“Letters to the President” is a new White House video that provides a behind-the-scenes look at how 10 letters from individual citizens make it to Barack Obama’s desk every day – with some destined to get a hand-written reply.
At the start of his administration, Mr. Obama asked staff members to give him a selection of letters each day from the flood that comes into the White House. Mark Kelleher, White House director of correspondence, says 65,000 print letters arrive at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue each week. That is in addition to the 100,000 e-mails, 1,000 faxes, and 2,500 phone calls that come in daily.
Getting Obama out of the bubble
On the nearly six-minute video, Mr. Kelleher talks about the bubble in which presidents live and says, “our job is to make sure he gets out of it every day.” Obama "desperately wants to get" the messages citizens send, he says.
The White House-produced video shows Obama, on a Saturday, sitting in the Oval Office in a sports shirt and no tie. The letters “do more to keep me in touch with what is happening around the country than anything else,” the president says on camera. A significant amount of his mail is about healthcare issues, he says. “A lot of the stories are heartbreaking,” Obama adds. Correspondence from citizens is “a powerful motivator for me.”
How the chosen few get picked
How does a letter make it into the stack of 10 the president will see? There are three tests, says Kelleher.
•Is the letter representative of the mail that is coming in?
•Is the letter representative of something in the news?
•Is the message of the letter compelling?
Kelleher says his goal is to “pick the 10 that best represent what is happening right now.”
According to Obama’s personal secretary, Katie Johnson, the president replies to three or four letters a night, “hand writing every one of them.”