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All the President's Spin: George W. Bush, the Media, and the Truth Paperback – August 3, 2004
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It's no shock that an American president would employ skilled PR pros to carefully hone a message that makes the administration's objectives more palatable to the general public. It's a tradition that dates back decades. But it's another matter entirely to base an entire presidency on the bending, twisting, and distorting of the truth. According to authors Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer, and Brendan Nyhan, the George W. Bush administration tiptoes around the definition of lying but still uses ambiguous language, selective use of facts, and shaky evidence to sell the American people on issues like the effect of tax cuts, the impact of a business-friendly environmental policy, and the reasons for going to war in Iraq. While the authors have plenty of blame to place on the administration, the news media are also fingered for parroting administration spin and reporting it, without verification or context, as objective fact. Fritz, Keefer, and Nyhan, founders of the political analysis web site Spinsanity, detail how Bush and company, more than any administration in history, cherry pick information that they find helpful, regardless of how representative it is of the overall truth, and then package it with a forceful and persistent presentation that eventually takes on the patina of reality. Democrats will also find that 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry appears very much up to playing the political game on Bush's terms as the authors dissect and deflate plenty of misleading primary season anti-Bush charges made by the Democratic nominee. All The President's Spin is richly detailed, not surprising given the sound bite-free task of picking apart political spin, and while it is intensely critical of Bush's messaging, it does not pass judgment on the wisdom or efficacies of the policies themselves. Any politician could take a lesson from the authors' clarity and comprehensive scope. --John Moe
From Publishers Weekly
George W. Bush vowed to restore "honor and integrity" to the White House during his 2000 presidential campaign, but instead he has launched an "assault on honesty," argue the authors, who founded the watchdog Web site Spinsanity.com after concluding during the 2000 election that the "national debate had been reduced to an endless barrage of spin." In this lucid critique of Bushs "permanent campaign of policy disinformation," the authors evenhandedly point out instances when other politicians, including Kerry, Clinton and Reagan, have distorted the truth to their advantage, but they contend that Bush is the "current leader of the arms race of deception." Bushs weapons: "emotional language designed to provoke gut-level reactions, slanted statistics that are difficult for casual listeners to interpret, and ambiguous statements that imply what Bush does not want to state outright." The authors support their claims with many solid examples. For instance, when commenting on the method that Bush used to imply a connection between Saddam and September 11, they point to a televised address that aired prior to the war in which Bush linked Iraq, al Qaeda and September 11 without saying directly that Iraq was responsible for the attack. The book isnt just a critique of Bushs spin tactics, however. The authors also reproach the media for letting statements like this go unchecked and for being so overly concerned about objectivity that theyve become a mere outlet for politicians "talking points." Well organized and heavily referenced, this passionate indictment will pique readers awareness of political spin and of the outletsbloggers, publications like the Economist and "infotainment" programs like Comedy Centrals The Daily Showthat are purportedly fighting it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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So, about the book. I'll tell you straight up: It's boring. Without much insight, the book walks through the different scandals of the presidency and describes how facts are altered as a means for saving face and never admitting fault or defeat. Starting with the tainted election and working to a point I can't stay awake to read about, they're all there.
What's missing? Analysis and insight. This book is a fact checker's delight. The sources are verified and the twists on said sources are identified. I expected that in this book, but I also craved commentary and insight that was just absent. I'll give the authors their due respect for uncovering subject matter that was intentionally shrouded, but their impartial nature turns eloquence to evidence, and really detracts from what could have been a vindictive, poignant read for an election year.
One part that earned these authors my stingy stars was their steadily pointed finger at a lazy lazy press corps. It's clearly an issue with dedication of resources, but the press really doesn't do anything to dig into the statements that politicians make unless someone outside of the press goes to them with proof of intentional deceit. In the book, this is noted everywhere it's appropriate, and I'm scared to say that the problem is likely far worse than the book could express.
Regardless, this book is not the flashy scandalous read I hoped it would be. It's an awesome reference, however, and will likely be used to source data for volumes upon volumes of (hopefully) more compelling future efforts.
If you are hesitant to buy this book because you think its is just another Anti-Bush rant, don't be. The president does come off as disingenuous, manipulative, and outright dishonest, but not a liar. You can only fault him so much for trying to put the best face he can on things, even if his methods are secretive and heavy-handed. The real villain is the press, which has given up uncovering truth in favor of just passing along whatever its told. If the political debate in this country seems to be Anne Coulter and Michael Moore screaming at each other while average citizens (me!) just wander around wondering what to believe, this book is for you.
Every president, and most people in politics, are natural born liars. But as this book explains, Bush is a new breed of liar and his style of lying is more dangerous. Most people already know about the more common Bush fibs, like the ones about the weapons of mass destruction charge and the ones about his tax cuts and how they would help the middle and lower classes. Lying is nothing new in politics, but Bush is unique, in the minds of these authors, because 1. He never admits lying, even when the truth is uncovered. He will even change his initial story to cover up his lie and 2. He continues to go around preaching to the people about his supposed honesty. All of this is done to cover his tracks and make the people think he's telling the truth.
How does Bush get away with this? Well, according to this book, he gets away with it primarily because the media is too soft on him. Reporters are worried about taking a stand against the president and calling him on his frequent lies for several reasons. First of all, because they don't want to be labeled as biased. Second, because they are worried that, if they go against certain programs and actions, like the war against Iraq, they will be labeled as unpatriotic and un- American. Their desire to remain objective prevents them from criticizing what Bush tells them. And this lack of criticism, indirectly, makes the public think that the falsehoods are actually true.
This book covers Bush's lies from his days when he first ran for president all the way to the election of 2004. The authors make brief mention of other politicians and their lies, like John Kerry and a few others. But they don't say very much about these people. They stick to the main subject of the book, George W. Bush, from beginning to end.
I found this book to be fairly good overall, but it's not quite the inspirational piece of literature I had hoped it would be. I already knew it was going to be biased, based on its title alone. But I was hoping to discover some new facts about president Bush and his penchant for not telling the truth. Unfortunately for me, I didn't gain any new insight. Most of the material presented here has already been published many times before. So, unless you're brand- new to the topic of Bush and his spin team, you will likely not find much in a book like this one. However, for newcomers to the world of political lying, this book is a good place to start. It breaks down some of the more common Bush lies, with quotations and sources to back up its claims, showing how Bush and his administration shamelessly spout off one lie after under while continuing to hide under the banner of morality.