FEEDING FRENZY by Larry J. Sabato


How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics
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 A critical, yet ultimately plodding analysis of the media's fixation on gaffes and scandals, from Univ. of Virginia government professor Sabato (PAC Power, 1984; The Rise of Political Consultants, 1981). The title refers to ``the press coverage attending any political event or circumstance where a critical mass of journalists leap to cover the same embarrassing or scandalous subject and pursue it intensely, often excessively, and sometimes uncontrollably.'' Many of the 36 cases examined here are dismally familiar to political junkies--Gary Hart's alleged womanizing, the phony mental-health rumors about Michael Dukakis, Gerald Ford's ``free Poland'' gaffe--and Sabato expertly supports his contention that they are debilitating to the body politic with comments gleaned from over 200 interviews, many with journalists surprisingly candid about their profession's excesses. Yet Sabato lumps together controversies that are trivial or sexually titillating (e.g., the ``killer rabbit'' that afflicted Jimmy Carter, Ohio Governor Dick Celeste's extramarital affairs) with others involving criminal offenses or constitutional issues (Chappaquiddick, Watergate, Iran-contra). Moreover, he continually undermines his case with reflections that are overstated (``Some recent lynchings...rival any spectacle produced by colonial Salem''), contradictory (one of his guidelines notes that ``situational ethics'' should still affect coverage of private lives--a press excuse he has already found self-serving), or just wrong (Sabato to the contrary, fear of skeletons in the closet has not noticeably discouraged ambitions of Presidential aspirants). Informative and timely, especially in light of the William Kennedy Smith and Chuck Robb cases--but dimmed by an anemic style and pedestrian conclusions.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1991
ISBN: 0-02-927635-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1991