Unlike the obvious majority of one-star "reviewers" of THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD (who have probably never read a book containing more than fifty words to a page), I read and thoroughly enjoyed Frank Rich's story of the Bush II Administration's use of half-truths, misdirection, staging of alternate realities, and general truthiness to promote a disuniting agenda and hide its astonishing incompetence. As a long-time drama critic turned weekly op-ed columnist for the New York Times, who better to critique the overweening theatricality of a Presidency predicated on its own supporters' willing suspension of disbelief and acceptance of image and symbols over content and truth?
Mr. Rich's approach in THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD is disarmingly simple - retell the chronological story of the Bush II Presidency, focusing on the manner in which the Administration presented and sold its case to the American public. What emerges, of course, is a pattern of deceptions and staged events that have resulted in a failed Presidency (with approval ratings rivaling those of Nixon after Watergate), a country more polarized than ever, and a lower American standing in the world than at any time in our history. What also emerges, however, is a portrait of the mainstream media that for far too long acted as the President's lapdog, cowed by the aftershocks of 9/11 ("watch what you say!"), panic-stricken over the notion of seeming traitorous simply by asking a question, and fawning obsequiously over the Bush Administration out of fear of losing their vaunted access (failing to recognize the irony of their being used as tools of the Administration's propaganda program).
Mr. Rich chronicles the Bush Administration's story from 9/11 to Katrina in great detail, hitting all the well-known low spots (aluminum tubes, uranium from Niger, Valerie Plame, WMD's, shock and awe, embedded reporters, Jessica Lynch, Mission Accomplished, "Kenny Boy" Lay, Jeff (hotmilitarystud.com) Gannon, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Abu Ghraib, Pat Tillman, Cindy Sheehan, Michael (heckuva job) Brown, etc.) and a few less publicized ones. The entire recap plays like the political equivalent of a year-ending "Top 100 Musical Hits" show, bringing back lots of (mostly bad) memories and connecting the dots across the first five or six years of George Bush's Presidency.
This chronological retelling is both a strength and a weakness in Rich's book - positive in its provision of perspective and recognition of patterns of failed behavior and outright disregard for all but a privileged few Americans, negative in being a mile wide but only an inch deep in its analysis. Rich is largely content to be a chronicler of events, a gatherer, sorter, and reporter of information already on the public record. He unearths nothing new in his story, demonstrates no inclination to interview the principals in these events, and offers precious little analysis or commentary of his own. Thus, for example, we revisit the pathetically premature and pompous Top Gun scene of Mission Accomplished (and the Administration's hilariously inept revisionist efforts to explain the "true meaning" of that sign), but we learn next to nothing from behind the scenes about how it was staged. This pattern of reporting the superficial, publicly-known aspects of each event haunts the full length of the book, making it sound at times more like an extended movie review than an analytical recap of actual current events. If anything, THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD proves convincingly that Mr. Rich does not have a reporter's chops.
In the final chapter, Mr. Rich offers his conjectures as to why the Bush/Cheney/Rove Administration engaged in such massive deception to initiate its war of choice in Iraq. He comes down unconvincingly on the side of purely political motivations, offering no new evidence for his reasons and conveniently ignoring the geopolitics of (and the Bush family's business connections to) Middle Eastern oil. All that having been said, THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD is nevertheless a worthwhile read, if only to put the first five years of the 21st Century - and the brazen truthiness of the Bush II Administration -- into perspective. For those who don't follow these stories closely, the full picture Mr. Rich paints will be eye-opening, perhaps even shocking in its scope and audacity. History will judge the merits of the Presidency, the media, and the American people of this era and likely find them all sadly wanting. It may well also find that they suffered collectively from the travails encapsulated in a hoary Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." Interesting, indeed.
On a final note, it is disappointing in the extreme that books like Frank Rich's are consistently swamped with personal attacks and angry, content-free, Limbaugh-like diatribes by so many chromosomally-deficient knuckle-draggers. Something is sorely missing in these poor right-wingers' lives that they have so little else to do but post trashy commentary from their trailer parks about books they've never seen, let alone read. Life out there in Kansas and the rest of blue state Jesusland must truly be a tortured trial.
on October 13, 2006
Frank Rich, Paul Krugman and Keith Olbermann are among the few current journalists looking behind the Oz-like curtain of the Bush administration to call all the spades exactly what they are -- spades.Month by month, sometimes even day by day, Rich lays out the "do as we say, not as we do" battle plans of Bush, Cheney, Rove et al on Iraq, Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, the economy, civil rights, education, health care and scores of other issues that affect all Americans.The book takes the fragments of news we've received for the past five-plus years and puts them in a better context than other writers (save the aforementioned trio) have done.As a former newsman who now does public relations consulting, I found Rich's book especially interesting. It reminded me of when I and other Air Force public information officers were ordered by another president to tell Americans that Francis Gary Powers was taking air samples -- not spying -- when his U-2 was shot down in 1960.A few days later, President Eisenhower had to admit what the Russians and everyone except some American citizens knew -- Powers was indeed spying. Unfortunately, today's administration is even less truthful than the one in charge then, and it will take longer for all Americans to realize it. Rich's book will help speed the process.
When Frank Rich sits at his type writer people in the White House shudder. And with good reason, for the New York Times columnist skewers them every Sunday with a combination of able research and wry wit. People taking pleasure in his Sunday columns will delight in this book. Those who detest him will likely have an aneurysm. Already, as can be seen among the reviews for this book, GOP attacks have either taken out their long knives to stab or tried to dismiss Rich as just another Bush Hater.
Such ad hominem attacks fail to reply to the care with which Rich approaches the topic or the strength of his argument. Seeing the Bush White House at its heart as arrogant and disdaining the constraints of tradition and law, the book traces a parade of failures and attempts to explain how time and again the administration can distract the American people from reality. In this Rich saves his greatest venom for his own peers in the media in general and at his own paper in particular. Why did they not challenge the White House when it made charges, often demonstrably false, such as Dick Cheney's recent claims never to have claimed Saddam was involved in 9/11? How did they give the government a pass on Afghanistan even as the US began shifting troops to Iraq leaving that country on the precipice of falling back into the hands of the Taliban? Remember how every prisoner at Gunatanamo was "the worst of the worst," and only now we know many innocent people remain in a legal limbo, turned over by bounty hunters in Pakistan to the US military, and even now remaining in captivity because the White House is loath to admit its mistake? Or how come the media does not question why terrorists become the most active in the summer and fall of even years?
At its heart, Rich blames the media's desire for access, its disinterest in analysis, and its fear of being painted as not patriotic. Since 9/11 the White House has succeeded in silencing those who offer any competing narrative to its own (remember Bill Maher's suggestion that we're deluding ourselves if we think cowards fly airplanes into buildings?) more interested in controlling the story than winning the war. As with the excellent history of Iraq "Fiasco" Bush partisans will not give this work a read, nor even consider the possibility of fault, let alone bad intentions. Even honorable men who shed blood in war for the country such as Senator's McCain, Graham, and Warner, find themselves under attack because disagreement for many of my fellow Americans now seems synonymous with betrayal. Those who reflexively revile works such as this one should take a deep breath and hear out his argument. A dose of his rational outrage would be a tonic for us all.
on September 21, 2006
There are many one-star reviews here from the foaming-at-the-mouth crowd about a book they have not read. I was forwarded an email asking me to come here and freep (I hold an acct. at freerepublic)- some of these folks are the same people who wrote reviews about their favorite right-wing books and included comments FREAKING! out that the left hasn't even read, say, Ann Coulter. Sad really. Such hate and twisted hypocrisy.
Anyway--I really have read this book, and it is very well written. But then I don't consider Bush a true Republican, he is an extremist of another kind, and even people like Joe Scarborough are coming around to see this.
on June 19, 2007
Imagine if you were one of several soldiers wounded in the Iraqi war who woke up one morning to find that there was a letter to the editor in your newspaper that supported the war and had your signature on it, but you didn't write that letter, and knew nothing about it.. The letter was written by the PR team in your federal government. Or picture this: President Bush is standing at night in the now brilliantly lit Jackson square in New Orleans talking optimistically about the city. Well at least the square seems lit up nicely so we guess the electricity is back on. The speech ends, the flood lights go off, and the square is plunged into total darkness.
This is a book detailing how the government lied and created propaganda to further their cause in both the war, and in the aftermath of Katrina. It's a fascinating book because it follows a time line that shows clearly how the public comments made by public officials changed over time. In fact there is a 78 page time line appendix in the book that details these morphing statements date by date. The book tells about the fake reporters at press conferences, the fake news columnists, and the fake "news" articles that the government distributed to gullible media. As one government person stated, "we create our own reality." When Specialist Wilson asked Rumsfeld why he and his men didn't have adequate armor Rumsfeld said it was a matter of production and capability. That was a lie that was outed quickly when it was revealed that one supplier, ArmorWorks said it could quickly increase production by 100%. During the battle in Falluja we were told that there were 3000 Iraqi soldiers fighting the battle. Reporters on the scene said that the Iraqi soldiers showed up after the fighting was over, posed in their neat, clean uniforms and departed. Certainly you remember the frequent comments about the thousands of Iraqis that have been trained or are almost completely trained. Somehow they never seem to materialize.
You've probably heard a lot of this stuff, but Mr. Rich brings out the deceit of all the Washington shapeshifters in wonderful - or perhaps the word should be horrible - detail. You see the action flow, and learn about a lot of governmental skullduggery that will make you cringe. It's spellbinding reading.
on October 14, 2006
Frank Rich came here in the fall of 2001 to discuss politics at a time when he was in transition to becoming a columnnist for the New York Times, rather than remain a theater critic. After his remarks, one questioner asked him to admit that the nation was better off with Bush in office, following the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01, than with (implicitly) "girly man" Al Gore. Rich was cautious, and rightly so. Who could have predicted then that Bush and his "neocons" would start a war for domestic political purposes? Most of the nation still is in denial about that, but that IS Rich's conclusion for the motivation behind the Iraq War and he is absolutely correct. This book, like Rich's columns for NYT (which I hope will soon be collected and published) is brilliantly written. The "time line" is a fabulous idea (and will be updated at his web site as things go on.
I missed a couple of things. One was a discussion of the military meeting that went on in August 2002 at Crawford, Texas where Powell was not included and later Bush and Cheney claimed that Iraq was not on the agenda. Yeah, right. Another was more discussion of the utter ineptitude of the Kerry/Edwards campaign in not making some key points that Rich repeatedly makes. The Bush administration's resistance to the 9-11 Commission, the isolation of Powell (the one guy having military experience in the Bush cabinet), the failure of Bush to consult with his father, the fact that WE kicked out the UN inspectors.
But this is a wonderful read. Rich is coming back here this month. Last time, I bought a copy of his book of collected reviews, talked with him briefly. He is a wonderfully gracious person as well as the best political columnist writing today. This book exposes Bush as the worst President ever, but I am still a little pessimistic that the American people will ever recognize just how they have been conned.
That reminds me of something else that is missing in Rich's account; the treachery of Ahmed Chalabi. This is a guy who sat behind Laura Bush at the State of the Union speech in January 2004. It now appears that he may have been an agent for IRAN all along. The irony of this cannot be underestimated: the U.S., including Cheney and Rumsfeld, the same people, had supported Iraq as a buffer to radical Islamic states like Iraq in the '80s. Now, by removing Saddam's secular state and opening it up to Shiite domination, we have likely delivered another nation to the radical Islamic cause. What a disaster.
on October 13, 2006
you won't find anything new in this book (maybe 4 stars?). The thing that does make it stand apart is how will written and put together it is (loved the timeline). No doubt it is an anti-Bush effort. But I would like to hear from the Bush supporters any actual evidence of points in this book that are lies. Just dismissing the book as left wing propaganda does not hold water. If someone can prove Rich is lying about certain points, I would love to hear them. Because after reading this, I don't think I could have any lower of an opinion of our President, and that is not a good thing.
The blatant hypocrisy of the current administration is not a novel topic for a book these days, but New York Times columnist (and legendary former film and theater critic) Frank Rich uses his uncommonly original eye for the absurd in identifying the "truthiness" behind the news. A concept introduced by Stephen Colbert on his Comedy Central series, truthiness is defined by that certain quality by which a person claims to know something instinctively without the inconvenience of logic or fact validation as long as the story can be sold as true, especially on TV. Rich spins an expansive narrative about the false reality that the Bush administration has set up in justifying the reasons for going to war in Iraq and how the misconceptions have intractably damaged our own sense of democracy in the process.
Unlike others who focus on the political, military and religious motivations behind 9/11, the author sets a stage that hones in on the social and cultural elements prior to 9/11. He shares an accurate remembrance as the nation was evolving into a passive, almost vacuous state. However, from Dick Cheney's initial post-9/11 assertion that Saddam Hussein was directly connected to 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta, we are led through a web of deceit that led to unconfirmed reports of nuclear arms proliferation and weapons of mass destruction. As we know now, Valerie Plame's husband Joseph Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate the possibility that Hussein had a deal to buy enriched uranium yellowcake, a perceived threat which he concluded was gravely overstated. Yet, the media spin was focused squarely on capitalizing on the public's fear of further acts of terrorism. The spin has become so all-encompassing that it was almost moot that contrary evidence was growing, sparked by a British government memo that admitted the Bush administration's culpability in fixing intelligence findings around alleged WMDs to conform with its policies.
What makes Rich's account especially compelling is how he shows how the major media companies wholly endorsed the hawkish White House positioning, that the administration felt that any challenge would amount to a surrender to the terrorists. This snowballed into over-hyped stories such as Pvt. Jessica Lynch's allegedly courageous escape from her captors. The author raises serious questions on what exactly exerted the pressure for the media companies to avoid expressing skepticism at a time when such inquiries most acutely needed to be pursued. Intriguingly, the overall media landscape has changed so drastically with the proliferation of Web sites and blogs that news coverage has ironically become diluted by the multiple perspectives expressed. In this chaotic state, Rich validates what others have shown before, that Republicans are simply better at spin than Democrats because of their effective values-based sound bites.
From this advantage, Rich points to the Bush administration's own campaign to overturn the so-called liberal bias of the press. Its leverage lies in its ability to sever connections for reporters to top officials. Because news reports need to have authoritative sources, the media companies fear losing access at the top, as they tend toward old reporting standards of emphasizing the importance of quotes from powerful people. That's why the most prominent critic of current policies is not a reporter but a comedian with a crack writing staff, Comedy Central's Jon Stewart. Rich does an excellent job of chronicling these changes by peeling another layer off the current morass. His perspective is unique in that he focuses not on imperialistic policy making but on the culpability of the media. He completely understands how a fear of being accused of liberal bias has crippled the media at a time when we most need the leverage of free press. Consequently, this is essential reading.
on September 19, 2006
In THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD, Frank Rich amply proves that in these United States, we no longer have a functioning democracy but instead a taxpayer-funded theatrical enterprise which serves up to an increasingly restless public endless variations of cynical melodrama designed to scare the American people into submission, neutralize opponents, and surreptitiously realize big profits for its investors in the military-industrial-energy complex.
As long-time theater critic at the New York Times, Frank Rich is clearly better suited to seeing though the stagecraft of the Bush administration than the so-called "hard news" reporters like those in the stage-struck White House press corps. Reporters like the New York Times' Judith Miller, for example, who swallowed the Nigerian yellow cake uranium melodrama hook, line and sinker, and credulously fell for one red herring after another.
Hypnotized by their front row access to the White House melodrama and the threat of losing it, Rich argues that hard news reporters were played for suckers in the run up to the war by the morality play presidency of George W. Bush. The White House press corps became invested in the story, Rich argues, perpetuating the story line and profiting from it in the form of a rapt readership, and high ratings. The apocalyptic story line of a smoking gun that would become a mushroom cloud was just too sensational to pass up.
Rich wrote in an editorial a week before he went on sabbatical to write his book: "The highest priority for the Karl Rove-driven presidency is...to preserve its own power at all costs. With this gang, political victory and the propaganda needed to secure it always trump principles, even conservative principles, let alone the truth. Whenever the White House most vociferously attacks the press, you can be sure its No. 1 motive is to deflect attention from embarrassing revelations about its incompetence and failures."
As much as I am grateful for Rich's book and his columns -- one of the last voices, along with Paul Krugman's, of the Times' once-proud bourgeoisie brownstone liberal tradition -- I find myself shaking my head at the notion that the Bush administration might be "embarrassed" by its "incompetence and failures." One can only be embarrassed at incompetence and failure if you believe you have been shown to be incompetent or to have failed. But since this production is designed only to line its investors' pockets with loot, and has been doing so very nicely, there is no reason for embarrassment.
The Bush troupe, cynically directed by Karl Rove, while not capable of embarrassment, is, as Rich points out, very good at sniffing the political winds and sensing what its audience needs. As Rich says, depending on the situation, Rove will put on a new performance to draw attention elsewhere, and/or shine a harsh interrogatory spotlight on those who dare to respond to their latest offering with a sigh, a snort, or a Bronx cheer. Rove is particularly adept at creating villains as foils to an heroic Bush. While it's nothing new -- the divide and conquer melodrama has been big box office for Republicans and conservatives since Joe McCarthy came up with the formula back in the 50s - Rove has refined the stagecraft, sharpened the script into soundbites.
Recall if you will Bush's "inability" to admit to making any mistakes in his Presidency a few years ago under questioning at a White House press conference. Many commentators saw that as an example of Bush's unwillingness to examine a new set of facts, draw new conclusions and make new plans. But, in fact, Bush was playing his role of heroic common man perfectly, "catapulting the propaganda" over the heads of elites to his real audience - those true believers who embrace with all their hearts the Rovian melodrama of the strong, tough hero.
The problem with a steady diet of melodrama, of course, is that after a while the audience begins to lose interest. At some point, as Mr. Bush's poll numbers suggest, the tear-jerking and fear-jerking no longer work. The Manichaean plot becomes ever more apparent and the players are at last revealed as stick figures, as puppets, as empty ciphers in the service of the deus ex machina.
Perhaps even Mr. Bush has at last grown tired of the limited role of cock-sure, tough-talking, God-loving hero, the stock character he and director Rove artfully recycled from movie westerns, dime novels and tall tales: recently Mr. Bush told Brian Williams of NBC that he read "three Shakespeare's" and "The Stranger" during his summer vacation.
The final tragic message of THE GREATEST STORY EVER SOLD is that the curtain on this base melodrama could have come down years ago had only the "reviewers" in the American press corps and the Congress been doing their jobs for the American people. Frank Rich has done his job from the very beginning of this longest running melodrama in American political history. Thankfully, he continues to do so.
on September 22, 2006
As a republican myself, I am amazed at the blind loyalty of these bush supporters. Almost every item in this book has been proven to be true. Unfortunatley most of these people only watch fox for their "news" otherwise they might be aware of the truth of this book. I doubt most have even read the book or any other book for that matter. This country is being destroyed by the likes of these people and most are too stupid to realize it or worse they are in on the destruction of our country. Just answer one question if there is a real war on terror why are our borders wide open?