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The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle between the White House and the Media--from the Founding Fathers to Fake News

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An award-winning presidential historian offers an authoritative account of American presidents' attacks on our freedom of the press. "The FAKE NEWS media," Donald Trump has tweeted, "is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people." Never has our free press faced so great a threat. Yet the tension between presidents and journalists is as old as the republic itself. An award-winning presidential historian offers an authoritative account of American presidents' attacks on our freedom of the press. "The FAKE NEWS media," Donald Trump has tweeted, "is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people." Never has our free press faced so great a threat. Yet the tension between presidents and journalists is as old as the republic itself. From George Washington to Trump, presidents have quarreled with, attacked, denigrated, and manipulated the fourth estate. Washington groused about his treatment in the newspapers, but his successor, John Adams, actually wielded his executive power to overturn press freedoms and prosecute critical reporters. Thomas Jefferson tapped a reporter to find dirt on his rival, Alexander Hamilton, only to have the reporter expose his own affair with his slave Sally Hemings. (Jefferson denied the reports out of hand—perhaps the first presidential cry of "fake news.") Andrew Jackson rewarded loyal newspapers with government contracts; Abraham Lincoln shuttered critical papers and imprisoned their editors without trial. FDR and JFK charmed journalists in order to protect their personal secrets, while Nixon cast the press as a public enemy for daring to investigate his own. In this remarkable new account, acclaimed scholar Harold Holzer guides readers through the clashes between chief executives and journalists, showing how these battles were waged and won, while girding us for a new fight to protect our nation's greatest institution: a free and functioning press


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An award-winning presidential historian offers an authoritative account of American presidents' attacks on our freedom of the press. "The FAKE NEWS media," Donald Trump has tweeted, "is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people." Never has our free press faced so great a threat. Yet the tension between presidents and journalists is as old as the republic itself. An award-winning presidential historian offers an authoritative account of American presidents' attacks on our freedom of the press. "The FAKE NEWS media," Donald Trump has tweeted, "is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people." Never has our free press faced so great a threat. Yet the tension between presidents and journalists is as old as the republic itself. From George Washington to Trump, presidents have quarreled with, attacked, denigrated, and manipulated the fourth estate. Washington groused about his treatment in the newspapers, but his successor, John Adams, actually wielded his executive power to overturn press freedoms and prosecute critical reporters. Thomas Jefferson tapped a reporter to find dirt on his rival, Alexander Hamilton, only to have the reporter expose his own affair with his slave Sally Hemings. (Jefferson denied the reports out of hand—perhaps the first presidential cry of "fake news.") Andrew Jackson rewarded loyal newspapers with government contracts; Abraham Lincoln shuttered critical papers and imprisoned their editors without trial. FDR and JFK charmed journalists in order to protect their personal secrets, while Nixon cast the press as a public enemy for daring to investigate his own. In this remarkable new account, acclaimed scholar Harold Holzer guides readers through the clashes between chief executives and journalists, showing how these battles were waged and won, while girding us for a new fight to protect our nation's greatest institution: a free and functioning press

30 review for The Presidents vs. the Press: The Endless Battle between the White House and the Media--from the Founding Fathers to Fake News

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Not very good. It was a cool concept that failed in execution. The information isn’t anything new or insightful and the writing is rather overdone and dull.

  2. 4 out of 5

    I. David

    A Good History That Misses An Opportunity for Useful Analysis Visit I. David's blog at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... I read The Presidents vs. The Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media – From the Founding Fathers to Fake News by Harold Holzer hoping that a historic perspective of the Presidents and the Media would provide some clarity on the current chaos in news reporting. I may have been hoping for too much. First, the positives. In The Presidents vs. The Pre A Good History That Misses An Opportunity for Useful Analysis Visit I. David's blog at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show... I read The Presidents vs. The Press: The Endless Battle Between the White House and the Media – From the Founding Fathers to Fake News by Harold Holzer hoping that a historic perspective of the Presidents and the Media would provide some clarity on the current chaos in news reporting. I may have been hoping for too much. First, the positives. In The Presidents vs. The Press Holzer tells the stories of how 16 selected Presidents, from George Washington to Donald Trump, responded to the media's news reports. All of these Presidents felt that the media treated them unfairly and did not report accurately. However, most fully understood that, in a free society, they were going to have to find a way to deal with the media. So each of these Presidents tried, in their own way, to manage the message. Holzer reviews the wide variation in the Presidents’ strategies. For example, John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 which criminalized many aspects of press reporting. Abraham Lincoln shut down presses to prevent disclosure of strategic information during the Civil War. Theodore Roosevelt befriended members of the press inviting them for informal visits during his noontime shaves. And Ronald Reagan limited his comments to the press to brief remarks made while on the move from one location to another. Probably most effective were those Presidents who used new forms of communication to bypass the press entirely and take their message directly to the public. For example, Franklin Roosevelt used the radio for his fireside chats. John Kennedy used televised press conferences. Barak Obama prepared his own public relations productions to send out over social media. And Donald Trump makes extensive use of Twitter. I am a news junkie that grew up in the 60s and 70s. Holzer’s recounting of press treatment of events like the Viet Nam War protests, Watergate, Billygate, Iran Contra, the Whitewater Scandal and Travelgate were like a trip down memory lane for me. They are all part of what is a well written history of how these 16 Presidents have been portrayed by the press and how they have responded. I wholly recommend this book for readers who are interested in reading such a history. But, there are also a few negatives. This book is written from the Presidents’ perspective. It deals specifically with how each of the Presidents responded to his particular treatment by the press. Holzer pretty much refrains from giving any critique of the press’ actions. Instead, he describes specific actions taken by members of the press solely to provide a basis for the President’s response. Holzer explains how the public’s sources of news have evolved over the years from written press, to broadcast media to cable news to social media. We now have the opportunity to obtain our news from hundreds of sources. But many of us elect sources that agree with our preconceived ideas of the truth. Holzer might have expressed his opinion of what constitutes responsible journalism in this current environment. He also might have pointed to one or more members of the press that are currently meeting his definition of what constitutes responsible journalism. I think his failure to provide this additional material is a missed opportunity. I give this book 3.5 stars (rounded down to 3.0) because, while it constitutes a very good history of the relationship between these 16 Presidents and the press, it fails to provide the reader with what would have been a useful perspective on the press’ role in our current environment.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    Absolute must-read in this era

  4. 4 out of 5

    David Kent

    Preeminent Lincoln historian Harold Holzer broadens his view to examine the relationship between many of our nation's more prominent presidents and the press that covers them. While there is a tendency to view our present situation as an unfettered attack on the media, presidents have always had a contentious love/hate interconnection with newspapers and new media. John Adams's sedition acts sought to hold newspapermen liable for treason, Lincoln temporarily shut down duplicitous newspapers, and Preeminent Lincoln historian Harold Holzer broadens his view to examine the relationship between many of our nation's more prominent presidents and the press that covers them. While there is a tendency to view our present situation as an unfettered attack on the media, presidents have always had a contentious love/hate interconnection with newspapers and new media. John Adams's sedition acts sought to hold newspapermen liable for treason, Lincoln temporarily shut down duplicitous newspapers, and Nixon, well, Nixon had his own issues with the press. Holzer also delves into the presidents who successfully mastered new forms of communication. Abraham Lincoln made use of the new "instant communication" technology of telegraphy. FDR mastered the radio broadcast. Kennedy became a star on television. Obama made use of the power of the internet as Facebook and websites spread the news without the need of classical media intermediaries. And of course we have the current situation where a barrage of morning tweets can determine the news cycle of the day, albeit by flagrant and repeated concoctions of "alternative facts" (aka, lies). The book deals with each of eighteen presidents even handedly and insightfully. Readers will learn much that they didn't know about the past, and reinforce their biases of the present. A book well worth reading.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joseph J.

    It wasn't just the current White House occupant who experienced a hostile relationship with the press. And distinguished Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer isn't only about Lincoln and the Civil War. In this study of our Presidents and the press he focuses on "the biggies" starting with Washington, moves through the 19th. century-Jackson and Lincoln-and into the 20th. century with Teddy, on to Woodrow and FDR and forward. (What no newspaper editor Harding? Well Warren is not a major player save for t It wasn't just the current White House occupant who experienced a hostile relationship with the press. And distinguished Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer isn't only about Lincoln and the Civil War. In this study of our Presidents and the press he focuses on "the biggies" starting with Washington, moves through the 19th. century-Jackson and Lincoln-and into the 20th. century with Teddy, on to Woodrow and FDR and forward. (What no newspaper editor Harding? Well Warren is not a major player save for the coat closet.) From complaining George through tormented Abe-who carried favorable news clippings in his pocket when he went to Ford's Theatre-and FDR, who perhaps played the press like no other, we see the tumultuous relationship of President vs. Press in our (hopefully still) free society. Kennedy did not have that easy a time of it, and Nixon carried that huge chip on his shoulder, Oh! and we have LBJ in his humorous vulgarities. Obama is perhaps surprisingly very critically surveyed, while the current occupant, well, he could play the NYC tabloids but the D.C. political gang, that's another story. And that story is still being written.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andres P

    This book could not have been published at a more crucial moment. Given the vitriolic demeanor President Donald Trump has given to free press in America, Hollzer takes us back through the life and times of 19 Presidents and examined their interaction with press. He did not just detail events between journalists and Commander-in-Chiefs. Rather he analyzed what their interactions meant for the populous and the ways in which the Presidents would use Constitutional powers to limit the access of the This book could not have been published at a more crucial moment. Given the vitriolic demeanor President Donald Trump has given to free press in America, Hollzer takes us back through the life and times of 19 Presidents and examined their interaction with press. He did not just detail events between journalists and Commander-in-Chiefs. Rather he analyzed what their interactions meant for the populous and the ways in which the Presidents would use Constitutional powers to limit the access of the press. The book was a quick and insightful read, one that helped me interpret the actions of the current President. Though the book ends around the end of Trump's second term campaign, the book provides enough leverage so one can judge how the Presidents current actions can be justified currently. It also allows readers to understand the importance of the sentiments Trump has has with various news outlets and show that past presidents have expressed similar grievances and committed vicious action against the free press. An outstanding and monumental book that should entice future historians and social scientists to examine this confusing relationship.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Writemoves

    Interesting perspectives and analysis how various Presidential administrations handled press coverage throughout our nation’s history. Based on this book, FDR (with his Fireside Chats) and JFK with his intellect and humor were very good at dealing with the press and also communicating with the American public. Donald Trump has been a disaster. It was interesting to see how various Press Secretaries in the various administrations made out. Most of them did not have long tenures. I enjoyed the book Interesting perspectives and analysis how various Presidential administrations handled press coverage throughout our nation’s history. Based on this book, FDR (with his Fireside Chats) and JFK with his intellect and humor were very good at dealing with the press and also communicating with the American public. Donald Trump has been a disaster. It was interesting to see how various Press Secretaries in the various administrations made out. Most of them did not have long tenures. I enjoyed the book as the author kept things interesting with inside stories throughout its 443 pages. Trump has little use for the press. Very few press conferences. He uses Twitter to get his message out. Hopefully starting with Joe Biden, there will be a renewed civility between the President and the Press. But I’m not counting on it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James Lurie

    This is a well-researched and footnoted history of the always-prickly relationship between American Presidents and the press. While it doesn't cover all of the Presidents (and I'm not sure that there would be much to say about Fillmore or Pierce), it does go from Washington to Trump. There is a consistency in the relationships, and it appears that each President wanted to be Henry II and give the press a Beckett treatment. However, the antipathy seems to have grown exponentially as the news cycl This is a well-researched and footnoted history of the always-prickly relationship between American Presidents and the press. While it doesn't cover all of the Presidents (and I'm not sure that there would be much to say about Fillmore or Pierce), it does go from Washington to Trump. There is a consistency in the relationships, and it appears that each President wanted to be Henry II and give the press a Beckett treatment. However, the antipathy seems to have grown exponentially as the news cycle become compressed and instant communication became possible. As we continue to listen to accusations of lies and fake news from opposing parties, it helps to have the perspective that nothing is new; we are just for more aware of it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    AlohaKarina Chapman

    Professor Holzer is incredible. Those of us lucky enough to take his class through Pace University/GLI are in awe of the stories he has to tell about the presidents. He knows so many and has been in this arena for so long, his book is just phenomenal and filled with great information and anecdotes. We, his students, have been begging him to please write a second book with all the presidents he didn’t feature, and then to write a third book which would be his memoir. Hopefully he will rethink tha Professor Holzer is incredible. Those of us lucky enough to take his class through Pace University/GLI are in awe of the stories he has to tell about the presidents. He knows so many and has been in this arena for so long, his book is just phenomenal and filled with great information and anecdotes. We, his students, have been begging him to please write a second book with all the presidents he didn’t feature, and then to write a third book which would be his memoir. Hopefully he will rethink that because at this point he is saying no, but we know that they would both be bestsellers. What an amazing author and a fantastic book!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mich

    Harold Holzer does a great job digging up obscure as well known interactions presidents have had with the press, dating all the way back to GW, who was perhaps the only one who didn’t scold them publicly. From then on, it was all downhill beginning with Adams and the Sedition Act to Lincoln imprisoning journalists. Of course there were those,like FDR, who the press loved to a large extent. We get the sense of how presidents co-opted the press by granting them plush positions in their administrat Harold Holzer does a great job digging up obscure as well known interactions presidents have had with the press, dating all the way back to GW, who was perhaps the only one who didn’t scold them publicly. From then on, it was all downhill beginning with Adams and the Sedition Act to Lincoln imprisoning journalists. Of course there were those,like FDR, who the press loved to a large extent. We get the sense of how presidents co-opted the press by granting them plush positions in their administrations. If the point of the book was to convince the reader that Trump was a relative pussycat compared to his predecessors, I get it. In digging deep Holzer is entertaining and a terrific historian.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joe McMahon

    Another reviewer said this tome was biased in favor of the presidents. I'm not so certain, because for most of the book, the author details how presidents attempted to manipulate the press or whatever medium was then growing. I wish the author had given examples of when the printed press presented the facts, as it often does, as in "Four Swiss Guards test positive," or "Man derails A train at 14th Street," or "Hillary Clinton earned 65,853,814 votes." --- In 1973 we hosted two French university st Another reviewer said this tome was biased in favor of the presidents. I'm not so certain, because for most of the book, the author details how presidents attempted to manipulate the press or whatever medium was then growing. I wish the author had given examples of when the printed press presented the facts, as it often does, as in "Four Swiss Guards test positive," or "Man derails A train at 14th Street," or "Hillary Clinton earned 65,853,814 votes." --- In 1973 we hosted two French university students for a month. They were amazed that U. S. newspapers were generally non-partisan. Despite the howls from the right, I find that true of many daily papers now.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    This book is a very in-depth study of the presidency in the relationship and evolution of the press. As one might suspect the author picks and chooses which president he speaks about. These presidents include the founding fathers, Lincoln, TR, FDR, JFK Reagan, Clinton, Barack Obama and of course Trump. If one is interested in this book I would recommend watching the Q&A interview with the author he highlights the important takeaways from the book it will save you time and in my opinion much ener This book is a very in-depth study of the presidency in the relationship and evolution of the press. As one might suspect the author picks and chooses which president he speaks about. These presidents include the founding fathers, Lincoln, TR, FDR, JFK Reagan, Clinton, Barack Obama and of course Trump. If one is interested in this book I would recommend watching the Q&A interview with the author he highlights the important takeaways from the book it will save you time and in my opinion much energy.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    Excellent Historical Perspective of the Press and Presidents An incredibly researched and informative narrative of the Press and their relationships with POTUS from Washington to Trump. The insights gained from this book will inform my opinions relative to the Press as well as POTUS and government officials for years to come. The chapters covering Nixon, Clinton, Obama and Trump are MUST reads. Absolutely loved this book!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    I'm really interested in the media these days, and in reading histories about the presidents from different angles, so this is perfect for me. By different angles, I mean books about the chiefs of staff or national security advisors, etc. Each gives a layer of history that other books don't really cover. So I found this book really fascinating. So much of history really does rhyme! It's a timely and well-researched book, I recommend it. I'm really interested in the media these days, and in reading histories about the presidents from different angles, so this is perfect for me. By different angles, I mean books about the chiefs of staff or national security advisors, etc. Each gives a layer of history that other books don't really cover. So I found this book really fascinating. So much of history really does rhyme! It's a timely and well-researched book, I recommend it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    J.J.

    Freedom of the press is something America touts as unique compared to other countries. This covers the relationship of every president and their own relationship to the press with the First Amendment in mind. Fascinating and informative. Fans of presidential history and journalist ethics will especially find this work of interest.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Farabaugh

    A very solid and comprehensive account of the relationship between the two groups. The author does a very good job of showing the events in the context of their time and also in the impact of technology.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Good, but not my favorite of his books.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jason Gewirtz

    Excellent overview of the history of the media and the White House.

  19. 5 out of 5

    PottWab Regional Library

    E

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Kuehler

    Very interesting...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book is one of hate most important books I have read and is so apropos of politics in today’s world. Plus, it was easy read. I highly recommend it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    George Hancock

    Excellent, detailed account of various US presidents and their relationship with the news media of their day. Holzer is a noted historian with excellent writing skills.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Kuhn

    All press is good press? A great analyzation of the relationship between key presidents and the press. A bit dense in areas but overall very well written!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Maryanne/MA

    Fascinating study of American presidents and their relationship with the press.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Graney

    Lighten up Harold! This should be a fun book not a dull tome. Way too much info.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  28. 4 out of 5

    Willj_1984

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Meeker

  30. 5 out of 5

    YunLing Li

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