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When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina (Studies in Communication, Media, and Public Opinion) [Hardcover]

W. Lance Bennett , Regina G. Lawrence , Steven Livingston
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 15, 2007 0226042847 978-0226042848 First Edition
A sobering look at the intimate relationship between political power and the news media, When the Press Fails argues the dependence of reporters on official sources disastrously thwarts coverage of dissenting voices from outside the Beltway.
 
The result is both an indictment of official spin and an urgent call to action that questions why the mainstream press failed to challenge the Bush administration’s arguments for an invasion of Iraq or to illuminate administration policies underlying the Abu Ghraib controversy. Drawing on revealing interviews with Washington insiders and analysis of content from major news outlets, the authors illustrate the media’s unilateral surrender to White House spin whenever oppositional voices elsewhere in government fall silent.  Contrasting these grave failures with the refreshingly critical reporting on Hurricane Katrina—a rare event that caught officials off guard, enabling journalists to enter a no-spin zone—When the Press Fails concludes by proposing new practices to reduce reporters’ dependence on power.
 
“The hand-in-glove relationship of the U.S. media with the White House is mercilessly exposed in this determined and disheartening study that repeatedly reveals how the press has toed the official line at those moments when its independence was most needed.”—George Pendle, Financial Times
 
“Bennett, Lawrence, and Livingston are indisputably right about the news media’s dereliction in covering the administration’s campaign to take the nation to war against Iraq.”—Don Wycliff, Chicago Tribune
 
“[This] analysis of the weaknesses of Washington journalism deserves close attention.”—Russell Baker, New York Review of Books

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When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina (Studies in Communication, Media, and Public Opinion) + News That Matters: Television and American Opinion, Updated Edition (Chicago Studies in American Politics) + Mass Media and American Politics, 8th Edition
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The American press has become so enamored of power and politics that it has in recent years failed to maintain its independence and act as a watchdog over the government, lament journalism professors Bennett, Regina Lawrence, and Steven Livingston. They maintain that the failures of the press to scrutinize the Bush administration's preemptive war on Iraq and to question the administration's policy on torture of captives are the most egregious examples of the press taking its cues from government officials. The press is now so accustomed to getting information from government sources that unless someone within the government challenges a view or policy, no other side is heard. Cozy relationships between the press and insider sources have made the press easily manageable. Exploring the refreshing independence the press showed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when the administration was caught off guard and unable to manage the coverage, the authors offer suggestions on how the press can recover its independence on a broader scale. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

When the Press Fails is a valuable and clarifying book for people in the news media—and perhaps even more for members of the public who feel abused by the press’s failures. Inside and outside the news business, everyone knows that something serious is wrong with the way Americans get and assess information. This book does a very good job of explaining what that something is, and what parts of it can be addressed.”

(James Fallows, author of Breaking the News and correspondent for the Atlantic Mo)

“Political partisans have tried for years to discredit journalists, resulting in a press corps now overly conscious of its image. This book illustrates how America gets hurt when journalists are too intimidated to do their jobs.”

(Bob Edwards, host of the Bob Edwards Show and former host of Morning Edition)

“Not all Washington journalists will applaud the arrival of When the Press Fails, but they should and probably will read it. It is a stinging critique of media coverage of the Bush administration, especially its policy in Iraq, and it raises serious questions about how the White House has ‘spun’ much of the media into a form of docile dependency on official handouts, leading to an overall failure of accountability. Thus is the public shortchanged.  Between the lines is a cry for the media to wake up to its social and political responsibilities.”<Marvin Kalb, founding director and senior fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University>

(Marvin Kalb, founding director and senior fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center)

"The hand-in-glove relationship of the U.S. media with the White House is mercilessly exposed in this determined and disheartening study that repeatedly reveals how the press has toed the official line at those moments when its independence was most needed."
(George Pendle Financial Times 2007-06-09)

"Bennett, Lawrence, and Livingston are indisputably right about the news media's dereliction in covering the administration's campaign to take the nation to war against Iraq."
(Don Wycliff Chicago Tribune 2007-06-03)

"Their analysis of the weaknesses of Washington journalism deserves close attention."
(Russell Baker New York Review of Books 2007-08-16)

"This is a vigorously researched book, showing how crises, such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, flare up and are swiftly extinguished: 'torture' is diluted to 'abuse,' to 'mistreatment'; culpability is segregated to a few bad apples."
(James Boylan Columbia Journalism Review)

"The boldest thesis in this book, the one I was most delighted to see—and least able to assert is really true—is that this attitude of timidity and obeisance [by the media] is actually bringing on the decline in readership and viewership that it, in part, seeks to avoid."
(Jim Boyd Nieman Reports)

"The breadth is so thorough and the prose so engaging that this book has the potential to become the definitive account of media politics during the Bush years. . . . When the Press Fails is an excellent book. Its positive arguments are a model of good social science research. I suspect that they would also work well in an undergraduate class, as a first exposure to serious media research. Furthermore, the book’s normative assertions are well argued, provocative, and a good place to start a class discussion about the proper role of the media in a democracy. In summary, if you want an introduction to how the media operates in the modern American political system, this is a good place to start."

(Jonathan McDonald Ladd, Georgetown University Perspectives on Politics)

"An important book which will become a 'must' read in future analyses that focus on press-government relations. It is well written, in a way that would make it completely comprehensible to nonscholars who care more about press freedom, government spins, and the coverage of the Iraqi war than about political communication theories."
(Tamir Sheafer Public Opinion Quarterly)

When the Press Fails confronts some of the most important questions now facing the press, the public, and our shared democracy—and does so with rare precision and insight. This book has the power to ignite a much-needed public discussion about the role of ‘the media’ in public life and it should be required reading in newsrooms across the country.”

(Dan Rather, global correspondent, HDNet)

Product Details

  • Series: Studies in Communication, Media, and Public Opinion
  • Hardcover: 278 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226042847
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226042848
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,623,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
(6)
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars perhaps some of you should re-read the book October 11, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
it's not about partisanship in the media - it's about the media in this country failing to be a watchdog and writing independently from government as they are well within their rights to do. the authors aren't implying in any way that the media leaned to the right when reporting on iraq but that they didn't do the work of journalists and present two sides to each story. they didn't investigate dissenting voices- which did not consist mainly of democrats. they were lazy and too busy chasing the dramatic, personalized, fragmentized and normalized stories that their readership would be interested in reading. news is a business. they don't care so much about taking sides as they do about increasing viewer/readership. only a hater would read this book and assume it's about partisanship.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Academic Analysis September 22, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Some of the previous reviews of this book are written clearly by those with a political axe to grind and an obsession with analyzing media from "liberal" vs. "conservative" perspective. This book's authors have no interest in such a clumsy "analysis." Their book is not arguing that the media was conservatively or liberally biased under Bush, or conservatively or liberally biased under Clinton, etc. It is an examination of how media operate using an OFFICIAL SOURCE bias, not a liberal or conservative bias. This finding has been very well documented over and over in sound empirical/scholarly analyses over the last twenty years, but these findings are apparently beyond the understanding of partisan hacks like Brett Bozell on the right and Eric Alterman on the left who prefer to frame media as biased in a partisan/liberal-conservative fashion.
I strongly recommend reading this book. As a teacher of political communication, I can say without hesistation that the empirical/data analysis in this book is as good as you will find in any book written on media. In the end I completely reject the authors' argument (which is implied throughout the book) that public debate in media should be limited to the views expressed by political officials in the Democratic and Republican party. But this is a normative problem I have with the book, not a quality of research problem. In terms of the authors' empirical analysis, it's spot on and definitely worth reading. I'd place this book, in terms of the quality of research, in the top ten of all scholarly books ever written on the mass media.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A harsh critique of today's press & media. May 9, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Freedom of the Press is one of the most fundamental freedoms in the American constitution. Then we have presidential scandals - and sadly watch as the media does exactly what the government intends for them to do. "When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media From Iraq to Katrina" is an examination of today's media and a criticism of their over-reliance on official sources. It also acts as a call to start questioning the mainstream press, and for the press itself to cover conflicting viewpoints against what the government's official sources want them to report. Failure to do so could lead to further disasters due to the blind spot of the public - who need this information to act as they should in our system of government. "When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media From Iraq to Katrina" has the highest recommendation to community library shelves, and for anyone who wants a harsh critique of today's press & media.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
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