Cover image for Bad news : where the press goes wrong in the making of the president
Bad news : where the press goes wrong in the making of the president
Shogan, Robert.
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Publication Information:
Chicago, IL : Ivan R. Dee, 2001.
Physical Description:
x, 308 pages ; 25 cm
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PN4888.P6 S53 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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As the 2000 presidential campaign has once again demonstrated, political journalism is an intrusive and nettlesome trade. More important, it is freighted with power--power to do good and also harm. But how much of power is real, and how much mere perception? Prize-winning reporter Robert Shogan draws on the lessons of seven presidential elections to answer these questions in Bad News. He shows how, amidst the upheavals of the 1960s, the press emerged as what many believed was the new dominant force in presidential politics. But as reporters moved into the power vacuum created by the demise of party vitality and the authority of the political bosses, they soon found themselves serving mainly as the instruments of a new political ruling class. The media, Mr. Shogan argues, now play the role of enablers. Without fully realizing it, they allow and abet the abuse of the political process by the candidates and their handlers. Bad News targets not only the machinations of the competing campaigns but the innate weaknesses and limitations of the press corps, with special attention to the 2000 election. "Too often journalists, myself included," Mr. Shogan writes, "have been unwilling to learn what they do not know, and to make the information they possess relevant and important to their audiences. Too many of us, eager for attention, have been too willing to create stories that are larger than life and reality, and too impressed with our own importance to benefit from the criticism leveled against our work." Rejecting conventional non-solutions, leavened by wit, and enriched by firsthand reportage, Bad News pierces the fog of pretense and hypocrisy that clouds the turbulent partnership of press and politicians. It provides voters with what they most need: a manual of self-defense against the excesses and distortions of presidential politics.

Author Notes

Robert Shogan has reported on presidential politics for more than thirty years, first for Newsweek, then as national political correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, based in Washington

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

A multimedia reporter offers a humorous take on the 2000 campaign, and a veteran political journalist critiques the media's approach to presidential elections. Cyberspace gives Washington Post science reporter Achenbach--author of Captured by Aliens (1999)--a chance to branch out; his thrice-weekly column, "Rough Draft," appears on With a bit of editing, those columns form the basis for his often tongue-in-cheek campaign "diary." Achenbach warns readers not to take him too seriously, for his observations are merely "word-doodles, some marginalia on the historical record." (Let the reader beware: although some pieces are fairly straight, if funny, reporting, others make up "facts" for their humorous impact.) Not an essential acquisition but appropriate where political humor circulates. Achenbach was a newcomer to the campaign trail in 2000; Shogan has been one of "the boys on the bus" since 1968 as a reporter for Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times. In Bad News, his ninth book, Shogan traces the media's changing roles and shifting tactics in covering presidential candidates and their campaign teams over the past 30-plus years. In the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, it seemed the media would control politics. Instead, he declares, "the media all too often have been reduced to filling the role of enablers . . . allow[ing] and sometimes abet[ting] the abuse of the political process by the candidates and their handlers." Shogan devotes a chapter to each election, describing in detail the primary and general election campaigns. He closes with three guidelines for the future: "Character counts, but the press needs to explain why and how," "Polls can be either a useful tool or an instrument for sowing confusion, depending on how well they are explained," and "The press should cover the news, not predict it." Sure to appeal to political junkies and media mavens. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

The problem with the media, contends veteran political reporter and author Shogan (The Double Edged Sword, etc.), is that they "allow and sometimes abet the abuse of the political process by the candidates and their handlers." In this carefully crafted retrospective on the media and presidential campaigns since JFK, Shogan explains how this state of affairs has occurred, highlighting how politics and the media have changed. In politics, parties and party bosses no longer really matter that much. A candidate has become an "independent political entrepreneur," who must market himself or herself to the public, and the best way to do that, argues Shogan, is to sell image (warm and fuzzy for the candidate, as negative as possible for the opponent) over substance, "not information or ideas but illusions and impressions." Thus the media have become an increasingly important marketing tool for candidates, and the media's reliance on more sophisticated technology which translates into ever more and ever shorter deadlines causes their willingness to publish whatever candidates may offer. Substance, explanation and research have become rare things in modern political journalism, according to Shogan. The loser is the American people, who grow increasingly cynical about campaigns that don't seem to be about much of anything. While pessimistic about change Shogan thinks only a major overhaul of the political system can make politics truly matter again he does believe reporters can offer the public real news and meaningful stories, and he challenges them to do so in this highly readable chronicle. (Apr. 27) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the aftermath of the disastrous presidential campaign of 2000, media analysts continue to engage in painful self-analysis in an attempt to figure out what went wrong. Shogan, a respected political journalist (Newsweek) and author (The Double-Edged Sword), shines a bright and not very complimentary spotlight on the media, arguing that their performance in the 2000 campaign was one of the poorest in modern history. Arguing that highly critical coverage probably cost Al Gore the presidency, the author asserts that it is not ideological bias but the drive of professional forces that skews modern reporting. Seeking to beat deadlines and top the competition made intense by the proliferation of media outlets vying for viewer attention, the coverage becomes superficial and distorted. Thus, the media fill the role of "enablers" for candidates and their handlers. Shogan is hard on his own profession, offering an insightful and valuable guide to understanding why the media so often fail the public in campaign coverage. A valuable contribution to the public debate over the role of the media in presidential campaigns. Michael A. Genovese, Loyola Marymount Univ., Los Angeles (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A former Los Angeles Times political reporter, Shogan offers an inside account of the nature of the press-presidency relationship in the modern era. Joining an ever-lengthening list of critical accounts of the media by current and former members of the Fourth Estate, Shogan's book is a good read, full of telling anecdotes and insightful observations. His account focuses on the media treatment of presidents and presidential campaigns from the late 1960s to the present--appropriate enough given the transformation of the national media in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Shogan is certainly not alone in emphasizing that the modern media have overreached in treating public figures with disdain. Most media scholars and journalists will agree with Shogan's assessments of where press coverage has gone wrong in the past three decades. Shogan's book is clearly written and sensibly argued. Scholars may find it frustrating in some regards, for example, the lack of references to many of the leading works in the field and the use of dated earlier editions of some studies rather than more recent material; accordingly it will be most useful in general and undergraduate collections. M. J. Rozell Catholic University of America

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1. The Enablersp. 3
2. 1968: "The Omnipotent Eye"p. 20
3. 1972: "The Greatest Goddam Change"p. 45
4. 1976: The Talent Scoutsp. 69
5. 1980: Hostage to Crisisp. 90
6. 1984: "You Cover the News, We'll Stage It"p. 109
7. 1988: Character Studyp. 132
8. 1992: Beat the Pressp. 152
9. 1996: Not the Russian Revolutionp. 174
10. 2000: Seduction on the Straight-talk Expressp. 197
11. Ballots on Broadwayp. 217
12. From Liebling's Law to Gresham's Lawp. 246
Notesp. 278
Indexp. 297