Toluse Olorunnipa – From Tallahassee to the White House Program Recap

From Tallahassee to the White House
Speaker: Toluse Olorunnipa
Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021 | 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Top Takeaways

  • When asking a question in a press briefing, be affirmative; don’t back into your question.
  • Pretend like you belong, even if you are having a new experience or facing a challenge. Don’t pretend to know more than you know, but believe in yourself.
  • Have confidence in your ability to tell a story. Don’t allow yourself to be influenced by doubts about whether you belong there or if you’re worthy.


The Washington Post’s White House Reporter and CNN Political Analyst Toluse Olorunnipa paid a virtual visit to his hometown and shared his experiences covering three sessions and three presidents with attendees of the Capital Chapter’s February program.

He began with an overview of the challenges journalists and communicators are facing during the pandemic and acknowledged that it is difficult to get important information in front of policymakers while there is so much going on. Reporters also grapple with the challenge of wanting to give appropriate time and attention to all the issues, as well as the top issues coming from the president’s administration.

Over the past three presidential administrations, Olorunnipa said that the common communication theme was the idea that going to a newspaper is not the only way to get a story out, as there are so many more avenues now with social and digital platforms. It is important to have a compelling story but targeting your audience and going through nontraditional media sources has continued to be a strategy from President Obama’s time in office, through President Trump’s, and now for President Biden.

He shared the press briefings were very important to President Trump, and that the high-ranking officials were more often giving the briefings themselves, rather than the spokesperson always being a Press Secretary.

When asked about the feeling with all the White House reporters, he said while it is a high-pressure environment and there is competition, everyone is on the same team. They spend a lot of time together, they travel to other countries, and they are having a shared one-of-a-kind experience. In his words: “It is a collaborative environment, even though we are competing to get a great story. We are on the same team, to hold the administration accountable.”

When asked about members of the press corps he admires and enjoys working with, Olorunnipa mentioned:

On the topic of “fake news,” Olorunnipa said it was dismaying to hear the phrase, especially in 2017 when the idea was first being introduced. He talked about the idea of a shared understanding of what is true. If we do not have news sources we can trust, everyone can create their own version of reality, which can lead to dangerous events. He underscored the need for a free, independent, fair media.

In terms of seeing the human side of the different presidents, he shared that it was interesting seeing President Obama interact with refugees and people from other countries. He was able to connect with people in a uniquely personal way because of his international upbringing.

The Capital Chapter is very grateful to Toluse Olorunnipa for taking the time to speak with us and answer our questions. Multiple attendees stated they could have kept listening to his stories for another hour or longer.

— Zoe Linafelt, President-Elect of FPRA Capital Chapter & Deputy Communications Director for the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (Member Since 2012)