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Civil servants as superior presidential spokespeople

Kara Alaimo ( Hofstra University Hempstead United States )

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 11 March 2016




This study investigated whether political appointees or civil servants are more effective spokespeople for the President of the United States.


A series of rare, detailed, confidential interviews were conducted with civil servants and political appointees who worked in public affairs for the U.S. Department of the Treasury under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, as well as with reporters who interacted with the officials frequently.


The findings suggest that civil servants more effectively advance the President’s positions in the press than political appointees. Reporters place significantly less trust in information they receive from political appointees because they assume that appointees are politically motivated – a phenomenon this study calls the “appointee discount.” Appointees also have significantly less knowledge of the policies they are responsible for communicating. Civil servants are therefore positioned to more effectively shape media coverage on behalf of the President.

Research limitations/implications

The findings suggest that the increased use of political appointees by modern Presidents may have been misguided. Further research should be conducted in other government agencies to confirm the findings.

Practical implications

The findings suggest that it would be in the interests of the President of the United States to use civil servants rather than political appointees as spokespeople for non-political policies.


This is the first study to investigate whether political appointees or civil servants better advance the interests of the President of the United States in the press.


Alaimo, K. (2016), "Civil servants as superior presidential spokespeople", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 20 No. 2.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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