The most powerful political tool of the modern presidency is control of the message and the image.
In Republic of Spin—a vibrant history covering more than one hundred years of politics—presidential historian David Greenberg recounts the rise of the White House spin machine, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama. His sweeping, startling narrative takes us behind the scenes to see how the tools and techniques of image making and message craft work. We meet Woodrow Wilson convening the first White House press conference, Franklin Roosevelt huddling with his private pollsters, Ronald Reagan’s aides crafting his nightly news sound bites, and George W. Bush staging his “Mission Accomplished” photo-op. We meet, too, the backstage visionaries who pioneered new ways of gauging public opinion and mastering the media—figures like George Cortelyou, TR’s brilliantly efficient press manager; 1920s ad whiz Bruce Barton; Robert Montgomery, Dwight Eisenhower’s canny TV coach; and of course the key spinmeisters of our own times, from Roger Ailes to David Axelrod.
Greenberg also examines the profound debates Americans have waged over the effect of spin on our politics. Does spin help our leaders manipulate the citizenry? Or does it allow them to engage us more fully in the democratic project? Exploring the ideas of the century’s most incisive political critics, from Walter Lippmann and H. L. Mencken to Hannah Arendt and Stephen Colbert, Republic of Spin illuminates both the power of spin and its limitations—its capacity not only to mislead but also to lead.
About the Author
David Greenberg is a historian of American politics and a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. He is the author of the prize-winning Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image, among other books. Currently a columnist for Politico, he has been an editor at Slate and the New Republic and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other popular and scholarly publications. He lives with his family in New York City.
From Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama, David Greenberg has written a brilliant, fast-moving narrative history of the leaders who have defined the modern American presidency. More than that, Republic of Spin shows that behind the power to persuade is the power to inform—and also to mislead.
— Bob Woodward, associate editor of the Washington Post
In Republic of Spin, David Greenberg opens a new and revealing window on the modern American presidency by showing how the effort to manipulate public opinion has long been a central obsession in the Oval Office. Vivid characters, some very famous and some obscure, bring this important story to life and enlighten us about what presidents can and cannot accomplish.
— Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Oath and The Nine
Anyone wishing to understand how our politics evolved from the era of Teddy Roosevelt’s bully pulpit to the exquisitely calibrated constructions of today’s publicists, pollsters, speechwriters, and snakes needs to read Republic of Spin. David Greenberg’s book is everything that a political history should be—vivid, comprehensive, and important.
— Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
An utterly engrossing and deeply authoritative examination of spin and the American presidency—its origins, its vital role over the past century, its enduring importance. Greenberg’s elegant narrative brings this history vividly alive, as he weaves individual lives and broader societal forces into a major reassessment of modern American political culture. Spin has always been a part of politics, and it always will be; read this gem of a book to find out why that is, and what it means for our democracy. — Fredrik Logevall, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Embers of War