Jon Favreau (speechwriter)
|White House Director of Speechwriting|
January 20, 2009 – March 1, 2013
|Preceded by||Marc Thiessen|
|Succeeded by||Cody Keenan|
June 2, 1981 |
Winchester, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Alma mater||College of the Holy Cross|
Favreau attended the College of the Holy Cross, graduating as valedictorian. In college, he accumulated a variety of scholastic honors, and took part in and directed numerous community and civic programs. After graduation, he went to work for the John Kerry Presidential campaign in 2004, working to collect talk radio news for the campaign, and eventually was promoted to the role of Deputy Speechwriter. While working for the Kerry campaign, he first met Barack Obama.
In 2005, Obama's communications director Robert Gibbs recommended Favreau to Obama as an excellent speechwriter. Favreau was hired as Obama's speechwriter shortly after Obama's election to the United States Senate. Obama and Favreau grew close, and Obama has referred to him as his "mind reader". He went on the campaign trail with Obama during his successful Presidential election campaign. In 2009, he was named as a White House staff member as Director of Speechwriting.
Favreau was born in Winchester, Massachusetts, the son of Lillian (née DeMarkis), a schoolteacher, and Mark Favreau. His father is of French Canadian descent and his mother is of Greek descent. A former resident of North Reading, Massachusetts, Favreau graduated from the Jesuit College of the Holy Cross in 2003 as his class's valedictorian, with a degree in political science. At the College of the Holy Cross, he was treasurer and debate committee chairman for the College Democrats, and studied classical piano. From 1999 to 2000, he served on the Welfare Solidarity Project, eventually becoming its director. In 2001, Favreau worked with Habitat for Humanity and a University of Massachusetts Amherst program to bring visitors to cancer patients. In 2002, he became head of an initiative to help unemployed individuals improve their resumes and interview skills. He also earned a variety of honors in college, including the Vanicelli Award; being named the 2001 Charles A. Dana Scholar; memberships in the Political Science Honor Society, Pi Sigma Alpha, the College Honors Program, the Sociology Honor Society, Alpha Kappa Delta, and was awarded a Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2002. He was an editor on his college newspaper, and during summers in college, he earned extra income selling newspapers as a telemarketer, while also interning in John Kerry's offices. Favreau's nickname is "Favs", and he is afraid of flying.
He joined Senator John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign soon after graduation from the College of the Holy Cross. While working for the Kerry campaign, his job was to assemble audio clips of talk radio programs for the Kerry camp to review for the next day. When the Kerry campaign began to falter at one point, they found themselves without a speechwriter, and Favreau was promoted to the role of deputy speechwriter. Following Kerry's defeat, Favreau became dispirited with politics, and was uncertain if he would do such work again.
Favreau first met Obama (then an Illinois State Senator running for the U.S. Senate), while still working for Kerry, backstage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention as Obama was rehearsing his keynote address. Favreau, then 23 years old, interrupted Obama's rehearsal, advising the soon-to-be-elected Senator that a rewrite was needed to avoid an overlap with Kerry's address.
Obama communications aide Robert Gibbs, who had worked for Kerry's campaign, recommended Favreau to Obama as an excellent writer, and in 2005 he began working for Barack Obama in his United States Senate office, before joining Obama's presidential campaign as chief speechwriter in 2007. His interview with Obama was on the Senator's first day. Uninterested in Favreau's résumé, Obama instead questioned Favreau on what motivated him to work in politics, and what his theory of writing was. He described this theory to Obama as, "A speech can broaden the circle of people who care about this stuff. How do you say to the average person that's been hurting: 'I hear you, I'm there?' Even though you've been so disappointed and cynical about politics in the past, and with good reason, we can move in the right direction. Just give me a chance."
Favreau led a speech writing team for the campaign that also included Adam Frankel, Ben Rhodes and Cody Keenan. For his work with Obama in the campaign, he would wake as early as 5 a.m., and routinely stayed up until 3 a.m. working on speeches. His leadership style among the other Obama speechwriters is very informal. They will often meet in a small conference room, discussing their work late into the evening over take-out food. According to Rhodes, Favreau did not drive structured meetings with agendas. "If he had, we probably would have laughed at him", Rhodes said. Favreau is planning to hire more speechwriters to assist him, but concedes he is unsure of how to manage them. According to him, "My biggest strength isn't the organization thing".
He has likened his position to "Ted Williams's batting coach", because of Obama's celebrated abilities as a speaker and writer. Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said of Favreau, "Barack trusts him...And Barack doesn't trust too many folks with that—the notion of surrendering that much authority over his own words". In Obama's own words, Favreau is his "mind reader". He and Obama share a fierce sports rivalry, between the Boston Red Sox, favored by Favreau, and the Chicago White Sox, favored by Obama. When the White Sox defeated the Red Sox 3–0 in the 2005 American League playoffs, Obama swept off Favreau's desk with a small broom. During the campaigns, he was obsessed with election tracking polls, jokingly referring to them as his "daily crack". At points during the campaign, he was said to feel overwhelmed by his responsibilities, and would turn to David Axelrod, and his friends for advice.
On December 5, 2008, a picture of Favreau grabbing the breast of a cardboard cut-out of Hillary Clinton was posted on Facebook. Favreau called Senator Clinton’s staff to offer an apology. They told him to not worry about it, saying, "Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application".
Favreau has declared that the speeches of Robert Kennedy and Michael Gerson have influenced his work, and has expressed admiration for Peggy Noonan's speechwriting, citing a talk given by Ronald Reagan at Pointe du Hoc as his favorite Noonan speech. Gerson also admires Favreau's work, and sought him out at an Obama New Hampshire campaign rally to speak with the younger speechwriter. He was the primary writer of Obama's inauguration address of January 2009. The Guardian describes the process as follows: "The inaugural speech has shuttled between them [Obama and Favreau] four or five times, following an initial hour-long meeting in which the President-elect spoke about his vision for the address, and Favreau took notes on his computer. Favreau then went away and spent weeks on research. His team interviewed historians and speechwriters, studied periods of crisis, and listened to past inaugural orations. When ready, he took up residence in a Starbucks in Washington and wrote the first draft".
White House staff member
When President Obama assumed office in 2009, Favreau was appointed Assistant to the President and Director of Speechwriting. He became the second-youngest chief White House speechwriter on record after James Fallows. His salary was $172,200 a year.
Favreau has said his work with Obama will be his final job in the realm of politics, saying, "Anything else would be anticlimactic." In regard to his post-political future, he said, "Maybe I'll write a screenplay, or maybe a fiction book based loosely on what all of this was like. You had a bunch of kids working on this campaign together, and it was such a mix of the serious and momentous and just the silly ways that we are. For people in my generation, it was an unbelievable way to grow up."
After the White House
In March 2013, Favreau left the White House, along with Tommy Vietor, to pursue a career in private sector consulting and screenwriting. Favreau writes for the Daily Beast and co-hosts a political podcast Keepin' it 1600 with Daniel Pfeiffer.
Favreau has been named one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by Time magazine. He ranked 33rd in the GQ "50 Most Powerful in D.C." and featured in the Vanity Fair "Next Establishment" list. Favreau was also one of several Obama administration members in the 2009 "World's Most Beautiful People" issue of People magazine.
In June 2010, the website FamousDC.com obtained a picture of Favreau along with Assistant White House Press Secretary Tommy Vietor, playing beer pong after taking off their shirts at a restaurant in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. This event attracted criticism from the press because of its timing during the height of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
On May 23, 2014, Favreau was awarded a Doctor of Public Service honorary degree by his alma mater College of the Holy Cross where he also gave the commencement address.
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