A line wound from the first floor down to the basement of the School of Media and Public Affairs building Thursday morning as students and visitors waited eagerly for the most recent installment of the SMPA Conversation Series, featuring White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Carney is the 29th White House Press Secretary and the second under the Obama administration. Prior to this position, Carney served as the Washington Bureau Chief for Time magazine from 2005 to 2008. He would then be appointed director of communications for Vice President Joe Biden.
2013-2014 SMPA Distinguished Fellow and CBS News’ Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett interviewed Carney about topics ranging from his transition as a reporter to government employee to his role as press secretary.
When asked whether his past as a reporter helps him in his current position, Mr. Carney said that it was a very untraditional route to the Press Secretary position. “My previous work makes me more aware of what reporters go through on a daily basis,” said Carney. “It’s about empathy and not sympathy.”
A major part of Carney’s job is determining how to utilize the Internet and social media to the White House’s advantage, a challenge never before faced by a presidential administration.
The Obama administration made the decision to schedule an interview between President Obama and Zach Galafianakis last month on Galafianakis’s web series, “Between Two Ferns.” This was an apparent effort to reach younger viewers and encourage them to sign up for health care. Reaching young adults has been a focal point for the Obama administration. There is an advantage to pushing the envelope as far as how to reach this audience,” said Carney.
Other such efforts include a recent selfie of President Obama and Vice President Biden in the back of their limousine. Carney said this picture captures the unique relationship the two share in a format that translates to the current era. “It is no different from other casual presidential photos taken in past eras,” he said.
One of the most difficult portions of Carney’s job includes choosing which circulating information to respond and not respond to. “While there are always rumors on the internet, few things last for very long,” said Carney
In the event’s question and answer portion, Carney told GW students looking to serve in a position similar to his that going into politics and public policy is important. “Believing in your work and making sure you are there for the right reasons is crucial,” said Carney. He told the sold-out audience that he fully believes in the human enterprise and that his position serves no other purpose than to serve the people and the country.
If Carney’s positive and polite disposition were not enough to woo the audience, his consent to take a selfie with an adoring fan surely did. The event was also available online via a live stream.