Interns Meet Former White House Communications Chief

UNC alumnus Don Baer chats with interns about his career.

UNC alumnus Don Baer (’76), now chair of global communications giant Burson Cohn & Wolfe, chats with interns about his career, which includes stints in the White House as President Bill Clinton’s communications director and as a top executive at Discovery Communications. (photo by Geneva Collins)

Interns quickly discover that one of the perks of participating in the UNC Honors Seminar on Public Policy and Global Affairs is ample opportunity to network with Carolina alumni in influential positions in Washington.

Week Two of the 2018 internship program, for example, included a lunchtime chat with Don Baer, chair of Burson Cohn & Wolfe, one of the world’s largest global communications agencies.

Baer ’76 has had a heady career in media and law. After UNC (B.A., political science), London School of Economics (master’s, international relations) and University of Virginia (J.D.), he had a brief stint practicing at a New York law firm in the 1980s before switching to journalism, eventually covering politics and national affairs for U.S. News & World Report. He left to join the Clinton White House, first as chief speechwriter and later as director of communications and senior adviser to the president. From 1998 to 2007, he was a top executive at Discovery Communications. He has been at Burson Cohn & Wolfe (known as Burson-Marsteller before a recent merger) since 2008.

Baer has been involved with the UNC public policy internship program for the past three years, sharing career advice and Chapel Hill anecdotes with the students. He noted that the exchange is as valuable for him as it is for them.

“I’m blown away by their credentials, the experiences they’ve had, by their level of maturity, their insight. They seem a lot more put together than students in my era, myself included. More focused, directed, energized,” he said. “I’m struck by how many I’d like to have work here.”

At the January lunch at Burson, he regaled the students with memories of covering the Iran-Contra scandal as a journalist and what working in the White House was like. (He does a killer Bill Clinton impersonation.)

“I always tried to follow my interests. I always wanted to work on issues that mattered,” he said of his eclectic career, urging them to do the same.

At UNC, Baer worked on The Daily Tar Heel, was involved in student government, interned at a congressional office and chaired the Carolina Symposium, a speaker series.

“It was a great all-in experience for me,” he said of his college days. “I had extraordinary professors. … I had a lot of people watching over me.”

“Meeting Don Baer was such a privilege,” said intern Elisa Moore after the lunch. “Hearing his stories was so cool!”


Read more about “15 Weeks in DC” and the Honors Seminar in Public Policy and Global Affairs

By Geneva Collins