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Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Publicby Helen Thomas
Synopses & Reviews
In the course of more than sixty years spent covering Washington politics, Helen Thomas has witnessed a raft of fundamental changes in the way news is gathered and reported. Gone are the days of frequent firsthand contact with the president. Now, the press sees the president only at tightly controlled and orchestrated press conferences. In addition, Thomas sees a growing — and alarming — reluctance among reporters to question government spokesmen and probe for the truth. The result has been a wholesale failure by journalists to fulfill what is arguably their most vital role in contemporary American life — to be the watchdogs of democracy. Today's journalists, according to Thomas, have become subdued, compromised lapdogs.
Here, the legendary journalist and bestselling author delivers a hard-hitting manifesto on the precipitous decline in the quality and ethics of political reportage — and issues a clarion call for change. Thomas confronts some of the most significant issues of the day, including the jailing of reporters, the conservative swing in television news coverage, and the administration's increased insistence on managed news. But she is most emphatic about reporters' failure to adequately question President George W. Bush and White House spokesmen about the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, and on subjects ranging from homeland security to the economy. This, she insists, was a dire lapse.
Drawing on her peerless knowledge of journalism, Washington politics, and nine presidential administrations, as well as frank interviews with leading journalists past and present, Thomas provides readers with a rich historical perspective on the roots of American journalism, the circumstances attending the rise and fall of its golden age, and the nature and consequences of its current shortcomings. The result is a powerful, eye-opening discourse on the state of political reportage — as well as a welcome and inspiring demand for meaningful and lasting reform.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"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, Booklist
"The inimitable Thomas — 'dean of the White House press corps' — blends memoir with American political and media history to deliver a pointed critique of the Bush administration's war in Iraq and the devastating failure of the press to perform its duty to 'follow the truth, without fear or favor, wherever it leads them.'" Donna L. Davey, Library Journal
"The octogenarian doyenne of the White House press troupe (long privileged to end press conferences with 'Thank you, Mr. President') reports on the current state of journalism and finds the profession remiss in many substantial ways." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Helen Thomas is the dean of the White House press corps. The recipient of more than thirty honorary degrees, she was honored in 1998 with the inaugural Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award, established by the White House Correspondents' Association. The author of Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President; Front Row at the White House; and Dateline: White House, she lives in Washington, D.C., where she writes a syndicated column for Hearst.
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