Messages from the hill: A conceptual framework to understand the Congressional press secretary

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Dennis F. Kinsey


House of Representatives, Congress, media relations

Subject Categories

Mass Communication


The press secretaries serving the Members of the House of Representatives "link" the Congress and the media. This study builds a framework for understanding how these individuals perceive their relationships with: (1) the Member of Congress they serve, and (2) the media with whom they share a symbiotic relationship.

The study was based on an extensive literature review in combination with the results of a baseline study (Bruce & Downes, 1995). Compelling findings in the baseline study were probed through individual interviews which, in turn, suggested five areas of inquiry. For each area, research questions and related indices were developed; these were incorporated into a questionnaire which was distributed to each Congressional office.

The findings suggest the press secretaries are both the "babysitters" for, and subservient to, the Members for whom they work; build relationships with reporters that are neither wholly adversarial nor wholly supportive--perhaps "managed" is the best term; have some, albeit limited, control over what issues they communicate; "spin" messages but do not want to accept the negative notion attached to the concept; do not create news as much as "ride the wave" of news that's already "out there;" are independent "satellites" operating with autonomy within the Congressional office; both identify themselves with, and make their ethical decisions based upon, the worldview of the Member they serve--an individual they likely hold in high regard; and find that, although their work is stressful, they enjoy it.

The study concludes with an overview of its limitations, suggestions for future studies, and an exploration of whether the press secretaries' work enhances or hurts our nation's democracy.


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