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Fat Man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics Hardcover – November 2, 1999


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It's impossible not to like Jack W. Germond, the veteran journalist who became a household name for political junkies during his 15 years on The McLaughlin Group. He's a reporter's reporter, the kind of fellow who knows that for every good story "you spend two or three rainy Friday nights at the airport in Atlanta trying to fly standby and ending up as the fat man in the middle seat." Germond cut his teeth at a small newspaper in Michigan, where he began to master his trade: "Once you learned to deal with Carlos Gastambide, the business agent for the largest UAW local at the Monroe Auto Equipment Company, you would not likely be intimidated again by any source at any level, up to and including the White House." He later rubbed elbows with some of the best-known journalists of his generation, and his memoir contains plenty of anecdotes about these colleagues (David Broder, Tom Brokaw, Robert Novak) as well as the people they covered. His chapter on The McLaughlin Group, which he abruptly quit in 1996, is a real highlight, revealing both his disdain for television's "lowest common denominator" programming and the medium's awesome financial temptations. Like most reporters, Germond is a conventional liberal by temperament--yet readers of all political stripes will enjoy his fast-paced recollections. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

The journalistic antithesis of the crusading Anderson, Germond looks back on a long career and admits: "My indignation threshold was too high to sustain me as an investigative reporter. I couldn't get worked up about the mayor getting his driveway paved with public asphalt." The statement, with its smooth blend of self-needling irony and unapologetic embrace of modest expectation, is representative of this outstanding reporter's memoir. Germond may be familiar to most readers as the chagrined, portly liberal at whom conservatives Pat Buchanan and Fred Barnes threw their verbal harpoons on television's The McLaughlin Group. But throughout a long career as a political correspondent and columnist with the Gannett chain, the Washington Star and the Baltimore Sun, he has been a reporter's reporter (and, he lets readers know repeatedly, a reporter's drinker). Though some politicos arouse his contempt (George Bush receives a drubbing), Germond actually likes politiciansAeven when he dislikes their politics. His anecdotes are models of concision. Reflecting on how journalism has changed, he recalls how the press let George Wallace's womanizing slide even when a woman plunked herself down among reporters and declared: "That George Wallace. He didn't even take off his shoes." In his descriptions of encounters with Nelson Rockefeller, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, among others, Germond doesn't like to make himself the issue, but his consistent voice infuses the book with his character. Rumpled, cantankerous and blessed with a sense of humor as dry as the best martini, Germond tells great political stories and tells them expertly. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (November 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375500987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375500985
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,409,635 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By MAG on November 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A must read for political junkies. Jack is himself, what you see is what you get! Thoughtful, informative, intelligently written, funny, the book describes forty (count them, 40) years of covering politics. The author deserves praise for the casual manner in which he tackles such a dynamic subject--journalistm. He is definitely old school, and it shows. A must read for anyone who is interested in journalism, political history, and modern politics.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Gil Taylor on November 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone who has become a fan of Jack's through his TV appearances over the past years, as have I, will thoroughly enjoy this easy-to-read account of his 40 years of covering politics. Some very interesting insights are contained therein plus some intriguing stories that will surprise some. Jack writes much like he talks - low key, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense/bottom line assessments. A great read all the way around.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Byfield Ted on February 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a must-read for anyone even slightly interested in American politics of the late 20th century. I have admired Jack Germond's straightforward, thoughtful manner for years on the McLaughlin Group, and can remember thinking how fascinating it would be to end up sitting on a plane next to him. Imagine my surprise and delight when the title of his memoirs was "Fat Man in a Middle Seat." Germond pulls no punches in his descriptions of politicians he has known, from Averill Harriman and Nelson Rockefeller to George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Most of the other reader reviews here are on the mark, but I would add one important point: Germond's discussion on race relations in the US, from the civil rights era to the present, is as insightful a commentary as I have read anywhere. He went to high school in Louisiana, and travelled through the South in the 60's covering the civil rights movement. He has known the players from George Wallace to Jesse Jackson, and, as with the other people in the book, describes their personalities and motivations with great insight. I rarely re-read a book, but when I finished the book I immediately re-read the chapter, "Race and Politics."
Germond's constant references to his drinking and skirt-chasing were a little distracting, but since this is a memoir from someone who tells it like it is, one should not be surprised that he included his own vices as part of the narrative.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on January 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is on one level really personal. The people are described according to how Jack feels about them as human beings. Jack loved Nelson Rockefeller. Jack hated Richard Nixon. Jack was fascinated by George Wallace. Jack hasn't liked a president since Jimmy Carter. This is indeed interesting as Carter may be the smartest nicest president we have ever had, but it doesn't do much to explain why Carter was an absolute failure at the job. He had many criticisms about Reagan, Bush and Clinton, but he has little to say about the 20 years of sustained economic growth maintained by them.
Jack writes that he is interested in the horse race aspect of politics mostly. Who is winning and who is losing. These stories he tells well. I particularly like his days covering the New York state house. His "to hell with it" style throughout is quite entertaining and the book's best asset, but I wanted more meat and less milk.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By L. Ager on July 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I hated myself for loving this book--perhaps for the same reason that someone might hate one's self for listening to juicy gossip; Germond pulls few punches, goes heavy on the personalities and light on the policies (at least when he takes time to tell the reader why he dislikes Richard Nixon so much). On the other hand, Germond makes it amply clear why he dislikes George Bush--he says Bush had no idea what he wanted to do with the office once he had it; he was the "quintessential empty suit." In 12 years, this is the first time I've heard anyone dare to point that out. I was vastly amused by his McLaughlin Group chapter (I wonder what *McLaughlin* thought of it). And Germond's own attitude about the show and his place on it is refreshing. All in all, it's an insightful, valuable and entertaining memoir by one of the most thoughtful, least affected pundits in the arena.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a life-long political junkie, I loved all of this book, a real page turner! Jack tells it like he saw it over 40 very active years. It is especially important for young - and older - Americans to read the history of how our electoral process is changing. I enjoyed his stories of the various politicans and others he came in contact with over the past 40 years, plus his life growing up. I high recommend this book to anyone having even a tiny bit of interest in politics.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul Hickey on April 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
At a time when the term "liberal" has come to be a dirty word, and mass media punditry is dominated by corporate suits pushing a Big Business agenda, it is refreshing to see a blue-collar journalist dissect politics from the perspective of the old school of newspaper reporting.
Drawing on his 40 years of experience covering everything from local mayoral races to national presidential campaigns, Jack W. Germond has written "Fat Man In A Middle Seat" as both a memoir of his encounters with some of the past generation's most interesting political personalities and an analysis of the news coverage the public gets of those candidates. In each case, Germond's observations are astute and fascinating, but ultimately discouraging for what they reveal about the men who hold or seek power, as well as how they are portrayed to the voters.
Culminating in the farcical non-election results of 2000, and the atrocious reporting of the outcome, Germond reaches his inevitable conclusion that he no longer expects the system to ever "get it right" and produce real executive leadership or accurate press accounts of current events. Now semi-retired in West Virginia, he makes it depressingly clear that the failure of broadcast and print news to adequately explain what was at stake for the direction of the country (both during and after the 2000 presidential race) represented a new low in American journalism and politics.
Maybe worst of all, Germond notes, too many modern journalists apparently never even tried to pierce the market-tested, micromanaged images that the Bush and Gore campaigns spoon-fed them. This did not serve the public interest and, Germond argues, it led directly to the situation in which we saw the travesty of a Supreme Court case determining control of the federal government.
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