The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media—from the Founding Fathers to Fake News

Harold Holzer. Dutton, $29 (464p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4526-4
Historian Holzer (Monument Man) documents the tensions between U.S. presidents and the press in this colorful but underwhelming survey. Starting with George Washington and his fellow founding fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, then skipping ahead to Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt, before concluding with a rundown of every modern president from Kennedy through Trump, Holzer aims to “alert readers to historical traditions, original principles, and ominous trends.” He describes Washington’s battles with the journalist grandson of Benjamin Franklin; cites examples of FDR’s “manipulative charm” during press briefings, including the time he told a reporter inquiring about a potential third term to “put on your dunce cap and stand with your back to the crowd”; and notes Obama’s controversial use of the 1917 Espionage Act to jail reporters’ sources and stem the tide of intelligence community leaks. Evidence of Trump’s love-hate relationship with the press includes extensive TV coverage of his 2016 campaign rallies and the president’s “tweetstorms” attacking mainstream media as allegations of the Ukraine pressure campaign circulated. Holzer provides vivid historical vignettes, but little analysis of how the current moment compares to 18th- and 19th-century precedents. Readers will be more entertained than enlightened. (May)
Reviewed on : 03/12/2020
Release date: 05/12/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-1-5247-4527-1
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