What more could SMPA students ask for?
Standing side-by-side in one of SMPA’s classrooms last week were CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry and former Clinton White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart talking about whether President Barack Obama gave the right kind of speech to console the nation in the wake of the tragic shooting in Tucson.
And of course, the conversation also led to speculation over what kind of press secretary the President should appoint to replace the departing Robert Gibbs at the White House podium.
Lockhart, Henry and Assistant Professor Michael Shanahan have come together to teach SMPA 3195 “Across the Podium,” a course that will offer students unusually candid insights into how presidents do their best to communicate to their political advantage with the American people and how the White House press corps interprets and reports what the U.S. President and his staff actually say and do.
"What people need to understand is that the only a tiny percentage of the White House Press Secretary's job involves the daily briefing," Lockhart told the students, equally divided between eight journalism and mass communication and eight political communication majors.
Henry, a veteran Washington political journalist, and Lockhart, a former television news producer who held senior communication strategy jobs for Bill Clinton, John Kerrey and Walter Mondale, are well suited to explain the ins and outs of White House coverage and messaging to SMPA students eager to follow in their footsteps. They are also both Professional Fellows at SMPA during this academic year, interacting with students beyond this class at both private and public events.
The course will cover all aspects of how American Presidents prepare their messages over the long and short term as well as the makeup and practices of the disparate White House press corps.
From week to week, the curriculum will include discussions on how the digital communication revolution allows the President to bypass White House reporters in reaching Americans, the importance of imagery in presenting the Chief Executive positively, the structure and purpose of the White House Communication Office, White House scandals like the one involved Monica Lewinsky and how the President is covered when he travels abroad.
Other members of the SMPA faculty will also deliver guest lectures to the class. Professor Steven Livingston will talk about the so-called “CNN effect” in which Presidents make foreign policy decisions driven by reporting on CNN and other cable channels that have more current and accurate information than is available through State Department and Pentagon channels.
"I chose to take the class with Ed Henry and Joe Lockhart because this is my final semester at GW and I have already fulfilled all of my requirements. I thought to myself, 'What better way to capstone my experience as a journalism student studying in Washington D.C. than to learn the behind-the-scenes operations from people actually involved in the process?' Sure, I have had incredible learning experiences reading articles and textbooks describing how the government filters information before exposing it to the press, and how the press frames information before it releases it to the public. But hearing how this process actually works from CNN's senior White House correspondent and from a former White House press secretary is a whole different ballgame," said journalism senior Ricki Maybruch.
Professor Robert Entman will talk about framing the White House story, reflecting readings from his research on why some stories are covered by the press and others are ignored and the political consequences of those decisions.
"Learning from experts in the field like Mr. Lockhart and Mr. Henry, all guided by the teaching skills of Professor Shanahan, provides an in-depth, and uniquely GW learning experience," said political communication senior Colby Anderson.
All in all, the course promises to capture in one semester the vision and purpose of learning within SMPA with its unique mix of journalism and political communication academic pursuits.