White House Communications Director Ellen Moran’s 100 Days

Fri, April 24, 2009

Moms & Politics


White House Communications Director Ellen Moran is bidding farewell to her plum appointment before Barack Obama has officially been in office for 100 days. Moran is one of just a handful of women in Obama’s official inner circle and is the only woman in his communications shop.

After being a political animal all her life, why is the former executive director of EMILY’s list, who has been involved in many national and state level campaigns, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, stepping out of the real power circle to head over to the Commerce Department after three months?

Moran is the lone voice for women when it comes to shaping the message of the White House.
Her political and Democratic credentials cannot be questioned. So again I have to ask — Why?

We haven’t seen much of her, with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at the helm of the daily briefings. Was she shut out from actually having a hand in crafting White House messages? If so, it reminds me of Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton’s Press Secretary who got short shrift as the only woman in that communications shop and was eventually replaced, in duties if not in title, by George Stephanopoulos.

Moran’s departure has been described as “sudden,” though some are pointing to the fact that she has two small children and speculating that perhaps that’s why she left. Even though there’s no question that any White House gig is going to be tough on any parent, if you’re a power player inside the beltway, you don’t toss aside a stint in the Obama White House as communications director after three months unless there’s something else going on.

Gibbs said Moran is leaving so she can spend more time with her husband and children. Isn’t that what they always say when someone is being forced out of a position for other reasons?

And I hate to break it to Gibbs and the other boys in that circle, but being Chief of Staff to the Commerce Secretary isn’t a cakewalk — Moran is not going to be leaving the office at 5 p.m. every day. As someone who’s worked in an appointed position in Washington, I can attest to the fact that your time is never your own and she’ll surely be putting in very, very long hours.

I know there are plenty who are going to say I’m a conspiracy theorist, but by allowing Moran to leave, what does that say about President’s Obama’s interest in hearing from a highly skilled female political operative or in hearing an opinion different from his inner sanctum? The perspective Moran brings to the table is different than other women who have Obama’s ear and it’s an invaluable one.

One unnamed person has said that Moran is leaving the White House because having her in the role as White House Communications Director “wasn’t a good fit.” A good fit for whom? If Moran wasn’t part of Obama’s original campaign inner circle, isn’t that a good thing? I thought this White House was going to be about fresh blood, new ideas and different perspectives.

And when someone finally got Moran to confirm she was leaving the White House, she said, “That’s all I’ve got for you.”

One reporter says that we should not assume that Moran’s departure means women aren’t welcome in an Obama White House. He may be right, but for me the jury is still out on that. All I can say is no matter what women he has around him, having an accomplished political player leave before 100 days without really commenting on it is not a sign of good things to come for women being able to have the ear of the President.

Maybe I’ve just got too much time on my hands to think about these things and maybe Moran really does think Commerce will allow her to see her kids more than a White House gig. I really do hope that’s the case. If it’s not, I’m going to be really disappointed in Barack Obama.

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13 Responses to “White House Communications Director Ellen Moran’s 100 Days”

  1. jon Says:

    It’s certainly been disappointing that we didn’t see more of Ellen Moran. Press briefings often remain as Karen Tumulty so vividly described at #polc09: reporters performing for other reporters and the cameras, emceed by Gibbs. And when tough questions are asked, his style — bantering with his friends while avoiding giving any information — gives the perception of chummy insiderishness and stonewalling, not a great match for the Obama administrations message of transparency and change. Sigh.

    I know there are plenty who are going to say I’m a conspiracy theorist, but by allowing Moran to leave, what does that say about President’s Obama’s interest in hearing from a highly skilled female political operative or in hearing an opinion different from his inner sanctum?That seems like a legitimate question to me. If the Administration really wanted to make it work, there would have been a way to reconfigure Ellen’s job to fit within the rest of her life without compromising her authority. Corporations do this all the time (when they want to). Presumably it’s somewhat more complex in government but I’m sure there are solutions out there.

    And you don’t have to posit conspiracy; it’s just a collective systemic blind spot. The male-dominated inner circle makes decisions based on input from male-dominated intepreted by male-dominated press and bloggers and a male-dominated punditry. That makes it easy for them to ignore reality in a very self-interested way.

    For example,

    One reporter says that we should not assume that Moran’s departure means women aren’t welcome in an Obama White House. He may be right, but for me the jury is still out on that.Yes, he may be right, but he is certainly placing the burden of proof in the wrong place. And he doesn’t seem to have talked to any women about this. What atrocious reporting.

    Chris’ article as a whole is an astonishing #diversityfail. All five of the articles he he links to in his roundup are by guys. 80% or more of the stories he focuses on and names he mentions are guys. The article Dan Balz links to only mentions guys. And so on. It really creates the impression of a guy who pretty much only listens to other guys.

    Replay this across large sections of the traditional media and the blogosphere and voila, a collective blindspot. Of course there are plenty of exceptions, and vibrant areas like the feminist and womanist blogospheres where stuff like this gets discussed all the time.

    Still on the whole my guess is this doesn’t get discussed. According to ace reporter Chris Cillizza the communication team “trends heavily toward white men”. It’s really hard for me to picture them sitting around and saying “I wonder what NOW, PunditMom, bfp, and Renee at Womanistmusings will say about this?” Instead they’re thinking of the reaction of the Washington Post, NY Times, etc. Who, conveniently enough, don’t seem to think this shows that women aren’t welcome.

    jon

    PS: AND it gets passed off as “reporting”. I HATE THAT!

  2. April Says:

    That is a shame. I didn’t check the links: any chance her replacement will be a woman?

  3. TX Poppet Says:

    Conspiracy theorist or someone who’s been paying attention? Can someone explain to me why it’s OK to say “She has two small children” about a woman leaving a position like it has anything to do with her ability to do her job?

  4. abdpbt Says:

    I don’t know anything about this, but yeah, I don’t see a firing/resignation of a male cabinet member being explained by saying, “he has two small children.”

  5. anniegirl1138 Says:

    I always thought that “not a good fit” was code for “this person isn’t willing to simply go along regardless of how bad the ideas being floated are”, but that’s just been my experience.

    I have yet to see any real indication that Obama isn’t just as much an American male as any other American male.

    So much for “change”.

  6. PunditMom Says:

    Jon, so why isn’t the main stream media addressing this question? So many seem content to take the “she wants to spend more time with her children” line at face value. Maybe she does, but I want to hear the story from her. Those words haven’t come out of her mouth.

  7. jon Says:

    PunditMom, the mainstream media — and for that matter most of the blogosphere — shows a clear pattern of not addressing stories like this. Why? Bad reporting plus privilege has a lot to do with it.

    It would be great to hear what astute critics like Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky, Steven Johnson, Jeff Jarvis etc. have to say about this collective failure and what they’re doing to take the lead changing the dynamics in new media. Then again maybe they don’t think it’s an important issue.

    jon

  8. Dr. DJ Says:

    I think this is being way over thought by most of you. I personally have known press secretaries for presidents, mayors and US Senators. A few were female, most were male. It is a hard, hard job. It is a 24/7 job.

    IMHO the first 100 days of Obama’s Presidency have been full of GOP backlash. I, personally, would opt for a quieter life with my family than to deal with those pundits who only read the Bible. Obama is a gracious human being. The reactionaries are not as gracious.

    Give the woman a break. Maybe she just doesn’t WANT to do the job. It is possible, eh?

  9. Antonia Z Says:

    I am not ready to speculate on her reason for quitting. It could be anything. But, if it’s the kids, then i have to ask: Why no onsite daycare at the White House? Any company that does not provide that does not care about its female staffers, or keeping female talent.

  10. Dr. DJ Says:

    Then you are talking about the overwhelming majority of corporations, businesses, agencies and government offices that do not provide day care.

    Are you wanting to argue that she is leaving because she is a woman?

  11. jon Says:

    Dr. DJ, it’s her boss who says one of the reasons for her leaving is so she can spend more time with her husband and children. The NYTimes and Washington Post both also made it a point to emphasize her two children. If this is one of the major issues, then there are ways to accomodate her needs if they want to. If that isn’t the issue, why did Gibbs bring it up? And in any case, why isn’t the media discussing this perspective?

    Then you are talking about the overwhelming majority of corporations, businesses, agencies and government offices that do not provide day care.Well yeah. Companies that don’t provide flexible work arrangements and daycare make it much more difficult for employees with young children to keep a good work/life balance. In practice the burden tends to fall disproportionately on women and single parents of all genders. So if the Obama administration is serious about showing that they welcome women, they need to put some reality behind the words. Maybe that wasn’t the issue with Ellen Moran; maybe it was one of many issues; it would be great to see some discussion of that in the press, instead of unsubstantiated claims by guys that “this doesn’t show women aren’t welcome harumph harumph”.

    jon

  12. Dr. DJ Says:

    Of course, I see your point about the discussion needing to be more about: “Let’s talk about issues of transparency when it comes to the communications positions of the president” rather than “women with little children need more time at home with their families than this big job allows.”

    Yep.

    Of course.

    If we really want to talk about what is wrong with the big picture, we might want to discuss how ONE president (or one person) shouldn’t have so much power anyway. Or that one communications director or one press secretary shouldn’t be required to devote his or her entire life to one administration. But those jobs do interfere with family life.

    People who surround elected government officials do not get a private life, unfortunately. I know this from personal experience. I was related once to someone who was a press secretary to a US Senator and before that a mayor. He became a monster because of those positions. He ended those jobs so he could have a family with little children.

    Whether it is a man or a woman there needs to be day care available. That would make a huge difference, but it might not be enough in this case.

  13. PunditMom Says:

    Dr. J, I wonder if it’s a variety of issues combined – there’s the “mother of small children” issue, but there is also the question of whether the new President and his inner circle are open to new voices and ideas that don’t necessarily mesh with their own?

    Antonia Z, I wonder if we could get Michelle Obama’s ear about child care in the White House? Now THAT would be a big step forward.

    I suppose it’s possible that I’m overthinking this, but it sure is inconsistent for someone who has been a major power player in Democratic politics to let go of a plum role like the WH Communications Director before she even got started.


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