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The Selling of the President: The Classical Account of the Packaging of a Candidate Paperback – August 2, 1988


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 2, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140112405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140112405
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Joe McGinniss was a young Philadelphia journalist when he began to follow the team of public relations men and television specialists who created Richard Nixon's image for the American public during the presidential campaign of 1968. In 1969, with the publication of The Selling of the President, Joe McGinnis immediately became a nonfiction star of the first rank. His other books include Heroes, Going to Extremes, Fatal Vision, Cruel Doubt, and a novel, The Dream Team. He lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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I read it in about two afternoons.
S. G Spires
It was a good read on the genesis of political campaigning in the modern day.
W. Hronis
I appreciate Mr. McGinnis' contribution understanding politics.
R. Barrell

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By John B. Maggiore on May 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is the book that catapulted Joe McGinniss to nearly icon-status at the age of 25 in 1969. At the time, it was a shockingly revealing book at how presidential candidate Richard Nixon was being sold - gasp - like a product. The original book jacket featured Nixon's face on a pack of cigarettes, as if the notion of Madison Avenue ad-men playing a pivotal role in a presidential campaign was dirty.
The book became such a classic that it remains assigned reading in many government classes to this day. But it is no longer shocking. Today, the practices described actually seem backward. Rather than a jarring warning about how campaigns are trading issue discussions for staged events, it today might be read as an out-of-date how to book. The discerning reader should not make this mistake. Instead, try to feel the original sentiment, the innocent expectations the book assumes of the reader.
There are two interesting aspects of this book that are ancillary to the main point. The one is the appearance of political figures, like Pat Buchanan and Roger Ailes, who would go on to other things and remain well known today. The most interesting such example is none other than George Bush (the dad), who is profiled as a mere Congressional candidate, epitomizing the "modern" type of candidate who is "an extremely likable person" but is hazy on the issues. Bush's successful campaign featured "no issues" not even when his opponent asked Bush "if he would favor negotiations...to end the Vietnamese war" (see pages 44-45). The point was that Bush, who wasn't especially well-known, was a vapid product rather than a substantive candidate (some things change, some stay the same).
The other interesting thing is what happened to McGinniss.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Aaron W. on April 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is fun and breezy, and is a great companion piece to all those grinding "Making of the President 19--" books. McGinnis shows us the repackaging and rebranding of Richard Nixon into "The New Nixon." The original cover shows Nixon's face on a pack of cigarettes, because the campaign is all about the wholesale mass marketing of a product -- "New" and improved. The sales job is done largely with the help of Roger Ailes, then producer of The Mike Douglas Show. TV ads are shot with endless takes while Nixon stands before an audience and answers planted questions. When Nixon growls or mumbles to himself or snaps "Goddammit!" Ailes yells cut and they try again. Nixon and his production team had learned a big lesson from the five o'clock shadow, shifty eyed debates of 1960. Listen to your handlers, wear the darn makeup, look sincere and stick to the script. This book is a great, funny, fast look at the infancy of TV era politics. It's a nice history lesson, and it will add a fresh perspective to your stock of political knowledge. Today our image consultants are like Star Wars to Nixon's Apollo 7. Still, The Selling of The President stands as the best book on the creation of The Political Image.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Neil Cotiaux on September 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
First off, let's get one thing straight: McGinniss infiltrated the Nixon Campaign, pure and simple. Not exactly what you'd call honorable journalism.
That said, "The Selling of the President" remains the definitive case study of the first sophisticated use of television in American Presidential Politics. Having worked in political public relations for three years, the characterizations and quotes ring completely true. While the public was dismayed by the widening morass in Vietnam, there's no denying the fact that Nixon's very astute use of the tube helped catapult him into the office he ultimately disgraced.
Yes, mass media image-building is now the politician's stock in trade: Willy talking boxers versus briefs, the Veep doing the Macarena, and George The Elder fumbling at the checkout counter.
"The Selling of the President 1968" is written in tough, punchy prose, and chillingly accurate. I'm certain The Founding Fathers would flinch.
Highly recommended as a continuing reality check.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Acute Observer on January 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Joe McGinniss joined the Nixon campaign as an observer, and wrote this book of connected stories. Nixon's team had a number of advertising and TV professionals. The book lacks and index and a table of contents. The cover shows Nixon's face on a pack of cigarettes - an apt metaphor. They are heavily advertised, and bad for you in the short and long run. People know this, but they buy them anyway!
Chapter 1 shows Nixon taping commercials for varied markets. "I pledge an all-out war against organized crime in this country." But investigations into organized crime was later halted. Chapter 2 tells us that politics, like advertising, is a con game! Both promise more than they deliver. McGinniss says Nixon lost in 1960 because the camera portrayed him clearly (p.32). I think the TV audience judge he was lying, the radio audience took him at his word. By 1968 Nixon learned how to act sincere. He would appear mellow, not intense; respected, if not loved (p.34). Page 36 explains how this works: saturated TV advertising showing the candidate and giving the desired impression, followed by public appearances where he doesn't say anything. TV would be controlled to transmit the best images (p.38). Chapter 3 tells about Harry Treleaven, who worked on the 1966 campaign for George Bush; he was elected because he was likeable, and none knew his stand on the issues. More people vote for emotional than logical reasons (p.45). Chapter 4 explains the power of TV. "The press doesn't matter anymore: (p.59). Painting Nixon as mellow was their way to overcome the old Nixon. Chapter 5 tells how the TV shows were staged for each region. Page 64 explains the politics for a panel of questioners. The selected audience applauded every answer.
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