Presidential adviser, author and SMPA professor Hess reflects on his work

While many students might aspire to work with the President of the United States someday, a GW professor has already had that distinction – four times.

Stephen Hess, a distinguished research professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs, has served on two White House staffs under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, and has advised both Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

He began teaching at GW in 2004 after working for The Brookings Institution, a private non-profit research organization, for more than 30 years. He was repeatedly encouraged to come to GW by University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Steve Roberts, J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs.

“Steve Hess is a thoughtful, congenial colleague with a recognized reputation in the field,” Roberts said. “The many times he is quoted in print articles and TV broadcasts has raised the visibility and authority of SMPA considerably.”

Hess said he came to GW because of the students. “We really do have terrific students,” Hess said. “They are truly involved in (the) affairs here.”

Recently, Hess was selected to participate in the Rockefeller Foundation’s month-long conference in Bellagio, Italy. He said the conference in May is “a great honor” for him.

Had Hess’ application been turned down, he would have had to wait another 10 years before he could reapply. “My wife said she had never seen me so nervous before. The application took me the entire summer,” Hess said.

Hess, a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, said his collegiate experience taught him the importance of mentors. As an undergraduate, Hess developed a friendship with his political science professor, Malcolm Moos. Moos later became president of the University of Minnesota and chief speechwriter for President Eisenhower.

After being drafted and serving with a peacetime army in Germany from the fall of 1958 to Jan. 1961, Hess returned to join Moos as Eisenhower’s second speechwriter. Hess joked that he literally took Elvis Presley’s place in the army since his division replaced Presley’s in Germany. Hess was only 25 years old when he began working at the White House.

After working as a speechwriter, Hess declined an offer to work for the Kennedy administration because he wanted to make his career with one political party. Hess continued in politics as a speechwriter for Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign in California and when Nixon became president, Hess was appointed chairman of the White House Committee on Children and Youth from 1970 to 1971.

Over the course of his career, Hess has worked in five different government press offices, served as the U.S. representative to the U.N. General Assembly in 1976 and was the editor-in-chief of the Republican Party Platform in 1976. He joined The Brookings Institution in 1972 as a senior fellow in the governance program. After working in politics, Hess said he had “made enough money to do what I wanted to do.”

“I didn’t feel like spending the rest of my life in another public policy project,” Hess said. “So I decided to go to the media.”

Hess’ media work includes a self-syndicated column and several editorials, though he “tends to keep away from that now.”

At the start of his media involvement, Hess discovered that there was no scholarly book written about Washington, D.C., reporting; so in 1981, Hess published his first book, “The Washington Reporters.”

“I was so fascinated by the subject,” Hess said.

Since then, Hess has published 18 books total. His most recent work is going back, with the help of his students, to interview about 77 reporters that were quoted in his first book and follow-up on their career paths.

“The objective now is to finish the cycle and go back to where I started,” Hess said. “My eyes and my ears are not as strong, (and) I need students to go out and help me do my work.”

In addition to being involved with media and politics full-time, Hess has two children, two stepchildren and six grandchildren. Hess also fields questions from current journalists and has provided interviews for networks such as CNN.

“GW has been fortunate to have (Hess) as part of its professional family,” said Lee Huebner, director of SMPA. “He is a great example of someone with superb credentials both as a scholar and a practitioner in the world of media and public affairs.”

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