Why Did Anita Dunn Step Down As White House Communications Director?


The role in the Obama administration with the highest level of turnover is that of Communications Director. As news broke today that interim Communications Director Anita Dunn would be stepping down, the question remains: why?

Several scenarios have been tossed around: Did she have to clear room for her husband to join the administration and remove any potential concerns about conflict of interest? Did her attacks on Fox News have an effect? Or, was the move simply what was expected, as Dunn was always “interim” Communications Director?

The New York Times called the move “expected” and the White House has said that Dunn would leave before end of year. However, this could be considered suspect, given the fact that critical issues of importance to the administration are taking place, namely, Congress voting on health-care reform.

Don Goldberg, partner at D.C.-based Qorvis Communications and former Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton told PRNewser the messaging around the news could have been handled differently. “If I’m the White House, if you’ve got to get rid of someone, the story isn’t you’re getting rid of someone, the story is you have someone great to elevate. Elevating Dan Pfeiffer is kind of like an afterthought. That to me suggests it’s to get her out of the way,” he said. However, “It’s a tough White House to read,” he added.

Former national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee and now Vice President in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, D.C. office, Stacie Paxton said that despite all the speculation, “The truth really lies in that Anita Dunn was a trusted voice during campaign and after-wards. When the President calls you to serve, you serve. She was reluctantly willing to go into the White House. It’s very understandable that she did leave to spend more time with her family. She did want to serve in an interim role.”

Paxton has worked with Dunn’s replacement, Dan Pfeiffer over the years and said, “he is a very experienced person and will be excellent in this role. People that have watched this, I don’t think [they] see this as anything besides a fantastic promotion for Dan.” Pfeiffer certainly has the experience. He served as traveling press secretary for the Obama campaign and also ran its communications. And, it’s a prestigious, albeit stressful gig. “Communications Director is a pretty good job. You’re pretty much setting the agenda,” said Goldberg.