May 7, Kenneth Walsh, a White House correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, spoke at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum about his book “Celebrity in Chief: A History of the Presidents and Culture of Stardom.”
Walsh has written from the White House during the tenure of five different presidents — most recently, President Barack Obama. His blog, “Ken Walsh’s Washington,” and column, The Presidency, provide coverage of the the president.
At the event, Ford Museum Director Elaine Didier praised Walsh for his unique style of reporting.
“Ken’s colleagues say that he is an old school journalist who knows how to find secrets, and then knows which ones can be told and which ones must be kept longer or even forever,” Didier said.
In his book “Celebrity in Chief,” Walsh examined how past presidents have interacted with American popular culture. During his remarks at the event, Walsh discussed how he believed President George Washington was a pillar in molding the role of president.
“His feeling was that the president should be accessible,” Walsh said. “He set that precedent that the president should not be beyond the public.”
Walsh also highlighted some of the key moments reporters have witnessed in the White House over the past century including Elvis Presley’s visit to the White House during the Nixon administration and Marilyn Monroe’s birthday performance for President John F. Kennedy.
Walsh said the American public often correlates presidential success with celebrity status instead of considering the substance — such as policy making and managing foreign and domestic affairs — that defines the presidency.
“That’s all people want is a little taste of the substance because they don’t have the patience to learn much more about things,” Walsh said. “Sadly, I think that’s true.”
Walsh said President Obama tries to connect with audiences on a deeper level by going on talk shows such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and the YouTube show “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.” He said these are behaviors that future presidents will need to mimic.
“President Obama is trying to reach out to people through those different venues and find ways to communicate with them,” Walsh said. “I think this is what presidents are going to have to do for the foreseeable future. They’ve got to go where the voters are and where they’re paying attention.”
Overall, Walsh said he believes people will be less isolated from political affairs if they engage with politics more.
“Maybe people would get angry and start fighting each other if they engaged more. But they don’t,” Walsh said. “And so, that’s one of the reasons we’re so polarized — it’s because we’re not talking to each other.”