Joe McGinniss Anthony Howard - Essay

Anthony Howard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A very strange thing happened in the American publishing world last autumn. As the summer ended Mr. Theodore White—that historian laureate of US presidential elections—produced his customary reverential account of the previous year's campaign [The Making of the President 1968].

Mr. White's book slowly and surely began its climb up the best-seller lists….

But then something very inconvenient occurred. A slim volume—with its title clearly an ironic crib from Mr. White's—suddenly made its appearance on those same shelves on which The Making of the President 1968 had previously been standing in isolated majestic splendour…. In the very first week in which it was published, The Selling of the President showed The Making of the President a clean pair of heels in the popularity stakes—and it has never looked back since….

Mr. McGinniss's book is primarily about the television and advertising men who worked on the Nixon presidential campaign—and anyone looking at them at the time who thought (as I did) that they were stern, unbending fellows had clearly got it wrong. In private, it turns out, they sang like canaries….

What plainly most offended Mr. McGinniss was that even Mr. Nixon's closest television advisers accepted the future President as a hollow man—as someone whom they had to fill up with some synthetic stuffing if they were ever to get him elected. Thus far I find it easy enough to agree with him—indeed, if one message comes loud and clear through every page it is of the total, absolute cynicism of the media men of Madison...

(The entire section is 679 words.)