Eagleton Institute’s Ingrid Reed
1.) Stay in touch — by TV, radio, internet, print — and tell us what you are thinking. Take us into your confidence, explain the complexities, your concerns and your insights. We need to know you as president as we got to know you as a candidate and a person. Write another book exploring your life experiences.
2.) Listen to Abigail Adams: “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Women voted for you in large numbers. Their needs often are not the same as men’s. For example, infrastructure projects will not put them to work immediately. Caring for the sick, educating the young, and conducting scientific experiments will.
3.) Confirm our shared values as found in the Constitution. Use your experience as a teacher of the law to keep us focused on the privileges and responsibilities of living in a republic. Despite all the wrongs in the world, our best hope is to respect the rights of each individual under the law.
4.) Have a good time. Keep shooting baskets, go to the movies, visit national parks — even camp, watch your girls play soccer and sing in the choir, send Valentines, and celebrate your anniversary.
Ingrid Reed is the policy analyst and director of the New Jersey Project at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University.
Ted Deutsch, Ad Agency Principal
Dear President Obama: One of the most important contributions you can make to our country is to make good on your campaign rhetoric to bring a new unity and civility to American politics.
In more concrete terms, that means respecting the opinion of, and openly considering proposals from, elected officials from all points on the political spectrum. It means using the success of your grassroots fundraising machine as a springboard to lessen the influence of big money in campaigns. It means consistently speaking the plain truth to Americans about the things we can no longer afford to subsidize, and those we cannot afford to neglect — and then using the power of your office to reflect those truths in our government spending.
Perhaps you can even use your bully pulpit to take on the “pundit nation” that has infected our airwaves and fueled a political culture of mutual finger-pointing and harsh resentments. As someone in the communications business myself, I am excited about your potential to raise the bar on public discourse in this country.
Ted Deutsch, principal, Deutsch Communications Group, 20 Nassau Street, www.deutschcommunications.com
Media Analyst Richard Lee
On the heels of his successful campaign and historic election, Barack Obama would not appear to be a man in need of advice on dealing with the news media. Nevertheless, the dynamics are likely to change when Obama actually becomes the nation’s 44th president and is judged by how he governs, instead of how he performs on the campaign trail.
During my career, I have had the opportunity to offer media advice to several individuals making the transition from candidate to officeholder, albeit at the state and local levels. But if Barack Obama were to seek my advice, here are 10 recommendations I would offer to guide his media operations:
1.) The best thing you can do to garner positive press is to run your administration well. Legendary Chicago Mayor Richard Daley once said that good government is good politics. But good government also is good press. Run things well and good press should follow, just as it did during the primary and election campaigns.
2.) Make sure your administration speaks with one voice. One of the difficulties involved with moving up to higher office is learning to control the many agencies and workers that come with the new job. Suddenly, there are people with important responsibilities whom you may not know well — or at all. There will be people with their own agendas and priorities — and they may not always be consistent with yours.
3.) Respect the press. Never forget that reporters are professionals with a job to do, even if that means asking questions and raising issues you would rather not address. Avoid governing as if the press is out to get you. Stick to your agenda. That is how you got to the Oval Office and that is how you can succeed there.
4.) Be open, accessible and honest. Almost every public official makes these promises, but few keep them.
5.) Apply the adage “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” to your media policies. Do not limit your interviews to news organizations that tend to agree with your ideology. If you want to win over those who have not supported you in the past, you need to make your case in the newspapers, websites and television stations they rely upon for news.
6.) Remain aware of the changing media landscape. Today, we get our news and information from a wide variety of sources. During the campaign, the Obama team was adept at bypassing the traditional media and going directly to the people through E-mail, YouTube and even online video games. Continued use of new media will pay dividends in the today’s world.
7.) Make reporters’ job easier. Know their deadlines and when it is best to issue a news release or hold a news conference. Remember that if you leak a story to one news organization, you are likely to make enemies with its competitors. Anticipate what reporters will need so you can have answers and information ready to help them meet deadlines.
8.) Continue to make good use of “soft news.” Stories about Michelle, the kids, the search for a family dog, and moving your mother-in-law into the White House all help to create a warm and authentic feeling about the nation’s chief executive, something that has been missing for quite a while.
9.) Conversely, remember that using your family to score political points works two ways. They are now fair game for the press, so do not cry foul if the media starts asking questions about your family members and their activities.
10.) Keep the press busy with a full schedule of news conferences and public events. The press needs a steady flow of news. The more news the Obama Administration creates, the less time reporters have to dig up dirt and produce negative stories.
One final thought based upon my work on the communication staffs of several public officials:
Above all, listen to the advice of your own press staff. Your staffers may not always have all of the answers, but public officials have gotten themselves into a myriad of problems that could have been avoided had they heeded the advice of the individuals they hired to handle the media. Believe me, I know.
Richard A. Lee is communications director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy: New Jersey. A former journalist and deputy communications director for the governor, he also teaches courses in media and government at Rutgers University.
John Sarno, Business Advocate
One of the biggest mistakes that any leader can make is to succumb to groupthink. The run-up to the Iraq war and the financial meltdown are but two recent examples of executives who created environments in which there were no opposing views during the decision making process.
In each case, executives had sent the message that they did not welcome any dissent, and therefore the people who served them were fearful of saying the wrong thing and being labeled something less than team players. With groupthink, the information provided to the decision maker often becomes nothing more than a self-perpetuating loop, resulting in a predetermined outcome — bad information leading to bad decisions.
My advice to Barack Obama is to surround himself with smart people who hold strong opinions and are not afraid to offer them. On his part, Obama must not be seduced by the office, remain humble (at least privately), and listen carefully to opposing views; perhaps even being more welcoming of those who disagree.
This, of course, takes intellectual and analytical discipline to avoid chronic indecision. Whether I will ultimately agree or disagree with the decisions that the new president will soon be making, if he avoids groupthink whenever possible, he will always have my respect and admiration.
John Sarno is the president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, www.eanj.org, in Livingston.
Cate Litvack, Crossroads of the Revolution
Dear President Obama: In your victory the promise of America came closer to being realized. Like many who grew up in this country’s Deep South, never did I think that the day would come when I could vote for an African-American presidential candidate — let alone one who would win. Listening to your election night speech in Chicago made me realize how cathartic your victory was on a number of levels. Seeing the thousands of tearful and happy, indeed joyous faces in Grant Park, wiped away the still too vivid, 40-year-old memory of tear-gassed, anguished, and angry faces in that same park.
Your victory has brought us out of a dark age of fear. Your victory has inspired us to be hopeful.
Another barrier-breaking president issued a challenge to us that resonates today: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
As you govern, ask us to remember that people continue to come to America today to be free and to gain a better life. Just as so many of us, or our ancestors, came in the past. Ask us to remember that this country was founded on a notion of equality and we are finally closer to achieving that ideal. And we will ask you to govern openly, fairly and honestly. We will also ask you to safeguard the liberties that long-ago patriots held dear and fought for fiercely with both pen and musket to gain for these United States.
Cate Litvack is executive director of Crossroads of the American Revolution National and State Heritage Area, which ties together New Jersey’s historic sites, emphasizing the state’s role in the American Revolution. www.revolutionarynj.org. The organization recently received federal funding.