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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is the greatest hits album of professional political muckrakers. Just when you think that they can not come up with something more despicable you turn the page and - bang, one more story full of lies and broken careers. The author lays the book out chronologically so that we start with the founding father and the hits just keep on coming all the way to the current high level of performance. If you are interested in politics and follow the scene then this book is not some much shocking as it is full of "that's where they got it from". If politics is a new hobby then your opinion of these stand up citizens will not drop lower. Overall, this is a fun book that you finish quite quickly
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
Gail Collins kept me alternately laughing or spellbound with her chronology of rumor and innuendo whispered through the ages down America's corridors of power. A must read for anyone who loves American history, public relations, or just "good dirt," Collins defines the issues behind scandals and discusses why certain gossip either grabs our attention or fails to take hold. I had a blast learning with this one. Thanks, Gail!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Gail Collins' Scorpion Tongues is, according to its subtitle, the irrestible history of gossip in American politics, and that is exactly what it is. It will be just right for the reader who will want to settle down and take pleasure in all the mud slinging of the past and for a chance to realize that neither times nor people change all that much. The book does try to give a spin to the stories in order to justify the book on more enlightened grounds of trying to show historical patterns and different eras and forms of gossip. But that is not why people are reading this book and that is not why the readers will be passing this book to their friends. It's the gossip, stupid. A scandal filled romp through American history.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a very readable and informative book about the parts of American History that never appear in the official school books. And not because of its unimportance! There's the story of Peggy Eaton, and how she caused the Civil War (p.43). How William Chancellor's home was raided by Secret Service agents who forced him to burn his papers; later the FBI seized copies of his book from libraries, stores, and salesmen, even confiscating and destroying the publication plates without any legal authorization (p.127). How the Republican National Committee shipped Harding's mistress and husband on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Far East in 1920, and a $2000 monthly payoff in hush money.
The author says that newspapers of the 1920s kept the stories about Harding unpublished because "there was no real appetite for that kind of story" (p.130). I think its more likely that 1) we now had a "secret police on the European model", and 2) the increasing monopolization of newspapers allowed more control and censorship. Some may think only some weekly newspapers market scandals, but don't recognize this as a niche market. The facts that supermarkets nationwide were told to market weekly tabloids around 1967 isn't mentioned, or the cause.
The book says movie stars replaced politicians (and the rich?) in the 1920s as objects of gossip. When Fatty Arbuckle was found not guilty of murder on the third trial after six minutes of deliberation the press wondered "about what was wrong with the system of justice and whether it was possible for a celebrity to get a fair trial in America" (p.140).
Pages 144-5 tell of the rumors and gossip about FDR: he was a drunk, going insane, addicted to drugs, even that he was a "hopeless, helpless invalid". Pages 175-6 explain how memories become improved decades after the events: reading history backwards.
Pages 183-6 tell of the Walter Jenkins scandal of Oct 1964. The author omits the fact that Walter Jenkins was a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, and served under General Barry Goldwater. LBJ's first reaction was to assume a plot to affect the election. I wonder is there's a reason for Goldwater's later statements?
In 1972 Senator Thomas Eagleton was dropped as a VP candidate when they found he had been "hospitalized three times for mental illness and depression" (p.190). Watergate opened the door to printed political gossip that has pestered, or enriched, the news from Washington DC. One effect was a huge increase in college journalism students then.
Ronald Reagan was the first president who was divorced. There was no sexual gossip about the 70 year old Reagan; nobody told of his bad memory, either. He was the first president whose staff wrote tell-all books while he was still in the White house (p.224).
Pages 228-232 discuss Senator John Tower and his failure to be voted Secretary of Defense in 1989 due to his drinking and womanizing. I heard the real reason was Senator Tower's earlier whitewash of the "Contragate" investigation; he wasn't trusted.
Pages 247-8 tell how rumors and were used to try to influence the selection of Speaker of the House circa 1990. You can watch the "Tonight Show" to see how jokes and phony videos are used to shape people's thinking on current issues. The hired tongues on local "talk radio" may provide other examples or rumors from nearly anonymous sources.
Page 267 says that people react angrily to scandals about a famous person's private life only when the reality contradicts the image. A politician known for drinking, gambling, and kissing any woman within reach can't be ruined except by a Federal indictment and conviction. A Louisiana Governor said no scandal would harm him unless he was found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.
The author says gossip meets human needs by sharing secrets that are normally hidden, etc. (p.6). I think its people's way to bring down the high and mighty as just another human. To quote from a folksong of the 60s, "even the President goes".
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
Gail Gleason Collins has written a marvelous account of the gestation of the media as the filters through which politicians are made or not made into statesmen and stateswomen. She has included a weary but never wearying catalogue of the lubricity of American leaders of past and present. It is a book about sex and scandal--mostly scandal--the birth and life and death of gossip in the United States, ending with a question for the future: a cynical American people tiptoeing through the wreckage of a "role model theory" of American leadership, or a new public idealism which may ignore peccadilloes in favor of real issues. I think it was the English historian Lord Bryce who said of the American Commonwealth, in contrast to English scandals which were usually about sex, that American scandals were usually about money. Gail Collins shows the inaccuracy of that statement--how much more important have the Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, et al "bimbo eruptions" of the present decade been to the media and to the inert public than have the colossal wastage of public funds via the S&L bailout? In my Political Corruption seminar, which concentrates on money corruption of the past, my students were delighted with Gail Collins' book--much more than the econometrically "boring" tome of Professor Susan Rose-Ackerman. So am I--she set out to show the role of gossip in politics, and very accurately depicts the commanding role of the media, given the decline of the political party as moderator. Or perhaps she really shows the death of the non-yellow press as medium between citizen and government, and the advent of Internet dominance. The solidity and decency of Pulitzer and Sulzberger is dead: long live the evanescent (and mendacious) rumoring of Matt Drudge! She is mightily inclusive of American leaders' sex-tinged activities, (though I've heard some stories she hasn't or didn't think worthwhile to include--like the one about Jack Kennedy's antecedent "Honey" Fitzgerald and "Toodles", or about Senator Margaret Chase Smith and her Administrative Assistant). And, I suppose the Clinton bimbo catalogue could have been much more extensive. Who cares? The book is fine; good to read, good (troubling) to think about. Think of "all the news that's fit to print" in terms of the Internet's 24/7 time period, and despair. And did you hear the one about.... Charles F. Burke, Professor of Political Science, Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
[my book club's selection this month]

T.R. a drunk? Lincoln and Harding black? Hillary threw a lamp at Bill? (Good for her.)

Turns out none of these stories were true, along with most of the other rumors Collins reports in Scorpion Tongues. Mostly what all these rumors do is hurt the feelings of their victims. On the first page of the introduction Collins says, "...the American people turned out to be far more pragmatic about [Clinton's:] wildly improper behavior than almost anyone had expected." And on the last page she concludes, "The scorpion tongues of political gossip have the power to sting a target's heart, but they're unlikely to be fatal to anyone who looks capable of getting the job done."

Most of this stuff I didn't care about the first time around, whether I read about it in American history or lived through it in my lifetime (Clinton, McCain in 2000, Kerry in 2004). I still don't, and I was pretty bored by the subject matter. On page 163 Collins writes, "One of the reasons people gossip is to learn about life -- what their culture demands of them, how others have behaved in different circumstances, and what to expect from their own friends, family, and mates." I think that's crap. People gossip because the human race shares some unattractive characteristics, and one of these is voyeurism. We like to watch. (See reality television.)

Additionally, as Americans we like to build someone up and then tear them down again. We're never happier than when watching someone we have raised to the heights come crashing down. Sometimes I think this can be laid at the feet of the American dream--"If he falls from his spot in Valhalla, it makes room for me."

Two stories I did find of interest. One was of Hillary in 1991 sitting in on the planning session for Bill's run, and the rumors about Bill come up. "Suddenly, the man recalled, Hillary Clinton spoke up. "She said: 'You know, if we divorced right now, no one would ever raise those things. Divorce expunges it. And then if we remarried before the Inauguration, it would be one of the great love stories." If that story is true, that is a very telling illustration of the ruthlessness of Hillary Clinton's ambition. They had a daughter. I have a hard time believing that Hillary could be so ambitious as to inflict that kind of mental and emotional disruption on a child just to win an election.

The other interesting story is about John Kerry refusing to sign a document that would allow the media to find documentation that the same Swift Boaters who attacked him in the campaign had in fact commended him during the war. It turned out that signing Form 180 would have also revealed that Kerry got worse grades at Yale than fellow alum George W. Bush. "Was it possible,," Collins writes, "that Kerry had endured all that flack and destabilized his campaign out of embarrassment about his college grades?" Again, if true, who wants that guy as president? A president faces a lot harder truths than that every day in the Oval Office. Doesn't do the nation any good at all to ignore them. (See W. Bush White House.)

Collins is a terrific writer, I love her column and I loved her book, America's Women. Not this one. But for someone who loves gossip, which I think is probably almost everyone except weird me, you'll probably love it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Gail Collins' book on political gossip reads so easily that if my busy life had a concept like "reading a book in one sitting", I would have read it in one sitting. As it was, it took snatches of time over the course of three days, but the book never lost my attention for a minute. The book covers scandals and gossip associated with American politicians since George Washington's time, running all the way up to President Clinton's womanizing problems. Collins does not dwell on any particular story too long (and in some cases is so brief that I wanted to know more), and for a scan of the subject, this book could hardly be bettered. The "9" instead of the "10" is because Collins did not choose to footnote, grouping references instead in a longish by-chapter bibliography at the end of the book. This is inconvenient, because specific quotes and allegations (such as the one that in one instance the crowd was so excited that several women fell into the band pit) would be interesting to trace immediately, at least to their source. But that is a minor distraction, and I can only say again that the book is a delight.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Scorpion Tongues is one of the rare books that simultaneously entertain, inform, teach and provoke lots of thought.

On one level it is a history of American gossip. On another level it is a history of American politics. On a third level it playfully teaches the reader that what may appear as gossip is really a statement about the concerns and values of a given era. And...this gossip can have and has had a powerful impact on the future.

Ms. Collins is also an artist. Under the reader's eyes she transforms the stuffy old generation of the past into colorful, living, breathing people.

Be prepared to learn and laugh a lot...and to have more than enough anecdotes to win a "Great Conversationalist Award."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 9, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Scorpion Tongues is a terrific book.
Author Gail Collins brings history alive with her wonderful stories about the U.S. presidents. If you think today's assault on President Clinton is bad, you should read Scorpion Tongues! .
A must read!
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on February 2, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
The behind the scenes of politics are always interesting. It makes history so much more palatable. This might make the history of politics more accessable to many who would not otherwise be interested.
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