Mail Call: Letters to the President

By Lindsey Ellerson

Aug 3, 2009 9:51am

From ABC News' Sunlen Miller: Just how does your letter written to the president make its way to the president’s desk? In a White House produced video, the first in a series of “Inside the White House” behind-the-scenes videos, the story of a letter – from delivery truck, to sorting, to reading, to delivery for the president is shown. Out of the 65,000 paper letters, and 100,000 emails the White House receives every week, the president reads 10 letters every day. Beforehand a painstaking process is done by White House staff to sort, and choose the letters for the president’s reading, representative of what Americans are writing in about. White House Director of Correspondence Mike Kelleher has final say in the ten lucky letters chosen for the president’s eyes. “I sort through it, categorize it by issue and then every day I go though them and pick the ten that best represent what’s happening right now,” Kelleher says. The letters are delivered to President Obama in a special red folder marked with “For the President: Correspondence.” “These letters I think do more to keep me in touch with whets happening around the country than just about anything else,” Obama says in the video while sorting though some of the letters at his desk in the Oval office, “Some of them are funny. Some of them are angry. A lot of them are sad and frustrated about their current situation.” The president reads out loud some of the letters. Many, the President says, are about health care. An antique business owner who may have to go out of business because she can’t afford heath care premiums. A former AT & T retiree who may no longer receive retirement benefits. Another, from someone who provided a picture, wrapped in a zip lock bag, of their Michelle Obama inspired vegetable garden in their backyard. The president reads one letter from a woman, who found a letter from her father when he was fighting in WWII – explaining what he was doing in Europe during the war and why this was so important. The woman sent the letter to the president to read. “You get letters like that and it gives you a sense of what’s best in America. And it inspires you. And makes you want to work that much harder,” Obama says. Personal Secretary to the President Katie Johnson says every day the president responds to about 3 or 4 of the letters, written out by hand, every day. The White House produced video, providing many behinds the scenes shots, offers a look the White House has not allowed press. In February, when ABC News broke the story of the president’s request to read letters from the public, the White House refused to let ABC News film the process or to work with ABC News to reach out to some of the letter writers.  The link to the White House’s video is HERE. -Sunlen Miller

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