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Press Secretaries

The Job

Once elected, a politician continues to rely on media relations experts, such as press secretaries, to use the media to portray the politician in the best light. In recent years, such words as "spin," "leak," and "sound bite" have entered the daily vocabulary of news and politics to describe elements of political coverage in the media.

Negative campaigning, also known as "mudslinging" or smear campaigns, has, unfortunately, become a normal part of the election campaign process that press secretaries must effectively deal with. For example, in his 2008 presidential election campaign, Barack Obama had to address claims regarding his U.S. citizenship, his religion, and his association with Bill Ayers, a radical activist in the late '60s and early '70s who served as a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago until retiring in 2010.

Press secretaries serve on the congressional staffs of senators and representatives and on the staffs of governors and mayors. The president also has a press secretary. Press secretaries and their assistants write press releases and opinion pieces to publicize the efforts of the government officials for whom they work. They also help prepare speeches and prepare their employers for press conferences and interviews. They maintain Web sites, posting press releases and the results of press conferences. Presidential press secretaries gather information about the president's activities, actions, events, and other news, and holds press briefings with the media to share this information and field questions.

Press secretaries are media relations experts who are often called spin doctors because of their ability to manipulate the media, or put a good spin on a news story to best suit the purposes of their clients. Corporations also rely on spin for positive media coverage. Press secretaries are often called upon during a political scandal, or after corporate blunders, for damage control. Using the newspapers and radio and TV broadcasts, as well as social media postings (such as Facebook and Twitter), they attempt to downplay public relations disasters, helping politicians and corporations save face. In highly sensitive situations, they must answer questions selectively and carefully, and they may even be involved in secretly releasing, or leaking, information to the press. They're sometimes viewed as people who conceal facts and present lies, prey on the emotions of voters, or even represent companies responsible for illegal practices. However, many press secretaries are responsible for bringing public attention to important issues and good political candidates.

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