Anita Dunn was born on January 8, 1958, and was raised in Bethesda, Maryland. A University of Maryland graduate, she began her political career in the late 1970s as an intern for Gerald Rafshoon, President Jimmy Carter’s White House communications director. She subsequently worked for Carter’s chief-of-staff, Hamilton Jordan.
Dunn later served as communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) during both the 1988 and 1990 election cycles. In 1993 she became a senior partner with Squier Knapp Dunn Communications, a Washington, DC-based political consulting firm that was founded by Bob Squier and William Knapp to serve clients affiliated with Democratic Party causes. (In 2010, this firm merged with its partner company, Knickerbocker Consulting, and was renamed SKD Knickerbocker).
Dunn also worked in various capacities for a number of noteworthy Democrats such as John Glenn (press assistant in Glenn’s 1984 senatorial campaign), Bill Bradley (communications director and chief strategist in Bradley’s 2000 presidential campaign), Evan Bayh (media consultant in Bayh’s 2004 senatorial campaign), Robert Edgar (communications director in Edgar’s 1984 and 1986 senatorial campaigns), and Tom Daschle (senior political adviser to Daschle in 2001-02).
In 2006 Dunn was hired by then-Senator Barack Obama to serve as communications director for his political action committee, the Hope Fund, which in 2008 evolved into Obama For America (OFA). In the spring of 2008, Dunn became OFA’s director of communications, policy, and research operations. In January 2009 OFA merged with the Democratic National Committee and became known as Organizing for America.
Eight days before Mr. Obama’s inauguration as U.S. President in January 2009, Dunn traveled to the Dominican Republic to attend a conference hosted by the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development, where, in an interview, she explained how the Obama campaign’s organizers had dealt with critics who pointed out Obama’s dearth of experience in high political office: “We made experience, which was a prime target of our opponent [John McCain], we made it a negative trait,” said Dunn.
After Obama was sworn into office as President, Dunn returned to working full-time for her consulting firm. Nevertheless, she regularly helped advise the White House and participated in a number of Wednesday-evening “pizza-and-politics” sessions at the apartment of Obama senior adviser David Axelrod.
In late April 2009, Dunn agreed to step away from her consulting firm and take the role of White House communications director.
On June 5, 2009, Dunn delivered a speech to the students of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School – a high school in Potomac, Maryland – wherein she urged the youngsters to follow their own inner directives when making major choices in their lives. In the course of her remarks, Dunn said: “And then the third lesson and tip actually comes from two of my favorite political philosophers: Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa – not often coupled together, but the two people that I turn to most to basically deliver a simple point, which is, you’re going to make choices. You’re going to challenge. You’re going to say, ‘why not?’ You’re going to figure out how to do things that have never been done before….”
On October 11, 2009, Dunn was interviewed on CNN’s Reliable Sources and was asked to clarify her then-recent assertion that the Fox News television network – some of whose programming had featured stories that presented President Obama in a negative light – was “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” Asserting that “Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party,” she said: “Let’s not pretend they’re a news organization like CNN is.”
On October 16, 2009, Fox News host Glenn Beck aired a video of Dunn’s aforementioned reference to Mao Zedong as one of her “favorite political philosophers,” setting off a firestorm of controversy. In response to her critics, Dunn said: “The Mao quote is one I picked up from the late Republican strategist Lee Atwater from something I read in the late 1980s, so I hope I don’t get my progressive friends mad at me.” “The use of the phrase ‘favorite political philosophers’ was intended as irony,” she added, “but clearly the effort fell flat – at least with a certain Fox commentator [Beck] whose sense of irony may be missing.”
On November 12, 2009, Dunn resigned her post as White House communications director and was replaced by her deputy, Dan Pfeiffer, who had served as communications director for the Obama presidential campaign. Dunn returned to her full-time position at SKD Knickerbocker, where she became the firm’s managing director.
In October 2012, Dunn served as a debate coach for Barack Obama, helping the latter prepare for his presidential debates with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
In October 2017, Dunn offered public-relations / damage-control advice to Harvey Weinstein, free of charge, with regard to the sexual-harassment allegations against the Hollywood mogul that were just beginning to surface.
Dunn is married to Robert Bauer, who has worked as a personal attorney for Barack Obama, and as counsel to the Democratic Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees.
Further Reading: “Profile of Anita Dunn” (Washington Post, 10-14-2009); “Who Is Anita Dunn?” (Christian Science Monitor, 10-22-2009); “Anita Dunn Heads to the White House” (Politico, 4-30-2009); “Former Obama Adviser Anita Dunn Helped Harvey Weinstein Strategize Before New York Times Story” (Buzzfeed, 10-5-2017); “Anita Dunn: How We Created Obama’s Cult of Personality” (Newsbusters, 10-20-2009); “Obama Aide Fires Back at Beck over Mao Remarks” (CNN, 10-16-2009).