WASHINGTON -- For the better part of a decade, Jay Carney sat slumped in his tiny chair in the White House briefing room, parsing, challenging and at times pillorying the words of an array of press secretaries.
But over the last week Mr. Carney -- the first reporter in a generation to move to the other side of the White House podium -- has made his most emphatic and inextricable leap from reporter to reported on.
Cornered by a number of controversies -- one of which swept in his own words -- Mr. Carney has chalked up the criticism over the handling of the attack on an American mission in Benghazi, Libya, to partisan beefing, cast a tiny shadow of doubt on the I.R.S.'s targeting of conservatives and defended the administration over its seizure of reporters' phone records.
In so doing, Mr. Carney, 47, has fully embraced the sort of semantic jujitsu that might have made his reporter self choleric, "appreciating" tough questions, dodging others as "wholly inappropriate" to answer, boasting about an "unfettered" respect for the press that was being spied upon and generally splitting hairs, obfuscating and testing his turbulent ties with the members of his former tribe.
If the incoming mortar fire is leaving wounds, Mr. Carney, the bespectacled, baby-faced press warrior, does not feel them. "Honestly, I find it enjoyable," Mr. Carney said. "I find it challenging. It's hard, but it's better than 45 to 60 minutes of calling on reporters who are kind of sleepy and disinterested. For me personally, it has been a good week."
The pressures began two weeks ago with the growing controversy over the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, in which four Americans were killed.
Mr. Carney is far from the center of that controversy. But Republicans turned their focus on his November assertion that the administration's original talking points on the episode, "originated from the intelligence community," further insisting that the White House edited only a couple of words in the memo.
Recently revealed e-mails demonstrate a more coordinated process in which the White House and State Department were intimately involved. While Mr. Carney "appreciated" the questions about the inconsistencies, he did little to clear them up.
"The downside for Jay on this is his own, repeated statements are cast under a considerable cloud," said Ann Compton of ABC News Radio, who has covered the White House since 1974. "The flip side is he does not appear to be a policy voice arguing on behalf of fuzzing up the facts."
The tensions continued with Mr. Carney's defense of the White House in the investigation over whether the I.R.S. inappropriately targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny and his push back on questions relating to the the seizure of telephone records of Associated Press journalists, over which the press relentlessly grilled him.
"I don't take it personally," he said of the tough questions lobbed by his former peers.
Mr. Carney is the first full-time reporter to make the jump to the White House since Ronald H. Nessen, a former NBC News correspondent, served as press secretary for President Gerald Ford.
His role as President Obama's chief spokesman was not entirely foretold by his earlier life or career choices. One of three children, he grew up in Northern Virginia and earned a degree in Russian studies from Yale. He began his reporting career at The Miami Herald and became Time magazine's Miami bureau chief in 1988. He then was assigned to the magazine's Moscow bureau, in 1990, which he said was a career highlight.
After returning to Washington in 1993, and except for a two-year stint on Capitol Hill, he reported on presidential campaigns and the White House, and served as Time's Washington bureau chief, before leaving the profession.
In 2008, Mr. Carney was still at Time, which, like many mainstream news publications was bleeding cash and staff.
The day after Mr. Obama's victory, Mr. Carney called his old friend Antony J. Blinken, a deputy national security adviser and a member of Mr. Carney's garage band, to inquire about a job in the administration. He was eagerly accepted into the vice president's press office, where he served as communications director, and later chief spokesman, for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
"You always wonder about someone coming in from the press side," Mr. Blinken said. "They bring certain obvious advantages, including a deep institutional and personal knowledge of the media and being able to put themselves in the minds of the people covering the White House. But you have the question mark how is this person going to adjust to being on the other side?" But, he added, "What struck me was how quickly and effectively Jay plunged into his new role, his ability and the energy he put into in defending the vice president."
In early 2011, when Robert Gibbs, a longtime aide to Mr. Obama, resigned as White House Press secretary, Mr. Carney was picked to replace him.
Until now, Mr. Carney's admirers and his detractors have given him credit for avoiding the classic missteps often made by a spokesman forced to volley each day with the press on a range of topics -- from the war in Syria to the federal budget to the president's personal habits -- in an hourlong, televised event often peppered with preening reporters who seem to relish the opportunity to rough up the press secretary before the cameras.
White House press secretaries tend to come in two models: There is the consummate insider, like Mr. Gibbs; Jody Powell, who served during the presidency of Jimmy Carter; and James C. Hagerty, who served under Dwight D. Eisenhower -- all men who had known and worked with their bosses for years. The other type, like Mr. Carney, Mr. Nessen or Larry M. Speakes, who worked for President Ronald Reagan, is often less involved in the development of policy or its packaging, but rather in selling it.
"Access is a two-edged sword," said Bill Plante, a White House correspondent for CBS News. "If you are really in the inner circle, you are very guarded about what you give up. If you're not in the inner circle, you are not going to have as much context for what you do say. Frankly I think the latter is preferable."
Yet there also appears to be an unspoken expectation in the White House that Mr. Carney can somehow control the news hungry animals with which he once shared the zoo, which is largely untrue.
"Traditionally the Democratic White House press secretary has elevated stature because we mistakenly believe the press is on our side," said Mike McCurry, who purposely stayed out of the loop on the Monica Lewinsky scandal to avoid lying to reporters when he played that role for President Bill Clinton. "But over time it is evening out. Engaging the press is not a primary objective of what we do today."
Many in the press have pondered how much Mr. Carney actually knows about the inner workings of the product he is peddling. Mr. Gibbs pressed for access, for precisely this reason. He was once told by Mr. Obama's chief of staff that the Pentagon wanted him out of lengthy briefings about Afghanistan, Mr. Gibbs recalled, fearing it would politicize them. "I told him, 'If I can't be in those meetings you need another press secretary,' " he recalled.
Mr. Carney said he has never felt remotely out of the loop, up to and including on the Benghazi episode. "I think we all can look back and find things we could have done better," he said. "But I just know that everybody here who briefed me did their best and did right by me."
Mr. Carney, who often plays cards with Mr. Obama on their many airplane trips, seems to relish the rhythm of being a spokesman for a president he deeply admires. "I had 21 years in journalism that included being on Air Force One on 9/11, the Hill during impeachment, being in the Soviet Union for the collapse as a Russian speaker. As great as everything I did in Washington was, nothing met the bar of exhilaration that I felt in Moscow, until this job."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.