Holiday Book Recommendation: Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture

This campaign cycle and the 24-hour cable news channel combined with Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, could be the tipping point of the political press being poisoned? Or is it just part of the evolution toward a completely scandal-driven, personality-based brand of political reporting?

 Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington’s Scandal Culture  is an interesting book to discuss and give as a holiday gift given the way the Nixon era triggered a completely different relationship between elected officials and the media.

Mark Feldstein’s book is an excellent narrative about the times and the parallels between eventual adversaries, President Richard Nixon and Syndicated Columnist Jack Anderson. Both raised in strict religious families, where a strong sense of right and wrong were imparted, the inflexibility of both men and conspiratorial minds would lead to constant conflict once Nixon became President and Anderson took over Drew Pearson’s “Washington Merry-Go-Round”  column in 1969.

President Nixon’s attitudes toward the press are well known. He went after at various times in his administration just about every prominent Washington-based journalist or media outlet. But his constant feud with the muckraking Anderson represented perhaps his most consistent handling of a single-media member.

The book delves directly into some of the most appalling and offensive Nixon White House tapes. The efforts to gag the press, mislead the public and intimidate those who owned media outlets is detailed not only through the author’s analysis but thanks to Nixon and his lieutenant’s own words captured via the White House taping system.

Anderson is eventually portrayed in a negative light, perhaps too negative a way. Certainly major character flaws existed in Anderson’s psyche, but he served an important role as a watchdog of an arrogant and entitled White House.

The lessons from this book are important to understand today as efforts by politicians like Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis to intimidate the media and/or cover-up scandals continue in earnest. Despite Feldstein’s almost universal negativity about the characters of the day, I would strongly urge everyone to read this book. It will give insight into how the culture that led us to today began during Nixon’s Presidency.

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