Columns to Characters: The Presidency and the Press Enter the Digital Age

Columns to Characters: The Presidency and the Press Enter the Digital Age

Columns to Characters: The Presidency and the Press Enter the Digital Age

Columns to Characters: The Presidency and the Press Enter the Digital Age


The relationship between the presidency and the press has transformed—seemingly overnight—from one where reports and columns were filed, edited, and deliberated for hours before publication into a brave new world where texts, tweets, and sound bites race from composition to release within a matter of seconds. This change, which has ultimately made political journalism both more open and more difficult, brings about many questions, but perhaps the two most important are these: Are the hard questions still being asked? Are they still being answered?

In Columns to Characters, Stephanie A. Martin and top scholars and journalists offer a fresh perspective on how the evolution of technology affects the way presidents interact with the public. From Bill Clinton’s saxophone playing on the Arsenio Hall Show to Barack Obama’s skillful use of YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit as the first “social media president,” political communication appears to reflect the increasing fragmentation of the American public.

The accessible essays here explore these implications in a variety of real-world circumstances: the “narcotizing” numbness of information overload and voter apathy; the concerns over privacy, security, and civil liberties; new methods of running political campaigns and mobilizing support for programs; and a future “post-rhetorical presidency” in which the press is all but irrelevant. Each section of the book concludes with a “reality check,” a short reflection by a working journalist (or, in one case, a former White House insider) on the presidential beat.

STEPHANIE A. MARTIN is an assistant professor in the department of communication and public affairs at Southern Methodist University.


Peter Baker

A few days after delivering his final State of the Union address in the majestic chamber of the House of Representatives in January 2016, President Barack Obama sat down to deliver his message in a different fashion. He sat down for an interview with a young man named Adande Thorne, a self-described “time traveler” and “professional cuddler” who hosted a popular YouTube channel under the screen name sWooZie. SWooZie asked about race relations and terrorism but then veered into a series of questions that presidents do not often get asked.

“If you had to pick from one of these ‘Star Wars’ characters, who would you be?” sWooZie asked.

Obama didn’t hesitate. “I’ve got to go with Han Solo,” he said. “He’s a little bit of a rebel.”

SWooZie then showed the president a drawing of two dogs, one with pants covering all four legs and another with the pants covering just the hind legs. “If you had to pick a pair of pants for your dog, a or B?” he asked.

With the same studious demeanor he used to discuss health care, Obama pointed to the dog with just two legs covered. “You’ve got to go with this,” he said. Pointing to the other one, he added, “This, I think, it’s a little too conservative. a little too much. Too much fabric.”

The evolution of technology has transformed the way presidents interact with the public. For decades they have searched for ways to bypass the filter of the mainstream media and communicate directly . . .

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