White House Says It Wasn't Responsible for Picking Rowdy Basketball Arena for Arizona Memorial Service

January 13, 2011 - 6:29 PM

Robert Gibbs

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs talks to reporters about President Obama in Tucson last night where he gave a speech to console the nation and honor the victims of a shooting rampage that that killed six people and left 14 injured, at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the White House was not responsible for choosing a basketball arena, as opposed to a church or a smaller auditorium that might be more conducive to a solemn event, for Wednesday's night's memorial service in Tucson, Ariz.

The McKale Memorial Center, an athletics facility at the University of Arizona, was packed with a reported 14,000  people, who repeatedly broke out in cheers and screams of a sort not ordinarily associated with a memorial service.

Last Sunday, the Arizona Wildcats basketball team played Stanford in the same arena, and this Saturday they will play Arizaon state there.

Gibbs said the White House did not play a role in choosing the venue for the memorial. A university spokesperson told CNSNews.com that the venue was picked after President Barack Obama confirmed he would be attending.

At Thursday's White House briefing, CNSNews.com asked, “What was the reason for choosing the arena as opposed to maybe a church or a smaller venue?”

Gibbs said the venue was chosen by the University of Arizona not the White House.

“Well, I would point you to the university on that, and I think it’s important to understand this was--we were invited to and accepted quite happily the invitation of the university,” Gibbs told CNSNews.com.

“I think having that many people there and being able to include people from the community was, again, was and is an important part of that healing process. But in terms of logistics and things like that, I’d point you to the university as they’d probably be better to answer your questions on those sorts of things,” he added.

Jennifer Fitzenberger, director of external communications for the university, confirmed the university began planning the event over the weekend, and invited President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to attend.

“It was held at the university and coordinated with city and county officials,” Fitzenberger told CNSNews.com. “The venue was decided on after the president accepted.”

Earlier in the White House press briefing, Mark Knoller of CBS News asked Gibbs, “What did the president think about the pep rally aspect and tone of the event last night?”

Gibbs responded that it was part of the grieving process.

“Well, look, I’m not a Tucsonian, obviously, but I think that having been there for a day before the president got there, you could understandably feel the weight of what had happened,” Gibbs said.

“I think part of the grieving process is celebrating the lives of those that were lost and celebrating the miracles of those that survived. I think you’ve all probably by now read the transcript from the two members on the plane last night about their personal experience with the congresswoman in her hospital bed. It’s an emotional thing to read,” he added.

“Again, I think--I will say that the speech--I read the speech several times and thought that there wouldn’t be a lot of applause, if any,” Gibbs continued. “I think many of us thought that. But I think there was a celebration, again, of the lives of those that have been impacted, not just those that – not just at that grocery store but throughout the country. And I think that if that is part of the healing process, then that’s a good thing.”

Obama’s speech lasted 33 minutes 44 seconds and was interrupted for applause 51 times. The tone of the applause at times included shouts and whistles similar to a political rally.

The speech was compared to earlier speeches given by presidents during a time of national crisis, such as President Ronald Reagan’s speech after the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986 and President Bill Clinton’s speech after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Reagan’s speech was delivered from the Oval Office and lasted less than three minutes.

Clinton delivered his speech at the State Fair Grounds Arena. The Associated Press reported that 20,000 were in attendance. The speech went for 9 minutes and 10 seconds. The speech was interrupted for applause eight times, but was more subdued and typically involved clapping after certain lines in the speech.