Published July 20, 2011 in the Naples (FL) Daily News:
From Teddy Roosevelt’s Bully Pulpit to President Barack Obama’s embrace of social media, presidential communication tends to define communication as a cultural phenomenon.
The public — and policymakers from Capitol Hill to nearly every other level of government and society — tend to listen when a president of the United States communicates. The way in which a president communicates has also become nearly as important as the words written or spoken.
Former presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson set a tone for our early days with their letters — hand-written and usually hand-delivered. Abraham Lincoln’s speeches defined our nation in its most troubled times.
The first telephone was installed in the White House in 1877 by Rutherford B. Hayes, a single line running only to the Treasury Department next door.
Regular and frequent telephone calls into and out of the White House would have to wait another 50 years until Herbert Hoover installed the first telephone into the Oval Office.
The age of mass communication between the White House and the American public began famously with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats on the radio. Embracing the earliest form of mass communication, Roosevelt’s effectiveness and success is legendary.
Both FDR and, later, presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson knew how to work the phones effectively and all three effectively used off-the-record conversations with journalists as part of a mass media strategy.
President Johnson famously had three televisions set up in the Oval Office to monitor all three — at the time — major television news organizations.
Perhaps no form of presidential mass communications compares in its effect on the body politic as greatly as the 1960 televised debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The medium became the message and helped determine the outcome of the election.
Live televised speeches directly to the American public have become almost routine for presidents from Kennedy to Obama. And the annual State of the Union address to Congress has become an evening of great television theatre.
Obama’s uses of the “new” forms of social media in 2008 are widely credited with propelling a relatively unknown senator from Illinois to the White House. (Lincoln used trains and debates with Stephen Douglas.)
The Obama administration continues to employ many forms of social media in its daily communications. With a few quick keystrokes, millions of Americans are able to occupy front-row seats in the White House and Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
From its primary Internet portal at www.whitehouse.gov/engage, visitors can subscribe to a wide range of electronic newsletters and blogs, can visit and engage with other Obama administration initiatives like “Let’s Move” or “Joining Forces” or the new “Champions of Change” initiative.
From its Facebook page and Twitter account to its presence on LinkedIN to its White House channel on YouTube and Vimeo, constant uploading of photos to its Flickr account and podcasts on iTunes, the Obama White House is communicating online constantly to millions of Americans just about every aspect of this historic presidency.
“This White House is committed to being the most open and transparent in history,” said Katelyn Sabochik, director of online engagement for the White House Office of Digital Strategy.
Her title and office pretty much says it all. Social media is the message for the Obama administration.