September 5, 2017 - 5:30 PM

Communicating for the President

by Zach Magid

The Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted two former White House Communications Directors on September 5, 2017, to a packed house in the Healey Family Student Center Social Room. Students were excited to hear from Jen Psaki, former Communications Director in the Obama Administration and GU Politics Spring ’17 Fellow, and Mike Dubke, former Communications Director in the Trump Administration and GU Politics Fall ’17 Fellow. The discussion was moderated by Steve Scully, Executive Producer and Political Editor at C-SPAN.

From the very start, the conversation was substantive, yet lighthearted and fun. Psaki and Dubke explained to the audience that they were meeting for the very first time, and noted the opportunity to compare and contrast their experiences serving in the White House. Dubke admitted that Psaki’s experience may have been different since she had served for a significantly longer period of time (“approximately 100 Scaramuccis longer,” in her words), but both certainly found commonalities in their experiences. Both found the job to be challenging in the age of instant communication, given how the media could be notified of information as quickly as those in the White House. Dubke relayed his experience working with President Trump’s frequent tweeting, expressing the difficulties in managing a president and the news simultaneously. However, he also shared his belief in the positive benefits from having a direct line between the president and the American public. Dubke went on to share that while the advisory teams craft some tweets to recommend to the president, that others he would tweet would come as a surprise to everyone. Students were particularly interested in hearing about President Trump’s relationship with the media; Dubke emphasized that while Trump understood the importance of the media, he was upset when he felt the media’s portrayal of events was incorrect or unfair.

As for Obama, Psaki thought that communicating in the Obama Administration had its own share of challenges because he came into office without extensive knowledge of the inner workings of Washington. He was so personable and warm that he’d often want to discuss sports or family when she wanted to work something out with him quickly.

At one point in the evening, Scully asked about the different facets of serving in this particular position in the White House. Both Psaki and Dubke affirmed the extensive range of duties, from working with policy teams to helping the president make strategic decisions. This wide range of responsibilities was Psaki’s favorite part of the job. She expressed that having influence in so many different areas made her job preferable to the position of Press Secretary, since the Press Secretary spent so much time with the press. At the same time, Psaki didn’t brush over the difficulties as White House Communications Director since the blame often falls on the communications team when things go awry.

Dubke’s favorite parts of the job were the relatively free reign in the Administration and only having to answer to the president, though he also felt the same pressure when things went wrong. His final piece of advice to the audience was “to take every opportunity without hesitation. So much of what happens in Washington is serendipity.”

In all, the panelists did a fantastic job relaying their former experiences as White House Communications Directors and even stayed an additional half hour after the event to connect with students and answer questions. What a strong way to start the year with GU Politics!

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