On October 24th, the Miller Center launched Volume 7: Seizing the Bully Pulpit, which focuses on White House communications. Scholars and policymakers gathered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, to celebrate the release.
Panel 1: “From campaigning to governing: White House communications in year one”
The Los Angeles Times’ Christina Bellantoni led a robust conversation featuring former George H.W. Bush speechwriter Mary Kate Cary, Rutgers University professor David Greenberg, and Obama for America’s (2008, 2012) chief digital strategist Joe Rospars.
Cary’s essay discusses the changing ways in which Americans digest media, while Greenberg’s piece focuses on moving away from the 100 days paradigm. Cary referenced her work when she remarked that people get their news in two major ways now: via curated feeds like Twitter, and in “micro-moments,” wherein they leave those feeds to search for specific information and ask specific questions. She called for more White House press conferences, the use of third-party sources, and the proliferation of shareable content as ways to break into these two data streams.
Panel 2: “Surviving—and thriving—in the new media landscape”
Carla Marinucci of POLITICO steered a discussion featuring the Miller Center’s Nicole Hemmer and former Obama administration digital strategist and current State Department official Macon Phillips.
Phillips challenged the traditional concept of what we consider “media.” He acknowledged that large newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal still have a place in the market. However, he used examples from his time in the White House to state that alternatives like crowdsourced interviews can be just as valuable despite their atypical format. Hemmer countered that while he made a fair point, it has been traditional print publications such as The New York Times that have broken the major stories this election cycle.
Keynote conversation: communicating with a divided America
Speechwriters from each of the previous five presidential administrations—Ken Khachigian (Reagan), Mary Kate Cary (George H.W. Bush), David Kusnet (Clinton), John McConnell (George W. Bush), and Kyle O’Connor (Obama)—shared the stage in a conversation moderated by the Miller Center’s Bill Antholis.
Dining under the tail of Ronald Reagan’s Air Force One, guests were treated to an engrossing exploration of an array of diverse speeches spanning American history described by the men and women who penned them. Khachigian reflected on drafting attack rhetoric that Ronald Reagan used against Walter Mondale late in the 1984 election. Cary discussed drafting a joke for a White House Correspondents’ Dinner wherein President George H.W. Bush impersonated Dana Carvey impersonating him. O’Connor touched on his experience working with President Obama on a commencement address at Morehouse College and the difficulty presented in composing words which he himself could never deliver.
We invite all of you to visit the Reagan Library. It is a national treasure well worth the trip for all students of presidential history.