White House press secretary Carney speaks to reporters about the "sequester" at the White House in Washington

The White House admitted Wednesday that its handling of information about three big simultaneous scandals has produced justifiable press frustration and suspicion.

After tense and combative press briefings on Monday and Tuesday, press secretary Jay Carney took a different tack Wednesday, acknowledging there were “legitimate criticisms about how we’re handling this.”

The admission crystallized a sense within the press that Team Obama, which has always focused laser-like on messaging, has suddenly lost its tight grip on the political agenda, and is now having to react to it rather than shape it.

Carney has been skewered over the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups; the Department of Justice’s subpoenaing of phone records and labeling of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a criminal co-conspirator; and the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

“They’re two steps away from causing harm to themselves,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of communications at Boston University. “They’re digging themselves a pretty big hole, and the real question is, ‘Is Obama going to fall into it?’ ”
Carney’s shifting story on the IRS has become particularly problematic, as it suggests a focus on limiting exposure and aggressively fighting for news cycles.“The first rule of crisis management is dump all the bad stuff out,” Berkovitz said.“They’re stonewalling. The strategy seems to be to play the president as ignorant … ‘Gee I didn’t know about that until I read about it in the newspaper.’ ”