a meeting, or better yet, turn them off. That's what voice mail, annoying as it is, is for. If you simply must take a call, step outside first and then answer.
I can already hear the follow up: Why? Attention is a sign of respect. When you've chosen to commit your time to someone, whether it's in business or your personal life, you owe them your attention—you owe them your respect.