“A brilliant, fast-moving narrative history of the leaders who have defined the modern American presidency.”—Bob Woodward
In Republic of Spin—a vibrant history covering more than one hundred years of politics—presidential historian David Greenberg recounts the rise of the White House spin machine, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama. His sweeping, startling narrative takes us behind the scenes to see how the tools and techniques of image making and message craft work. We meet Woodrow Wilson convening the first White House press conference, Franklin Roosevelt huddling with his private pollsters, Ronald Reagan’s aides crafting his nightly news sound bites, and George W. Bush staging his “Mission Accomplished” photo-op. We meet, too, the backstage visionaries who pioneered new ways of gauging public opinion and mastering the media—figures like George Cortelyou, TR’s brilliantly efficient press manager; 1920s ad whiz Bruce Barton; Robert Montgomery, Dwight Eisenhower’s canny TV coach; and of course the key spinmeisters of our own times, from Roger Ailes to David Axelrod.
Greenberg also examines the profound debates Americans have waged over the effect of spin on our politics. Does spin help our leaders manipulate the citizenry? Or does it allow them to engage us more fully in the democratic project? Exploring the ideas of the century’s most incisive political critics, from Walter Lippmann and H. L. Mencken to Hannah Arendt and Stephen Colbert, Republic of Spin illuminates both the power of spin and its limitations—its capacity not only to mislead but also to lead.
In this underwhelming history of the modern presidency, Rutgers historian Greenberg (Nixon's Shadow) examines the position through the lens of news management and image making. Starting his tale around 1900 with Teddy Roosevelt and ending with the Obama administration, Greenberg provides plenty of gritty details based on deep and extensive knowledge to back up his assertion that "just as rhetoric was an inherent part of ancient politics, spin is a permanent part of ours." Remarkably un cynical, Greenberg takes the manipulation of language and news to be a necessary feature of presidential governance, even when, as he believes, it distorts the political process and "leaves an unpleasant aftertaste." Unfortunately, like too many historians of modern America, he seems to think everything started at the dawn of the 20th century. An uninformed reader might come away believing that the Declaration of Independence didn't address a "candid world," Jefferson's party didn't put journalists and editors on its payroll, and Lincoln didn't understand the reach of words. More importantly, Greenberg never clarifies for readers how political spin differs from, say, corporate public relations, and seems satisfied with stories about a single political office when there's much more to say about the effect of spin on everything. Deeper analysis, improved context, and less narrative would help.