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Managing the President's Message

The White House Communications Operation

Martha Joynt Kumar

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xxxiv

No matter their programs, their party, or their political circumstances, modern presidents regularly communicate with their fellow citizens to inform them of their plans, decisions, and views on world and domestic events and to encourage them to action or patience, as needs...

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1. Creating an Effective Communications Operation

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pp. 1-32

Presidents have communications opportunities and resources unmatched by any elected official in the American political system. Each modern president has a press secretary, a senior communications adviser, and many speechwriters and researchers, with support staff of up to...

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2. The Communications Operation of President Bill Clinton

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pp. 33-70

A study of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations demonstrates the consistent ingredients in a White House communications operation and identifies some of the differences. Both administrations worked with basic communications office units, in particular the...

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3. The Communications Operation of President George W. Bush

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pp. 71-118

Prior to his inauguration, George W. Bush and his advisers spent a substantial amount of time considering how they would organize their staff. Karen Hughes, the designated senior communications adviser, worked through possible ways of organizing the communications operation...

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4. White House Communications Advisers

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pp. 119-177

No president today would come into office without appointing a communications adviser to handle his publicity and to oversee a variety of existing White House organizational units. In the modern White House, the communications adviser manages the words, pictures, publicity...

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5. The Press Secretary to the President

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pp. 178-221

The press secretary is the White House staff member responsible for creating and disseminating the official record of a president’s statements, announcements, reactions, and explanations.1 Unlike the communications chief, who often speaks on an anonymous attribution basis...

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6. The Gaggle and the Daily Briefing

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pp. 222-252

Following the practice of his predecessors, on most weekdays when the president was in town, Press Secretary Scott McClellan engaged in two public briefing sessions with reporters. While only one source of information among many and far from the only occasion for news-related...

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7. Presidential Press Conferences

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pp. 253-282

Press conferences and short question-and-answer sessions represent the best examples of presidential communications in unscripted forums. Presidents and their staffs go to great lengths to control public situations where a chief executive appears. They do not like surprises. Yet...

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8. Managing the Message

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pp. 283-305

Several presidents have solved the puzzle posed at the beginning of the book calling on chief executives and their staff to figure out ways to reach the public regularly and activate support for their initiatives and goals through independent news organizations. Though the press is not...

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pp. 306-322

The presidential transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama puts on view what is permanent and what is malleable in the relationship between the White House and news organizations. Even though these presidents differ in their policy preferences and communications...


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pp. 323-350


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pp. 351-363

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899522
E-ISBN-10: 0801899524
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801895593
Print-ISBN-10: 0801895596

Page Count: 400
Illustrations: 5 charts
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 864854643
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Managing the President's Message

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Communication -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • Presidents -- Press coverage -- United States.
  • Press and politics -- United States.
  • Government and the press -- United States.
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