“Our job is to be honest with the American people,” White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said. “We’re going to be wholly committed…to sharing honest information.”
Bedingfield was one of four members of the Biden-Harris administration’s female-led communications team who participated in a Jan. 21 video call with The 19th, a nonprofit site that reports women’s issues and government policy.
Sometimes, Bedingfield said, being honest with the public will “mean that we don’t have the loveliest, rosiest picture to paint. As a communications team, we’re going to have to think about, ‘How do we communicate honestly with the American people when we have hard news to share?’”
To build trust with the public, the communicators will have “real conversations about the real issues impacting people, whether it’s the pandemic or the economic crisis or climate change or, frankly, racial injustice in this country,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Together, those four issues are “the lens through which my colleagues and I view the task before us,” said Symone Sanders, chief spokesperson for the vice president. The White House communications team will “do everything we can to push the ball forward on tackling this virus, getting this pandemic under control,” and both President Biden and Vice President Harris will carry those messages, Sanders said.
The administration’s communications on COVID-19 and other issues will center on racial equity, said Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary. The process for dealing with “systemic racism” will “start from the federal government” and “hopefully, it will permeate down,” she said.
The communications team and press office will hold daily briefings that include policy experts, and “these faces will not be all white men,” Psaki said. “They will be diverse faces, men, women of different backgrounds and experiences.” Other White House communications tactics will include regional-reporter roundtables and messages from YouTube personalities, she said.
Jean-Pierre said the president’s cabinet, “the most diverse cabinet ever,” says a lot about “what we’re thinking” and “the voices that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris [wish to have] represent them out there to the American public.”
Psaki said Biden’s female communications staffers have their jobs because “we’re the best in the business…not because we’re women.”
White House promises a calm tone
To build credibility with the American public, Psaki said she and her colleagues will deliver information to people about issues that affect their lives while maintaining a calm tone that “isn’t knee-jerky” or “responsive to Twitter.”
Still, social media is “an important, direct line of communication to so many people across the country,” and it will be “one piece of how President Biden and Vice President Harris communicate,” Bedingfield said.
Errin Haines, the event’s moderator and an editor-at-large for The 19th, asked the panelists how they would convey Biden’s message “of unity and healing.”
“We don’t have to just retreat to our corners and simmer in hatred and divisiveness,” Bedingfield said. “We can find a way to work together, even when we don’t always agree.” On the theme of unity, Biden is “his own best messenger,” so a communications priority will be to put him in front of audiences and to “reach people in different and nontraditional ways,” Bedingfield said.
Greg Beaubien is a frequent contributor to PRSA publications.[Photo credit: drew angerer]