Decoding the Resignation of Communications Director Michael Dubke

Dubke, Jabin Botsford WashPost

Michael Dubke on the right (Jabin Botsford/Washington Post)

During a relatively quiet news day, the resignation of White House communications director provoked different levels of responses from across the media spectrum. Some news answered the question, “Wait, who is Mike Dubke?” with a brief biography and subsequent shrug. Other news organizations reported this as another example of how chaotic and unmanageable President Trump’s White House is.

What Happened:

White House communications director, Michael Dubke, announced he was resigning from his position at the White House. Dubke had given his resignation notice on May 18th but offered to stay on through President Trump’s foreign trip. Dubke was hired in February.

In an email to his staff, Dubke said, “The reasons for my departure are personal, but it has been my great honor to serve President Trump and this administration.”

Dubke has worked in public relations and Republican politics since George H.W. Bush’s 1992 campaign. He did not work for Donald Trump’s campaign.

 

The Coverage:

Most people never heard of Dubke. Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary, is well known for his daily briefings that present the White House’s side on topics. But the Communications Director is typically more of a behind-the-scenes role. The Communications Director is supposed to be in charge of deciding how the White House wants to deliver their messaging on the president’s agenda. They work with the Press Secretary to make sure they are making the case for the President’s initiatives by using the same language, the same reasoning, and stating the same goals. In short, they are the marketing director of the White House.

So this story is worthy of being front page news but falls short of being headline news. Except for on CNN. CNN has provided reporting as well as political analysis of the event. Their front page story, “Why Mike Dubke Matters, A Lot,” is analysis that makes the case this was an important resignation because Dubke was an outsider and therefore represented a link between the White House and the GOP establishment. His resignation is likely to create a void that will be filled with someone who will not challenge Trump. This is trending as one of the top stories on Google News.

Fox News reporting mostly sticks to Mike Dubke’s public statements, Reince Priebus publicly thanking Dubke for his service, and a Fox appearance by Kellyanne Conway who said she did not know him well but defended his stated reasons for leaving. Fox News was the only major organization not to mention the Russia investigation or any of Trump’s tweets.

NBC News has the headline, “Mike Dubke, White House Communications Director, Resigns After 3 Months on Job “ which goes on frame the event as representative of greater chaos within the White House. NBC covers the rumored shake-ups of White House senior staff coming. Then briefly mentions the Kushner-Russia news story.

The New York Times offers similar framing to NBC. They detail the challenges a communications director would have in diffusing new Russia connection news while also answering for Donald Trump’s tweets.

 

Decoded:

In a perfect world for any communications director, the director would come up with a strategy and talking points surrounding legislation. Then the White House staff and surrogates would go out and repeat those talking points. The news organizations would frame all of their stories around those talking points. And constituents would accept the talking points and support the president’s agenda. Over time this would build a positive narrative of the president’s service. None of that has happened with President Trump.

If Trump thought things were going well, he would not be lambasting “fake news”, suggesting cancelling press briefings, and squashing rumors of any high level shake-ups.

So Dubke’s resignation signals a shift regardless of his reasons for leaving. Fox News made no mention of the turmoil around Trump, but the NY Times dedicated most of their story to the problems plaguing the White House.

1.) In decoding media bias, decide: Does this resignation really matter? Fox provided a brief story based on public statements and buried it in their sub-headlines. On the other hand, CNN has already provided political analysis and put it at the forefront of their webpage. Dubke was a guy most people never heard of and it is unclear what he did in the White House or even tried to do.  So in that regard, it makes sense to pass on the story. But since the communications director is in charge of painting the president and all they do in their best light, one can wonder why they would leave after three months with few successes.

2.) Also consider, what are the consequences of this resignation? NBC speculates that the next hire could be someone from Trump’s campaign. Someone who is loyal to him. In that light, Trump could be further surrounding himself with people who laud him but may not serve him most effectively in developing communications strategy.

We have also seen how Trump responds directly to negative news cycles via Twitter. Many mainstream news organizations have made Dubke’s resignation a negative event for Trump too. Dubke’s brief tenure and the fact that he was in charge of communcations has been fodder for news stories that paint the White House as erratic and aimless. Trump may respond on Twitter, or he may respond with action. Action could be adjusting his decision on who the news communications director is, tendering the resignation of more senior staff, or something more drastic. All of this could impact how the White House operates going forward.

 

 

 

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