Managing the President's Message: The White House Communications Operationby Martha Joynt Kumar
Political scientists are rarely able to study presidents from inside the White House while presidents are governing, campaigning, and delivering thousands of speeches. It’s even rarer to find one who manages to get officials such as political adviser Karl Rove or presidential counselor Dan Bartlett to discuss their strategies while those strategies are under
Political scientists are rarely able to study presidents from inside the White House while presidents are governing, campaigning, and delivering thousands of speeches. It’s even rarer to find one who manages to get officials such as political adviser Karl Rove or presidential counselor Dan Bartlett to discuss their strategies while those strategies are under construction. But that is exactly what Martha Joynt Kumar pulls off in her fascinating new book, which draws on her first-hand reporting, interviewing, and original scholarship to produce analyses of the media and communications operations of the past four administrations, including chapters on George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Kumar describes how today’s White House communications and media operations can be at once in flux and remarkably stable over time. She describes how the presidential Press Office that was once manned by a single presidential advisor evolved into a multilayered communications machine that employs hundreds of people, what modern presidents seek to accomplish through their operations, and how presidents measure what they get for their considerable efforts.
Laced throughout with in-depth statistics, historical insights, and you-are-there interviews with key White House staffers and journalists, this indispensable and comprehensive dissection of presidential communications operations will be key reading for scholars of the White House researching the presidency, political communications, journalism, and any other discipline where how and when one speaks is at least as important as what one says.
Today's burgeoning variety of news sources poses a real challenge for any political administration wishing to communicate agendas, priorities, and policy initiatives to the public. Kumar (political science, Towson Univ.) examines the White House Office of Communications (which began in the Nixon administration), with particularly detailed analysis of the Clinton and George W. Bush terms. She looks at the delicate balance between Presidents, who must use the press to communicate, and the media, which can play an adversarial role in covering them. She defines the White House's communications role as advocating for policies, defending the President from critics, and coordinating government-wide publicity. Having been a regular in the White House Press Room since the early years of the Clinton administration, Kumar can offer an insider's view. Her interviews with Communications Office staff from earlier administrations, such as Ford's and Reagan's, offer a rare look at day-to-day operations and strategies. For example, Dan Bartlett, White House communications director from 2001 to 2005, explains how his office reached out to unconventional media and sponsored a White House roundtable for George W. Bush to meet with correspondents from hunting, fishing, and wilderness magazines. Kumar notes that even as communications strategies vary, there is stability in the system across administrations. Political science and journalism scholars will appreciate the rich detail and scholarship here. Appropriate for most academic libraries.
- Johns Hopkins University Press
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What People are Saying About This
Tapping access to various administrations and the reporters who covered them, Dr. Martha Kumar traces the history of the often fractious relationship between the White House and the press, the schemes each devises to cloak or reveal information; she tells why some succeed and others fail. A valuable addition to a presidential book library.
Ken Auletta, writer for The New Yorker and author of Media Man: Ted Turner's Improbable Empire
Kumar has nailed it. This is a scholarly and fascinating account of White House communications in the modern era. Painful as it sometimes is for past press secretaries, this is a remarkably accurate picture of how presidents deal with the press.
Marlin Fitzwater, Press Secretary for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush
Meet the Author
Martha Joynt Kumar is a professor of political science at Towson University and the author and coauthor of several books on the media and the presidency, including the 1981 classic Portraying the President: The White House and the News Media, also published by Johns Hopkins.
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