Conventional media wisdom holds that the 1988 race for the US Presidency was a demeaning, dirty business, notable for vitriol and vacuity. In their second attempt to fill the man-sized shoes of the late Theodore White, Goldman and his Newsweek colleagues hew to this party line, albeit without probing the possibility that an ultracompetitive fourth estate might be partially responsible for a low-road campaign that ""crossed some invisible threshold of pain."" Nor do they offer much in the way of new anecdotes, let alone insights, on a contest that print as well as broadcast journalists reported and analyzed to a fare-thee-well. Following a mean-spirited wrap-up of the Reagan years, the authors record the disappointments endured by the also-ran Democrats and Republicans who did not survive the protracted winnowing process of the primaries--Dole, Gephardt, Jackson, Simon, et al. As is the case with the Bush/Dukakis final, they focus on image-making handlers rather than on those who were seeking office. Indeed, it's an implicit assumption of the Newsweek correspondents that candidates are, as one stage manager observed, ""a necessary pain in the ass."" In this arguable context, Goldman & Co. portray loser Dukakis in short-shrift fashion as a moody gladiator unable to direct contentious aides and incapable of articulating themes that might have captured the electorate's attention or responding effectively to his opponent's allusive charges. By contrast, Bush is summarily depicted as a fundamentally decent man whose willing complicity in lieutenants' whatever-it-takes schemes earned him a four-year lease on the White House. Whether body-snatching political masterminds indeed stole the 1988 election show from Presidential nominees and aspirants remains at least an open question. But that's the gospel according to Team Newsweek. In consequence, their retrospective coverage is more notable for diligence and dirt-dishing detail than wide-angle perceptions or perspectives.