The Control Room: How Television Calls the Shots in Presidential Elections

Martin Plissner, Author
Martin Plissner, Author Free Press $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-684-82731-5
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-684-86772-4
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-684-87141-7
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Plissner, the former executive political director of CBS News, offers a spirited, if not entirely persuasive defense of how network news organizations cover presidential elections. Beginning in 1952, the first year that TV reporters roamed the floor at the Republican and Democratic conventions, Plissner traces the growing influence of the men in the network control rooms. Though he quickly dismisses the notion that TV producers and reporters form ""a small and unelected elite,"" he acknowledges some of the dismaying byproducts of TV news coverage: feeding frenzies in New Hampshire and Iowa, nominating conventions with second-by-second scripts, obsessive polling to track the presidential ""horse race."" But these trends don't really seem to bother him, and he offers a weak defense of the tenor of campaign coverage: networks cover the horse race because it is ""the only thing a good many viewers want to know in the first place."" Plissner does better when he sticks to anecdotal evidence, as when he recounts the backstage maneuvering that led to Dan Rather's explosive 1988 interview with George Bush, in which Bush finally snapped: ""How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York?"" At such points, the book is gripping. Ultimately, however, Plissner never goes beyond engaging eyewitness accounts to offer meaningful analysis of how the networks cover campaigns. He should have taken off the gloves and cast a more critical eye on his own profession. (May)
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