Former White House press secretary and new School of Media and Public Affairs fellow Joe Lockhart discussed the changing scene of political communications at Jack Morton Auditorium Wednesday.
In a conversation with SMPA Director Frank Sesno, Lockhart – who served as the White House press secretary for former President Bill Clinton – described the changes in technology he has witnessed during a career on the campaign trail.
Since the mid-1990s, Lockhart said technology has driven campaign culture, rather than the other way around.
“As technology has developed, gray beards and elites have lost control,” Lockhart said.
He discussed his first introduction to a fax machine in the 1980s, the first cell phones used on campaigns in 1988 and how he expects the 2012 campaigns to look more like reality television due to the amount of information that can be distributed at any given time.
He referred to the Monica Lewinsky scandal several times, explaining that a Newsweek reporter gave the story to popular blogger Matt Drudge when the news magazine would not print it.
“While there are still elites and people with the best intentions, they can’t control the flow of information,” Lockhart said.
Thirty years ago, a small group of elites decided what would be considered news, Lockhart said. Today, partially because of the abundance of news outlets, it only depends on who’s saying the most shocking, outrageous comments.
Lockhart said media organizations have become more partisan in an effort to gain an audience.
“It’s been found that going for a broad audience is simply less economical,” he said.
When Sesno asked Lockhart to weigh in on the November midterm elections, Lockhart responded he “would not be surprised” if the Democrats lost the House.
After the event, Sesno told The GW Hatchet that he’s pleased to have SMPA fellows with “treasure troves of experience.” Lockhart – along with CNN’s Ed Henry and New York Times columnist Bob Herbert – will add to the “enrichment of the intellectual and professional environment.”
“Students get to see very clearly what they’re learning, studying and experiencing turned into action and careers,” said Sesno.