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Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture Hardcover – September 28, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Feldstein, an award-winning journalist and professor at the University of Maryland, chronicles the controversial careers of two iconic figures, former president Richard Nixon and the investigative reported he feared most--Jack Anderson. With the astute analysis of a psychotherapist, Feldstein shows how the emotional and religious strengths, or flaws, of Nixon, the over-ambitious Quaker politician, and Anderson, the pious Mormon scribe, play out in a three-decade-long game to win over American public opinion. Whether Nixon was engineering a homosexual smear through wiretaps and doctored photos or the muckraking columnist was probing the Republican's hidden slush funds and numerous scandals, the book chronicles a slew of wrongdoings worthy of a sleazy pulp bestseller. Neither man escapes unscathed: Nixon, the schizoid schemer, or Anderson, the self-righteous campaigner. Brutal, brilliant, and gripping, this dark parable of tainted Beltway politics and an overreaching media lays the groundwork for the current cultural stench of celebrity exposes and bed-hopping lawmakers. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

For a quarter of a century, politician Richard Nixon and columnist Jack Anderson engaged in a bitter battle royal, each occasionally using blackmail, bribery, spying, and burglary to try and defeat the other. Media scholar and former reporter Feldstein offers a deliciously detailed account of the backstory, fierce enmity, and legacy of scandalmongering and poisonous conflict between the media and political figures. Despite their similar backgrounds—both grew up in working-class families steeped in religion (Nixon a Quaker, Anderson a Mormon)—they nurtured career ambitions, with no compunction about moral ambiguity, that eventually led them to Washington. While Nixon climbed through the ranks of the Republican Party until he reached the presidency, Anderson exceeded his mentor, Drew Pearson, to make his “Merry-Go-Round” column a powerful force for destroying political careers. The two battled through the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, with Anderson riffling through garbage and bugging conversations to document each and every Nixon misstep, triggering Nixon’s retaliation with wiretaps, smears, and even a plot to kill Anderson. Feldstein delivers an engaging chronicle of the poisoned relationship between two powerful men and its lasting impact on political journalism. --Vanessa Bush
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374235309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374235307
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mark Feldstein is the Richard Eaton Professor of broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland.

For two decades, he worked as an investigative reporter for newspapers, magazines, and television, including as an on-air correspondent at CNN and ABC News.

On assignment, Feldstein was beaten up in the U.S., censored in Egypt, and escorted out of Haiti under armed guard, earning dozens of journalism's top honors, from the Edward R. Murrow broadcasting prize to two George Foster Peabody medallions.

A graduate of Harvard who received his doctorate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Feldstein has also won awards for his scholarship from the American Journalism Historians Association and other academic organizations.

He is widely quoted as a media analyst by leading news outlets in the United States and abroad, and has testified as an expert witness on First Amendment issues in court cases and before Congress.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By D. K. Daniel on September 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This detailed portrait of one of the longest and ugliest feuds in Washington and its impact on today's politics and media is a page-turner. Feldstein's book is a rematch of sorts featuring two old warriors, and Nixon still comes out looking the worst. But Jack Anderson takes a pretty good beating, too. I thought I knew Anderson's story - and Nixon's. Not entirely, it turns out. "Poisoning the Press" shows a side of Anderson I hadn't seen in the late muckraker's own books. And as far as Nixon goes, Feldstein offers even more reasons to view Nixon as a deeply flawed man brought down by his own moral failings. The conversations that went on in the Oval Office - many are detailed for the first time by the author via the infamous tapes - are chilling because of the setting and the players. (Does anyone still argue that Nixon didn't know what was going on with Watergate and other criminal activities within the White House?) Anderson was never a saint, but I was surprised that he was corruptible, at least in the journalistic sense. In many ways Anderson and Nixon shared the fatal flaw of believing that they were doing right even when they were doing wrong.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Write Away on January 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Feldstein's book is a compelling chronicle of two ambitious and flawed men who spent the greater part of their respective careers battling each other. It was a fun read made even more so by the fact that I vaguely remember much of what is discussed (I was a child during the Nixon administration). Seeing so many familiar political names, Nixon operatives who later wound up in the Reagan and Bush II administrations, was disturbing. Dr. Feldstein makes a strong case for the agenda these folks have been following for 40 years and it doesn't reflect well on our democracy.
By the time the reader closes this book he or she is disgusted with both Nixon and Anderson; the former particularly, who comes across as a foul-mouthed borderline psychopath. Anderson is sympathetic until the point that he abandons his objectivity and honesty in a pointless pursuit of Thomas Eagleton. Having completed the book, I would like to find another straight biography of both men, especially Nixon--a strictly historical account, including positive qualities and accomplishments, written by an author who is simply reporting history and not presenting and explaining a theory (well-founded though it may be).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kathryn Murphy on December 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting book about a fascinating time in history. The author has a wonderful writing style. His ability to tell a story kept my interest from page one. He reminded me of many aspects of the Nixon presidency I have long forgotten and provided much I'd never heard before. I highly recommend this book. I had a great time reading it. Thanks Feldstein.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jorge Martinez on April 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was born during the second Nixon presidency (1973) and I was always interested in the Watergate scandal. Turns out that this was just the tip of the corruption iceberg and it makes you wonder, how much have Washington politics changed since then? However, the focus of the book is Mr. Jack Anderson, a new hero of mine. If we had at least a fistful of journalists with a fraction of this guy's tenacity, cleverness and courage, the People would count on really being INFORMED. Corrupt politicians and business men feared Anderson and such fear was healthy because, if it did not keep them entirely honest, it set some boundaries. In my native Puerto Rico, we have had a number of political corruption scandals during the past few years and an Anderson-type figure is sorely needed.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Margaret on October 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The names, the places, the incidents were all in the wind during the 60's and 70's. Feldstein's book makes it all real in a way it was not when this young person lived through it. It is an amazing story which painfully focuses the reality of today's media vs. government mentality. The sad legacy of the Nixon years is our virtually complete distrust of our government. An excellent, necessary book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jill Wine-Banks on January 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the Watergate prosecutor who cross-examined Rose Mary Woods about the 18 1/2 minute gap in a crucial White House tape, I have great familiarity with tape recordings and Nixon, but learned a great deal from this book which ends before Watergate. Feldstein's use of tape recordings is brilliant; he makes history come to life. He also does a great job of revealing the true character of Nixon and Anderson. I read it on my Kindle and then bought a hard copy because I wanted it in my library, plus I've given copies as gifts, including one to a Watergate witness.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Barb Caffrey VINE VOICE on December 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Mark Feldstein's "Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture" is an excellent, true and riveting history of the long-running feud between politician (and now-disgraced former President) Richard M. Nixon and investigative reporter Jack Anderson. Anderson, like his mentor Drew Pearson before him, wrote a column called the Washington "Merry-Go-Round" which was carried by over a thousand newspapers at its height, and for many in the pre-Internet age was required reading, and often featured news stories about the sordid nature of Richard M. Nixon's financial dealings. This is why Nixon hated Anderson.

At any rate, this book is a true, page-turning history and is exhaustively researched. Feldstein shows ably how many terrible things went on in the Nixon Administration and how Jack Anderson, and the reporters who worked with him, had to often do disgraceful, disreputable things in order to "get the goods" on Nixon or his people.

I highly recommend this book; it is an outstanding piece of history that should be read by everyone, as this book shows the start of so many things we now take for granted -- push-polling. Focus groups. Soft-focus hour-long campaign videos. Public relations people trying to make a candidate into something he's not -- or minimize something he is. And candidates, like Richard Nixon, blaming the press for their own misdeeds as a way to misdirect the public -- Feldstein shows ably how, and why, Nixon used blaming the press as a campaign strategy, and why, exactly, it worked.

Five stars-plus. Highly recommended.

Barb Caffrey

Note: This review is highly condensed from my review at Shiny Book Review -- that's shinybookreview AT wordpress DOT com, if you're interested -- in case you want to read more about this excellent book.
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