April 27, 2002

Message control” versus controlling the information…

Speculation is now that White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett will become the new Karen Hughes. Here is the conclusion of an editorial in The New Republic that counters some of the speculation about what Hughes’ departure means:

The speechwriting shop is run by the widely admired Michael Gerson, the press office by the widely loathed but effective Ari Fleischer, and Communications Director Dan Bartlett long ago took on many of Hughes’s other responsibilities. Bartlett’s presence will likely mean that another expectation of the press corps–that the White House will be less controlling of information–is misplaced as well. Bartlett, like Hughes, is a longtime Bush loyalist, having worked for W. since 1993. As a friend who worked with Bartlett on the campaign puts it: “Dan doesn’t stray. He’s the ultimate soldier. He will do what he is asked and will do what he is told.” In other words, Karen Hughes may be gone, but her spirit will linger.

One of the major points of the editorial is that speculation about what Hughes’ departure means is mistaken, especially as it concerns the controlling of information. This may be. But there are two concerns here regarding information: control of what information reaches the press and “message control,” which is the crafting of consistent (policy) messages and images. I think the editorial correctly assumes that the control of information under Bartlett will likely remain tight. I would suggest, however, that without Hughes’ day-to-day participation, the crafting of consistent messages and images will become more open to internal debate.

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