Kirkus Star


A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences
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Crack political journalist Alterman (What Liberal Media?, 2003, etc.) examines the culture of deceit that has marred the American presidency, footnoting every word.

Here, he traces four instances of presidential lying that have returned to haunt the republic, undercutting not only the policies they were intended to support, but the integrity of the presidency. He’s not interested in transgressions of a private nature, targeting instead “presidential lying about matters of state that is alleged to be undertaken for the public good.” In other words, bad statecraft based on the premise that the people are too ignorant or emotionally immature to see all the cards. Public trust, the bond between government and the rabble, gets a screwing. Alterman zooms in on four instances of deceit that had unintended systemic consequences as old as the Greek hubris-nemesis sequence; each created self-destructive blowback wherein not only the nation was deceived, but the deceivers fooled themselves. The first is the painful irony of the 1945 Yalta conference: Stalin, “vicious killer atop the Soviet evil empire,” honored the deal struck there, while Roosevelt and Churchill, “perhaps the twentieth century’s two greatest champions of freedom and democracy,” reneged, with the subsequent disavowal of their concessions leading to the Cold War. Then came Kennedy’s fibbing about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the undisclosed trade for Turkish missile sites that made the US stance look terrifically tough. The secret American aggressions that brought the US to the Gulf of Tonkin, and the unparalleled war-making powers granted to the presidency, crushed the work of Lyndon Johnson, who had “begun to build a domestic legacy that might even have surpassed that of FDR.” And perhaps the most appalling fallout of the Iran-Contra imbroglio was the collapse of the press as an investigative agency: lying was mundane and not worth the bother of reporting. As for Bush II, “the virtue of truth . . . for all practical purposes, became entirely operational.”

Throws bones worth chewing on long and hard.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-670-03209-3
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2004


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