Is Féidir Linn! Barack Obama’s speech writer takes us behind the scenes of his presidency

Cody Keenan reflects on ten of the most dramatic days of the Obama presidency

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In June 2015, former US president Barack Obama stood at the pulpit of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and delivered the eulogy of the church’s pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney.

The 41-year-old pastor was one of nine people shot dead on June 17th 2015 in mass shooting at the historic black church.

As Obama began speaking, his chief speech writer Cody Keenan collapsed into a seat in the senior staff cabin of the president’s Air Force One jet and watched on TV as his boss spoke the words he had helped piece together in the previous days.

This speech, which ended with Obama breaking into a rendition of Amazing Grace, was the culmination of the ten-day period which Keenan recounts in his new book ‘Grace: President Obama and Ten Days in the Battle for America’.


The book, which runs from June 17th – 26th 2015, offers an intimate portrayal of the inner-workings of the White House during one of the most important weeks of the eight-year Obama administration.

The books also lifts the lid on the creativity and resolve Keenan needed while working as speech writer for one of the most important and recognised people on earth.

‘To be a speech writer for Barack Obama was never easy,’ writes Keenan in the book’s prologue. ‘In my zeal to rise to the moment, all the different audiences a speech had to address blurred into an audience of one: him. Impressing him. Giving him a draft that he’d love. His opinion was the only one that mattered. I’d push myself past my limits to get a first draft right. Giving it to him was like a trip to the guillotine.’

Today, on In the News, Keenan reflects on the 10-year career that brought him from Congress mailroom intern to chief presidential speech writer; the long days and nights spent crafting the former US president’s statements while holed up in his basement ‘speechcave’ and the pressure, self-doubt and ultimate sense of accomplishment of holding “the best and the worst job in the West Wing”.

In The News is presented by Sorcha Pollak and Conor Pope.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast