Obama Stenographer Beck Dorey-Stein on Life in the White House
In her debut book, the Narberth native — who makes an appearance at the Free Library this Tuesday — writes about what really goes down in the West Wing.
CV, abridged: White House stenographer under presidents Obama and Trump (2012-’17); high-school English teacher in Hightstown, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Seoul, South Korea; graduate of Lower Merion High School, 2004.
Latest feat: From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir (2018, Spiegel & Grau).
Catch her: At the Free Library on July 10th in conversation with 6 ABC’s Tamala Edwards.
Your book is billed as a political memoir, but it’s really a lot more personal. Was there an aha moment when you realized you should write it that way?
Yes, but it wasn’t my aha moment. I know no one in the literary world except David Remnick and Emily Greenhouse at the New Yorker. I naively was like, “Heyyy, can I send this to you?,” not realizing the ridiculousness of asking that of David. So he was the one who said, “Try including yourself in the story.” Once I had that moment, there was a Sunday afternoon and I was just like, “Oh, well, that wrote itself.”
Were there challenges with security clearances? Were there things you couldn’t include in the book?
No! Because that’s how low-level I am. At the White House, and in D.C., there’s this pecking order. At happy hours, if they find out you work at the White House, they’re like, “Oh, what security clearance do you have?” It’s this weird competitive thing. And it makes you feel horrible about yourself. Then when the book came around, I was like, “Oh, this is the beauty of not having a security clearance.”
You landed your job at the White House by responding to an ad on Craigslist. What about the ad made you respond?
I don’t really remember. My boyfriend at the time made me apply to 10 jobs per day. Just throw it all out there.
You write about your romantic relationship with a senior staffer named Jason, who ended up marrying his then-girlfriend. Are you concerned how revelations like this might affect people?
I’m not, because I’m not writing for those people. I’m writing for the people who go into jobs like this bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and find themselves in these entanglements and then have to get through it.
The Obama White House has been described as a place where women were empowered and thrived. Do you think reality backs that up?
Yeah, I do. It’s been interesting since leaving the White House — I still talk to women who helped me out all the time. You could say what you were feeling. Whereas when I was working for Trump, you’d hear the most absurd things and you knew you couldn’t say anything.
What kind of absurd things?
One time I was in the Roosevelt Room and there was a reporter, Carol Lee, who has blond hair. Sean Spicer kept saying, “Carol, get back!” I didn’t turn around — my name’s not Carol. Finally, the reporters were like, “That’s Beck. She’s a stenographer.” And he was like, “Well, she’s a blonde, they’re all the same.” So typical.
Why did you ultimately leave the job?
I thought Hillary was gonna win — I’m sure I’m the only one who thought that — and I thought it’d be really cool to stay with her. Then when Trump won, I was like, holy hell, everything just got put into the dumpster. So that was my incentive to take my writing seriously.
Your book has already been optioned for a movie. Excited?
It feels good, but it’s sort of like signing your baby over.
If you could choose, who would play you?
I love Emma Stone. I love Jennifer Lawrence. I also think it’d be kind of interesting to have an up-and-comer, maybe like from Craigslist.
Published as “D.C. Intrigue With Beck Dorey-Stein” in the July 2018 issue of Philadelphia magazine.