October 15, 2003
Reviews: Why Bush must go
I've been working through a few books lately, and a few of them fall into a single category, so I thought I would do a quick combined review, for anyone who might be considering reading one or more of them.
- The three books are:
- What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News, by Eric Alterman
- Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, by Al Franken
- Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America, by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
The Franken and Alterman books are very much on the same topic: Whether the press can fairly be said to have the legendary "liberal bias" in light of the coverage of Monicagate, the Bush-Gore campaign and the bad craziness in Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a variety of other issues.
The Alterman book reads like a graduate thesis. It's meticulously documented, offering dozens of examples of stories presented in a pro-business, pro-Republican, or pro-Bush way. Alterman also presents quite a bit of "inside baseball" reporting on the way American media works. For many, Alterman's book may be a little too inside.
Franken's book, on the other hand, reads like the class notes of the smartass in the back of Professor Alterman's class. If you read this book in public, you will embarrass yourself. The last few years have offered increasingly surreal setups for gags, and Franken is not one to pass up a good straight line. He's previewed many of the book's best lines during his press tour for the book, and his many appearances resulting from the recent Fox News lawsuit.
Franken looks at the windbags who provide the most public face for modern conservatism: Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity, with appearances from the Republican apparatchiks, President Bush, and even Supply Side Jesus.
Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America focuses not on the media, but on George W. Bush's record as governor of Texas, what overall effect he had on the state, and the parallels between Bush-as-governor and Bush-as-president.
If Alterman's book is a little too wonky, and Franken's book a little too snarky, Ivins and Dubose have written a book that's just right. It would be difficult to finish this book and still identify yourself as a likely Bush voter. Bushwhacked goes into the dirty details of Harken Oil, exactly how right-wing have been some of Bush's nominees to the federal bench, how the leading opponent of ergonomics regulation (there are opponents?) became Solicitor of Labor, how the EPA is allowing methane-gas drillers to throw up thousands of wells on previously protected lands, how No Child Left Behind failed in Texas, and dozens of other facts about Bush's governorship that shed a lot of light on the Bush presidency and its goals.
The tone of the book is by turns hilarious and outraged, street-smart and erudite. Dubose and Ivins, as Texans, are particularly experienced in Bush's politics, cronies, and policies, but to me (admittedly not value-neutral on the question), they don't seem to have an axe to grind, as Franken sometimes does, and as many of the folks who have written on the Clinton administration have.
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