Episode 93, with guests Jenni LeCompte and Beau Willimon (with a special drop-by from former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner)

Jenni LeCompte and Beau Willimon are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: March 16, 2013 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.
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Listen to the show by clicking on the bar above.
Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here

This episode of PoliOptics features Chapter 2 of our hour-long conversation with House of Cards show runner Beau Willimon. If you missed Chapter 1, find it here, read our background commentary, and have a listen.

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Jenni LeCompte, former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, U.S. Department of the Treasury

You are a young White House aide who has worked up the ranks of the White House press office. You started as an overnight clip-person, working alone in the Old Executive Office Building in the midnight hours with an Exacto knife in your hand, carving up the day’s papers, back when papers were still largely read on paper. You paste them up just so, fitting them neatly on legal-sized paper, affixed with scotch tape or rubber cement. You bring them to the White House printing office, where dozens of copies of 70 pages or so are distributed to the President’s top advisers to keep them informed of news that will drive their day.

This is the formative Washington experience of Jenni LeCompte, who would rise to become assistant to the White House Press Secretary, Joe Lockhart, and then serve herself as spokesperson for Senators Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin, followed by stints in Democratic Presidential Campaigns and the lead communications operative for the Democratic National Conventions in Boston (2004) and Denver (2008), followed by four years in the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the last few of which were in the Senate-confirmed role of Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.

And your best friends still call you “Tiger.”

Why?

Is it because you’re unrelenting in your representation of the public officials and politicians for whom you work? That may be the case, but it is not the origin of the name.

As Jenni explains to us on the latest episode of PoliOptics, it begins with a devotion to duty manifested in a presidential trip to India in 2000, when Bill Clinton visited the Ranthambhore National Park in eastern Rajasthan.

PoliOptics does not begrudge — to the contrary, it encourages — presidents, when traveling domestically or overseas, taking time out of their official agendas of summitry and bilateral discussions, to visit unique places off the beaten track. Ranthambhore was was of them. By looking for tigers with his daughter, Chelsea, the president called attention to the continuing tragedy of poaching that has decimated the populations of many endangered species (Clinton saw two tigers on his visit).

Back in the traveling White House press office, it falls on aides like Jenni to prepare briefing notes for the protective pool of journalists keeping close to the president (and the main body of the press corps, often sequestered in the press filing center) to assist them with writing and filing their stories.

Bill and Chelsea Clinton visit India’s Ranthambhore National Park, March 2000

In the case of Ranthambhore, getting all of the facts down on paper in advance of the president’s safari required Jenni to work through the night while her colleagues in the press office took leave of their posts to grab dinner. When they returned, there was Jenni, plying away at the background memo to help reporters get the story just right.

It’s that willingness to invest long hours to get the facts just right that eventually found Jenni LeCompte at the right hand of Secretary Tim Geithner during the longest days and darkest hours of the economic crisis that faced the Obama Administration when it took office in 2009. Secretary Geithner, who joined us in questioning Jenni during our conversation on PoliOptics, didn’t begin his term a polished practitioner of the PoliOptic art. But by the time he left office, the reviews of his legacy in the New York Times and the Washington Post, among other places, attested to how far he and his department had come in communicating about the challenges facing the U.S. and global economy.

Read Secretary Geithner’s farewell remarks to the department and an appreciation by past PoliOptics guest Steven Rattner. In the school of political communications, executing an elegant departure is a prime example of Advanced Message Management.

Well done, Tiger.

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