STRAIGHT STUFF: The Reporters, the White House and the Truth by James Deakin
Kirkus Star

STRAIGHT STUFF: The Reporters, the White House and the Truth

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's longtime White House correspondent takes a very sharp look at the two-way relationship between the president and the press, from Eisenhower onward--in a juicy, often sardonic mix of pressroom tales, administration profiles (Ike and Jim, Jack and Pierre, etc.), and purposeful argument. First: the public seldom sees ""reporters trying by every device of cajolery, guile or insult to extract some information from the American government."" Of largest import: there is no truth to the Nixonite/New-Right charge that a biased, elitist press is out to get the president. Deakin leads off with Eisenhower's 1955 Denver heart attack, its brief coverup, the ostensible reasons, and the reporters' objection: ""a conviction that secrecy in any form, large or small, was a bad thing that led to bad things."" But then, he explains, press secretary Jim Hagerty, an old newsman, took over--and swamped the reporters with information: ""He knew that they had no choice but to write that the president was making decisions. And he knew that even if they knew it was mostly a put-up job, a charade, little flavor of this would get into their stories."" Subsequently, when Ike had ileitis and a stroke, the coverups were a little longer, the reporters a little more persistent. ""Is it a power struggle between the government and the press? Or is it a power struggle between the government and the alternatives to the official view, with the press as a conduit for both?"" Deakin reviews press conferences from FDR, their apogee, to Reagan--noting the drop-off under Nixon; he covers government briefings, and other aspects of the symbiotic process--with examples. He follows a chapter on journalism's shortcomings, apropos of charges of bias, with a contrasting/complementary one about life ""on the road."" (""So the reporters get off the bus and straggle into the Hotel Splendide/Plastique. They are weary, rumpled, thirsty or on deadline."") Then he begins on the presidents and their press secretaries: Hagerty prompting a befuddled Ike (the ""hidden-hand"" presidency?) and making PR preeminent; Kennedy talking openness, then putting news manipulation ""on a regular, formal basis""; Johnson cajoling and bludgeoning the press--wanting news to be what he said, secrets to remain secret till he announced them. ""Some of the lying was so crude it was easy to expose. But suppose the American people had known that the Government's own intelligence specialists did not accept the basic premise of the war,"" the domino theory? And Nixon--hating and fearing the Washington press, using Ron Ziegler to stonewall it (though the expression, says Deakin, originated earlier), doing his best to get around it. . . or discredit it. As for the reporters: ""They should protest the obstacles that are erected by their own news organizations against their professionalism. . . . It could be called the adversary relationship."" It could also make another book: this one is seriously funny, and a beaut.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Morrow