by Grady Harp
SCANDAL AND SILENCE: MEDIA REPONSES TO PRESIDENTIAL MISCONDCUT is certainly one of the more fascinating publications about the state of the media to break surface since the days of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and their courage to make public the truth behind the Watergate scandal during the presidency of Richard Nixon. Author Robert M. Entman is a Professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and his previous books have garnered wide attention to serious problems. But surely everything before this book pales in comparison. This engrossing and compelling tome addresses the manner in which the media deals with crises and scandals in Washington DC - capitalizing on the rather minor human weakness of the presidents while failing to rightly inform the public of the serious breaches of power the government decides should be submerged from public knowledge.
Entman covers the period from 1988 to 2008 (and in the course of examining current scandals he references famous incidents in the past), exploring the hungry media scandal machine, that information that drives viewers or readers attention and builds ratings, while electing to ignore far more compelling information that actually endangers the public by withholding facts that are truly critical. `To an outside observer, the Washington scandal machine may seem to operate at random. The same media that roundly condemned President George W. Bush for his passivity in the face of Hurricane Katrina failed to get worked up by his inaction as economic calamity loomed in 2008. The same news organizations that endlessly probed the marital psychology of Bill and Hillary Clinton passed over the unconventional aspects of John and Cindy McCain's marriage. And journalists came down hard on the 1988 vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle for using family connections to evade Vietnam by entering the National Guard, yet in 200 barely mentioned George W. Bush's similar record.'
Entman goes on to say `Although this book encompasses three presidential administrations, the bulk of attention falls on cases involving George W. Bush. This focus arises from the book's core purpose; to illuminate the processes by which potential scandals either expand into political significance or deflate with little impact on politics - with special reference to the latter, largely neglected outcome.' Entman's reportage includes extensive references and pages of data that support his reporting. He presents grafts and tables that demonstrate his findings and premises and in doing so he keeps the rhetoric rich and propulsive. It is interesting to note that as this book becomes available the public is beginning to watch a very important television series - THE NEWSROOM currently on HBO that addresses these issues. Entman writes brilliantly and with courage and will very likely find detractors. But this information is sorely needed in a time where democracy seems owned by the wealthy and the way to become President is to buy it with massive funding of campaigns.
In chapter 8 Entman provides the following powerful information: 'Having moved through scandals or non-scandals involving minimal impacts on the public welfare (infidelity), to those imposing some costs (evading the military draft or duties), to one of more substantial social damage (George W. Bush's insider trading and the SEC's passivity), we now focus on two potential scandals that might have arisen over high-cost presidential misconduct. The first concerned the Bush administration's campaign to justify the Iraq war by claiming Saddam Hussein could deploy weapon of Mass destruction (WMD) against the US or its European friends. Iraq possessed no such weapons. Despite leading the US into a costly war against Iraq based on a non-existent WMD threat, George W. Bush was not framed as scandalously incompetent or dishonest. How this potential presidential scandal was silenced, despite the war's yielding few benefits to the US in exchange for death, destruction, and immense financial cost -over $3 trillion - recapitulates and extends our model of scandal politics.' And he proceeds to detail the Valerie Plame Wilson scandal involving VP Cheney, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, and on and on. This is definitive work on political scandal manipulation in the modern American press and it deserves the attention of every concerned citizen of this country. Highly Recommended.
Grady Harp, July 2012
TITLE: Scandal and Silence: Media Response to Presidential Misconduct
AUTHOR: Robert M. Entman
PUBLISHER: Polity Press