Monday, November 13, 2006

Smithsonian articles features three books that altered election coverage

The November issue of the Smithsonian features a fascinating article on three “books that permanently altered the way we understand elections, the people who run them and those who report them.” The article is by the Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley.

The books are:

  • The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore H. White
  • The Selling of the President 1968 by Joe McGinniss
  • The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse

Yardley says that White’s book is the most important of the three and that, while no longer in print, “its pervasive influence remains undiminished.” White’s prose is muddy, he was guilty of worshipping JFK and he overlooked or minimized shortcomings in the political system, but, Yardley writes, the book “took readers inside politics as they’d never been before. It both demystified the process and romanticized it.”

McGinniss pulls back the curtain on Nixon’s media campaign. “White understood that television was changing everything . . . but he only dimly perceived what Joe McGinniss came along eight years later to make plain: that television now ran the show.”

Yardley finds that McGinniss’ book “doesn’t hold up very well . . . it’s surprisingly thin . . . and shallow as well. With its shock value long since dissipated, The Selling of the President turns out to be less thoughtful than I had recalled. McGinniss learned a lot of interesting things, but he really did not have much to say about them.”

Yardley reserves his greatest praise for Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus. It “stands the test of time for two reasons: Crouse’s tart, witty prose and his sharp insights into journalism, a business that takes itself far too seriously and is deeply hostile to criticism or change.”

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