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Spin Cycle: How the White House and the Media Manipulate the News

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Spin Cycle is the first behind-the-scenes account of the White House political operation as it packages and shapes the news by manipulating, misleading, and in some cases, intimidating the press. It is also the tale of how some of the nation's top journalists buy into these efforts and, often, put their own spin on the news. Compelling, infuriating, often devastatingly fu Spin Cycle is the first behind-the-scenes account of the White House political operation as it packages and shapes the news by manipulating, misleading, and in some cases, intimidating the press. It is also the tale of how some of the nation's top journalists buy into these efforts and, often, put their own spin on the news. Compelling, infuriating, often devastatingly funny, this is the story you should read before you pick up the newspaper tomorrow morning.


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Spin Cycle is the first behind-the-scenes account of the White House political operation as it packages and shapes the news by manipulating, misleading, and in some cases, intimidating the press. It is also the tale of how some of the nation's top journalists buy into these efforts and, often, put their own spin on the news. Compelling, infuriating, often devastatingly fu Spin Cycle is the first behind-the-scenes account of the White House political operation as it packages and shapes the news by manipulating, misleading, and in some cases, intimidating the press. It is also the tale of how some of the nation's top journalists buy into these efforts and, often, put their own spin on the news. Compelling, infuriating, often devastatingly funny, this is the story you should read before you pick up the newspaper tomorrow morning.

30 review for Spin Cycle: How the White House and the Media Manipulate the News

  1. 4 out of 5

    Greg Fournier

    Spin Cycle is an entertaining, engrossing look into the propaganda machine of the Bill Clinton White House. The book is certainly dated - I was born after the book was published - and it was clearly a story on current events. This made it hard for me to follow what was going on sometimes, particularly the timeline of Whitewater, the campaign finance abuse allegations, and the sexual assault allegations. While this made for a sometimes confusing read (my eyes often glazed over when I read about A Spin Cycle is an entertaining, engrossing look into the propaganda machine of the Bill Clinton White House. The book is certainly dated - I was born after the book was published - and it was clearly a story on current events. This made it hard for me to follow what was going on sometimes, particularly the timeline of Whitewater, the campaign finance abuse allegations, and the sexual assault allegations. While this made for a sometimes confusing read (my eyes often glazed over when I read about Al Gore's fundraising calls or Clinton's Paula Jones scandal), I was pleasantly surprised to recognize many of the names. I didn't know, for instance, that Rahm Emmanuel worked for the Clinton White House, or that Peter Baker used to write for the Washington Post. Lanny Davis's name felt familiar, as did John Podesta's (whose name I have always associated with "emails," regarding the Hillary campaign in 2016). But this datedness did not obscure the main spectacle of the book, which was the relationship that Clinton's White House spin machine had with the reporters covering his administration. Mike McCurry, Clinton's press secretary, must had given Kurtz incredibly detailed (and often incriminating) interviews - or, if not him, then multiple others close with him. Kurtz described in vivid detail the calls that McCurry, Davis, and George Stephanopoulos would make to the press, selectively leaking tantalizing information to grant exclusive scoops to certain reporters. The relationships between these people were the most interesting aspects of the book, because, while Clinton and McCurry constantly railed about the press digging up stories just to make the president look bad, there was nonetheless admiration and respect between the two sides. While a nonfiction book like this does not consciously intend to impart wisdom on its reader, Kurtz wrote in such a way as to teach some valuable political lessons. One lesson is that the press will always try to dig up dirt on politicians, no matter their political persuasion. We often forget that in our hyperpartisan times, but it remains as true today as it did in 1998. Of course, the press is around specifically in order to combat the excesses of government officials, but Kurtz seems to nostalgically reflect on the relatively polite tone with which reporters covered the equally scandal-plagued Nixon White House. No matter the reporters' agendas, they will always seek to break the latest bad story for a figure in a position of power. This is often because of the incentives that reporters face. Kurtz reminds his readers that reporters are always writing on deadline, and they are encouraged by their editors to get exclusive access to a story for their paper. Moreover, these editors want to sell papers, so they have incentives to scandalize stories that ought to sound a lot less enticing. Indeed, these stories are a lot less enticing to the readers of these papers than they are to the journalists who write them. A constant theme of Spin Cycle was that journalists couldn't believe Clinton's historically high approval ratings despite the endless scandal reporting they were putting out. This suggested to the White House - as it should to Kurtz's readers - that the Beltway crowd should take a few steps back and try to understand their readers' concerns more often. Not that they should stop covering abuses of power - that would be a dereliction of duty - but they should recognize that they will often be the only ones to get outraged by the stories they write. But the most important lesson Kurtz imparted was that lying will only catch up to you. Clinton and Gore may not have done anything to warrant the type of scrutiny they received from the press and from the Republicans in Congress (the Lewinsky scandal notwithstanding). Yet their constant attempts at covering up and then backtracking even the least consequential scandals severely undermined their credibility with the press and the American people. Kurtz points out that most Americans believed Clinton had sex with Lewinsky in the Oval Office, and that he committed some financial crimes in the leadup to his reelection. This greatly undermined the faith that Clinton's Congressional and media adversaries put in his denial of the Lewinsky affair. The Trump administration took Clinton's lies and backtracks to a whole new level, but I can only imagine that Clinton's constant obfuscation and lawyerly denials didn't do much to avoid this possibility. The book is a well-researched and surprisingly candid portrayal of the Clinton spin machine, indicating that Kurtz spent a lot of time interviewing everyone that he could before he went to press with his book. But, while I enjoyed the quotes from McCurry, Davis, and many of the reporters covering the White House, I often found the story to be a bit jumbled. Kurtz seemed like he was trying to weave some sort of story into the book, but it came across in a much more haphazard way. There were so many names in the book - all involved in so many different things - that I usually got lost mid-chapter and had to strain to remember names from previous chapters to get a better picture of what was going on. There wasn't much to connect each chapter to the previous one, other than a roughly linear structure. It felt more like a collection of short stories, often closed out awkwardly because the page count for that chapter had been reached. I stand by these critiques and my rating. I found the book to be just above adequate. While it was brilliant in exposing the relationships between the press secretary and the White House reporters, it left something to be desired. This is not a book I would recommend lightly: You have to be somewhat of a political junkie to get it, and I imagine it helps if you were around during the Clinton era. Overall, it's a decent book, to be read if you want the inside scoop on what the Press Briefing room looks like from an insider's perspective.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Beth W

    I'm going back through my book collection and reading things I didn't read when I bought them. This is interesting as it was written/published in 1998 and is about how Bill Clinton--through his team--"controlled" his own press. It seems almost naive at this point. Interestingly, it talks about how hostile he was to the media and how he personally believes that the media is/was "out to get him." Gave me some insight into him losing his temper while stumping for hillary recently. That's apparently I'm going back through my book collection and reading things I didn't read when I bought them. This is interesting as it was written/published in 1998 and is about how Bill Clinton--through his team--"controlled" his own press. It seems almost naive at this point. Interestingly, it talks about how hostile he was to the media and how he personally believes that the media is/was "out to get him." Gave me some insight into him losing his temper while stumping for hillary recently. That's apparently real. It's so outdated I'm mainly reading it for closure at this point.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Marco Matos

    3,5 🌟 . Ao longo de 327 páginas, Howard Kurtz leva-nos aos meandros da presidência de Bill Clinton, nomeadamente ao spin realizado tanto pela comunicação social, focado nos escândalos economico-sociais e sexuais do presidente, assim como da equipa de comunicação da Casa Branca, preocupada em manter a reputação do presidente em alta apesar da má promoção da comunicação social. Um livro denso e pormenorizado, mas de leitura importante, quanto mais para se entender a forma como atua a comunicação pol 3,5 🌟 . Ao longo de 327 páginas, Howard Kurtz leva-nos aos meandros da presidência de Bill Clinton, nomeadamente ao spin realizado tanto pela comunicação social, focado nos escândalos economico-sociais e sexuais do presidente, assim como da equipa de comunicação da Casa Branca, preocupada em manter a reputação do presidente em alta apesar da má promoção da comunicação social. Um livro denso e pormenorizado, mas de leitura importante, quanto mais para se entender a forma como atua a comunicação política nos EUA.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ja Ne

    5/5: Meeletult hea insight raamat , kuidas toimub meediamanipulatsioon ning selle keerutamine alates WH-st( Hillary ja Billi skandaalid) kuni pisikese politiikuni välja.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    It’s 1998. The Thompson Committee, holding hearings about the fundraising abusing of the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996, has released a memo written by Harold Ickes for Clinton and Gore, explaining the differences between hard money and soft money, and how much of each amount could be used for commercials. Both Clinton and Gore had read it. This was a major problem, because Gore had denied knowing that he was raising hard money. This memo proved him a liar. Time for the masters of spin to swing i It’s 1998. The Thompson Committee, holding hearings about the fundraising abusing of the Clinton/Gore campaign in 1996, has released a memo written by Harold Ickes for Clinton and Gore, explaining the differences between hard money and soft money, and how much of each amount could be used for commercials. Both Clinton and Gore had read it. This was a major problem, because Gore had denied knowing that he was raising hard money. This memo proved him a liar. Time for the masters of spin to swing into action. Lanny Davis, adviser to the president and one of the chief spin masters, ran to the Hart Building, where an AP reporter was writing the first dispatch about the memo. Davis peered over his shoulder and started suggesting alternate phrases for the story. He ran away again to check the current spin with his boss, then returned and read the story again. And suggested another word change. “We’re not going to edit your statements on the wire, Lanny,” another AP reporter said. Davis denied he was doing this, but the reporter didn’t believe him. After the story was done, Davis told him that the official comment from the administration was too low in the story. The AP reporter brushed him off again. In other words, a member of the federal government was trying to dictate to a member of the press how he should write his story, to make it more favorable to the administration. That’s pretty brazen. Howard Kurtz, author of the Media Notes section in the Washington Post, chronicles this and other adventures of the Clinton spin team in 1997. These people – Lanny Davis, John Podesta, Mike McCurry, and others – were obsessed with controlling the message, the flow, the tone, and even the content of all stories written about them. They sweet-talked reporters, bugged them, screamed at them, whatever it took. They leaked damaging stories to control the damage. They withheld information before leaking it at what they calculated to be a politically opportune time. They cooperated with reporters when it suited their purposes and stonewalled when it didn’t. They considered all these shenanigans a war for the hearts, minds, and favorable polling of the American people. They were battling against the evil, scandal-obsessed press, who ignored all the wonderful things Clinton and Gore were doing and instead reported the lying, dissembling, perjuring, and law-breaking Clinton and Gore were doing. All of this, of course, with the full blessing and encouragement of Clinton and Gore. With such so much time devoted to spin, when did they have time to get any real work done? Kurtz knows his stuff and has talked to all the principals involved. One has to wonder, though, if he hasn’t been “spun” himself. If you’re Lanny Davis, and Howard Kurtz interviews you for his book, aren’t you going to give him the spin like you would any other reporter? The main fault of the book is the timing, which, of course, is hardly Kurtz’s fault. Since he covers only 1997, and just the first part of 1998, he can only touch on the mother of all scandals: the Monica Lewinsky affair. I would have loved to have read how the spin masters handled that little episode, which nearly (and should have) brought down the Clinton presidency.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    While the book is framed with the intern scandal, and Kurtz does include some of the administration’s stonewalling on the other potential presidential sex scandals, the thrust of his analysis is the long-running fundraising scandal. Spin Cycle was published in 1998, which means it mostly predates the Lewinsky scandal, which is too bad because that was the Clinton’s finest spin, when they convinced feminists to support an abusive boss, Democrats to vilify a young woman, and reporters to ignore sc While the book is framed with the intern scandal, and Kurtz does include some of the administration’s stonewalling on the other potential presidential sex scandals, the thrust of his analysis is the long-running fundraising scandal. Spin Cycle was published in 1998, which means it mostly predates the Lewinsky scandal, which is too bad because that was the Clinton’s finest spin, when they convinced feminists to support an abusive boss, Democrats to vilify a young woman, and reporters to ignore scandal and report as if the prosecution was the scandal. It is an insider’s view, literally. Kurtz describes the world through what he takes as the view of each participant, giving both Clinton spinmeisters and press a charitable reading.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Mariana Gaspar

    De leitura obrigatória para aqueles que não vêem a natureza tablóide da imprensa e acreditam que o spin é uma arte exclusiva aos assessores de imprensa. "He had launched his career thinking that journalism was pure - a bunch of people dedicated to serving the public by ferreting out the thruth - and concluded, sadly, that it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t all that different from being a spokesman. Both professions waxed and waned according to the news cycle, and both had their share of shortcuts and De leitura obrigatória para aqueles que não vêem a natureza tablóide da imprensa e acreditam que o spin é uma arte exclusiva aos assessores de imprensa. "He had launched his career thinking that journalism was pure - a bunch of people dedicated to serving the public by ferreting out the thruth - and concluded, sadly, that it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t all that different from being a spokesman. Both professions waxed and waned according to the news cycle, and both had their share of shortcuts and compromises. You got your hands dirty in both arenas. But Lockhart came to believe that you could have more of an impact from the inside." (Kurtz, 1998: 127)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    Anyone who has ever lamented media bias, read this book. Reporters, on the whole, are not on some ideological warpath. They're just trying to scoop the competition, make deadline and keep their editors happy. Howard Kurtz provides ample examples of this, showing how politicians manipulate the press and how reporters use their political sources. The book seemed so important to me when it first came out - I had been living in Washington, D.C. at the time and the Monica Lewinsky scandal had just pa Anyone who has ever lamented media bias, read this book. Reporters, on the whole, are not on some ideological warpath. They're just trying to scoop the competition, make deadline and keep their editors happy. Howard Kurtz provides ample examples of this, showing how politicians manipulate the press and how reporters use their political sources. The book seemed so important to me when it first came out - I had been living in Washington, D.C. at the time and the Monica Lewinsky scandal had just passed - but I think its portrayal of the cynical symbiosis between the press and the pols remains relevant now.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    Assembles the details of how employees of the White House / Executive Branch work daily at controlling and manipulating what information is released when for maximum impact of positive news and damage control of bad news. Some of the guys who worked for Clinton are back in there working for Obama, so even though this book is dated, it's overall description of how the system works is probably still relevant and insightful. Assembles the details of how employees of the White House / Executive Branch work daily at controlling and manipulating what information is released when for maximum impact of positive news and damage control of bad news. Some of the guys who worked for Clinton are back in there working for Obama, so even though this book is dated, it's overall description of how the system works is probably still relevant and insightful.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Interesting to see where power lies in Washington D.C: The White House, K Street, the Capitol, and the PRESS. This book is a case study in how the Washington media and the White House battle each other in defining issues and influencing the public.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    There was a time when I enjoyed Howie Kurtz; I watched his show, I read his book. Yes, the Clinton Administration spun the news hard. Who doesn't? An interesting look at how presidents manipulate the public. There was a time when I enjoyed Howie Kurtz; I watched his show, I read his book. Yes, the Clinton Administration spun the news hard. Who doesn't? An interesting look at how presidents manipulate the public.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    How the Administration (Clinton's) AND the press have trivialized coverage of the political news of the nation. (With coverage from the likes of Dan Rather and Brian Williams, how can it matter?) How the Administration (Clinton's) AND the press have trivialized coverage of the political news of the nation. (With coverage from the likes of Dan Rather and Brian Williams, how can it matter?)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    "Wonderfully topical look "Wonderfully topical look

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rebekkila

    I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/11446777 I registered a book at BookCrossing.com! http://www.BookCrossing.com/journal/11446777

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathi

    A must read for anyone even attempting to discuss politics; explains how trial balloons are used, stories are spun to politicians' benefits, etc. A must read for anyone even attempting to discuss politics; explains how trial balloons are used, stories are spun to politicians' benefits, etc.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tobias Poelstra

  17. 4 out of 5

    Donna

  18. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Sanchez

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bella Levavi

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brad

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mtujohn

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mythili

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erik Somelar

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

  29. 4 out of 5

    Colin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bryon

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