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Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public Hardcover – June 20, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Thomas, who has been covering Washington for more than 60 years, is displeased with the way in which the government tries to manipulate the news as never before; the press, diminished and monopolized by big business kowtowing to advertisers is "supine"; and dishonesty is everywhere. Thomas believes in a healthy adversarial challenge between government and press, but her explanation of her stance sometimes veers off track. She characterizes the nine presidents (beginning with Kennedy) she has covered, each of whom tried to spin the news his own way (Nixon, for a while, resorted to total blackout). Thomas dates the ever widening "credibility gap" back to the Vietnam War under Johnson. By this time, message management had reached the point of "outright propaganda." Readers will be entertained by her definition of the terms "background" and "off the record" and the difference between a "leak" and a "plant." But Thomas sees a bright side: she applauds trenchant political cartoonists and believes that the active public interest expressed in Internet blogs may help create transparency. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

After covering nine presidents as the most recognized member of the Washington press corps, Thomas is eminently qualified to assess current coverage of the White House. Declaring that journalists are "the watchdogs of democracy," and, further, that "without an informed people, there can be no democracy," Thomas offers a cogent, bracing assessment of the deteriorating state of journalistic ethics. All administrations attempt to "manage the news," Thomas avers, but none prior to the Bush-2 White House has pioneered "methods that steer message management into outright government propaganda." And never before have Washington reporters behaved like lapdogs rather than watchdogs, unwilling to ask obvious questions and demand honest answers. The public is aware of this "incredible lack of courage," a failure Thomas links to the corporate consolidation of media outlets and the focus on profit and entertainment rather than good old muckraking journalism. Thomas is as engaging as she is wise and passionate in this invaluable history of White House reporting, a refresher course on why we must support a responsible, active, and free press. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (June 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743267818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743267816
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,647,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Edwin C. Pauzer VINE VOICE on June 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Helen Thomas, the venerable grand dame of the White House Press embodies what it means to be a professional journalist. Page after page reveals her love of her profession and her disappointment in how it has evolved.

Having been a journalist for more than 60 years and as a member of the White House press corps since John F. Kennedy, she is waiting and hoping for a new generation of journalists to achieve the stature of an Edward R. Morrow or a Walter Cronkite--reporters who seek to report the truth and refuse to be cowed by intimidation.

In this short book, she provides numerous examples of press manipulation by the Bush administration and the acquiescence of a somnabulistic press corps that have become adminstration stenographers rather than investigators:

* President Bush's desire to be known as a war president even before the terrorist attack on 9/11.

* "No weapons. No ties to terrorists. No threats. No apologies. No explanations. No remorse. Under those circumstances, Americans were told they were fighting a war in Baghdad for liberty and democracy throughout the Middle East. Bush could shift the rationale in the blink of an eye with no apparent qualms."

* The Downing Street Memo which revealed that we were fixing the intelligence and the facts around policy so we could invade Iraq.

* Previously selected White House press with preplanned questions that the president knew of in advance of the actual press conference.

* White House Press being marched into the press room in columns of twos like they were school children.

* The Pentagon paid millions of dollars to plant positive stories of the American occupation in Iraqi newspapers.
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Format: Hardcover
Thomas's book is a good overview of the evolution of the Washington press corps and its relationships with various presidents since the 50s. Anyone who wants to gain insight on the current press corps' lapdog relationship with the Bush administration would do well to read this book.

And, contrary to what John R. Linnel would have you believe, the book is not a hysterical diatribe against the Bush administration. While Thomas is critical of Bush in places, she is an equal opportunity curmudgeon, lashing out mainly at what she sees as the dangerous abdication of the press of its central role as watchdog in a democratic society.

The book drags in places, but it's nice to have the voice of long experience to help give shape to one's view of an important democratic institution.
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Format: Hardcover
It is something to be known as the "dean of the White House press corps" and Helen Thomas, more than anyone else, has been there and seen it all over a career that has lasted for decades. Now it is her turn to tell it all, and she does with dead-on accuracy. She's earned it.

Covering every president since JFK, Helen describes each one and the press secretaries with whom she has had to deal. Mincing no words, she reserves some of her harshest judgment for those in the press who fell asleep at the wheel after 9/11. For those of us who wondered who was asking the tough questions, Helen Thomas answers it....they weren't. While we know where the author stands with regard to the current administration she fleshes out her feelings about why this Washington crowd is the worst in years.

She spends some time toward the end of the book reflecting on journalists she admires and I was glad to see her include an acquaintance of mine, Pauline Frederick, whose job covering the United Nations was exemplary. Helen had other favorites, too.....Mary McGrory, Scotty Reston and Walter Cronkite, to name just a few others.

What is so good about "Watchdogs of Democracy?" is that is not just a collection of remembrances. Helen Thomas also paints a bleak future for "serious" journalism as we now have FOX News passing off as the real thing and a decline in the amount of time news organizations devote to non-entertainment news.

Helen Thomas has had a remarkable career and "Watchdogs of Democracy?" is a terrific journalistic addition for those of us who remember the days of the men and women she covered and wonder about the direction of journalism in the twenty-first century. I highly recommend her book for its wisdom and insight.
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Format: Hardcover
The strongest portion this book is the author's critique of each of the Presidents she covered from kennedy onward in terms of the relationship with the Press. Ms. Thomas pulls no punches and that is the strength of this book. You get the real deal from her and an understanding of why she was barred from the Press room by Bush Jr. for asking his administration t tough questions.
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Ms. Thomas is a great lady, a national treasure, and one of the last incorruptible members of the fourth estate. In an exhaustive tour-de-force, she charts every aspect of the state of journalism, from plagiarism scandals, the repeal of the fairness doctrine, the major Supreme Court decisions, corporate media control, the criminal laxness on reporting the Iraq War to the current scripted infomercials of the Bush administration. Through her decades-long coverage of the White House, she details the war against the press by every president: but she reserves a special place for the sleazy practices of both Richard Nixon and George Bush. Her conclusion at every turn is that the current press is indeed failing America through cowardice, sloppiness, corporate bottom lines and pandering - they are forgetting that they occupy an essential place in our democracy, questioning those in power.
I have had the personal pleasure of meeting and talking with Ms. Thomas in an informal gathering, and she, not failed directors of the CIA, deserves a Medal of Freedom for her long and great service to truth -- pretty unthinkable from the current administration.
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