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The Power and the Story: How the Crafted Presidential Narrative Has Determined Political Success from George Washington to George W. Bush Hardcover – June 30, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Repackaging presidential history for our age of "spin," Cornog's lively if reductionist work argues that it's "the battle of stories, not the debate on issues, that determines how Americans respond to a presidential contender." In making this argument, Cornog, associate dean at Columbia's journalism school and author of Hats in the Ring, a campaign history, touches on the roles of candidates, the public, the press and historians in crafting (or debunking) images and reputations. No reader will put down the book without greater appreciation of the role of tales, both tall and true, in our public history. To his credit, Cornog only occasionally drops into cynicism, as when he says that the role of images shows "the relative unimportance of truth." But sometimes he succumbs to melodrama, as in his grandiose conclusion: "The future of the nation, and the world, depends upon the abilities of American citizens to choose the right stories." And devoting a full chapter only to George W. Bush seems a ploy for media attention in this election year. More seriously, Cornog shortchanges such other important historical factors as presidential actions and national power. In sum, this is a pleasant but not weighty work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Evan Cornog is the associate dean for policy and planning at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review. He was educated at Harvard and Columbia and has taught American history at Columbia, CUNY, and Lafayette College. He also worked as press secretary for former Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York City. Cornog is the author of The Birth of Empire: DeWitt Clinton and the American Experience, 1769-1828 and coauthor of Hats in the Ring: An Illustrated History of American Presidential Campaigns.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (June 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420022X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200229
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,869,676 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Claude Call on September 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a view of presidential "spin" throughout American history. Our Presidential war heroes aren't limited to the few that we ordinarily think of (Grant, T. Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy); it was also Washington's success in the Revolution that led him to the Presidency. Andrew Jackson beat the British in 1815 during the Battle of New Orleans. Who cares if the war was already over, or if Roosevelt picked a fight with Cuba specifically to look good? They're still heroes!

Cornog notes that the truth is not always relevant to the story. For instance, the Washington-and-the-cherry-tree story is apocryphal. Likewise GW Bush's inflating of Saddam Hussein's pursuit of the weapons of mass destruction. He points out that there's a cycle to the story, that it's sent to the press, which itself behaves as an actor and chorus in interpreting and relaying it to the public, and then as an audience as well, by reacting and allowing the story to return to its source for reinterpretation and re-dissemination.

In some cases, the story becomes part of the president's "next life." Former presidents or even non-presidential statesmen, in publishing their memoirs, have tried to change the focus or the blame on some of the more negative stories about them by attempting to put them in a different context. In some cases the attempt was successful (George Washington and the tree didn't even come out until after he had died, but it's so central to the myth that it was accepted), others not so much (Nixon convincing himself that the decision to invade Cambodia was right by repeatedly watching "Patton", as noted in H. R. Haldeman's memoir).
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Richard Bradley on July 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a very smart book. The Power and the Story pulls together presidential history from George Washington to George W. Bush, media theory, and Cornog's own wisdom to analyze the importance of storytelling in presidential politics. We may know on some level that our presidential candidates are crafting life stories for themselves to advance or facilitate their political futures-both in reality, like John Kerry choosing to go to Vietnam, or in myth, like Kerry's campaign film created by a protege of Steven Spielberg-but Cornog shows how that tradition began, how these stories are manufactured, and why they work-or don't. Cornog gives us a powerful filter through which to interpret and evaluate modern political campaigning; this is the best single theory for understanding presidential politics I've ever read. An added pleasure is that the book is written lucidly and contains a breadth of historical knowledge that is quite remarkable. Combining literature, myth, history and current events, Cornog uses references from Herodotus to Jane Austen to September the 11th, all in an inconspicuous but highly useful way. Before an election this important, everyone should read The Power and the Story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By susanne zuther on April 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Filled the job for required reading for a college class. Was very interesting though, learned much I hadn't known before.
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7 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Saperstein HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"Evan Cornog's masterful new look at the American presidency explores the ways our presidents craft persuasive personal narratives and how their storytelling can capture the public imagination and build the support necessary to govern," exclaims the flyleaf. In reality, this is an object lesson in how the disingenuous journalist can craft their stories to appear as scholarly research when, in fact, they are just old fashioned partisan campaigning.

Cornog's book should serve as a warning to anyone who believes the media are "objective": Cornog is an associate dean for plannig and policy at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and publisher of the Columbian Journalism Review.

My copy of "Power and the Story" is now loaded with slips of paper, each bookmarking a lie or distortion in Cornog's campaign tract. Cornog claims that the old Soviet Union was an American stereotype rooted in habitual ignorance or modern prejudice. Just what does Cornog find admirable about the old Soviet Union? Its gulag system? Its forced exile of minorities? Like others who apparently felt that acceptance of the Soviet Union was the right thing, Cornog casts Ronald Reagan's declaration of the Soviet Union as a message "inadequate to the complexities of the world." Why do people like Cornog come out and specifically say what was good and admirable about the Soviet Union?

In Cornog's view, Lyndon Johnson embodied the Texas Populist Tradition while George W. Bush is rooted in the Conferdate past. The single tenuous reference to support this theory is to yet another overtly partisan screed. This reminds me of Stalin citing Lenin as a persuasive authority.
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