Governing from Center Stage: White House Communication Strategies during the Television Age of Politics.

Author:Farnsworth, Stephen J.
Position:Book Review
 
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By Lori Cox Han. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2001. 290 pp.

Few books on the presidency and the news media are as ambitious in intent as Governing from Center Stage, in which Loft Cox Han seeks to present a comprehensive analysis of the public relations strategies of eight presidents (John F. Kennedy through Bill Clinton) during four decades of television-influenced politics. Han, an associate professor of political science at Austin College in Texas, builds her comparative analysis upon a wide range of evidence, including case studies, a thorough classification of public activities by each president, oral histories from leading government officials, and content analysis.

Summarizing four decades of television coverage of presidential governance in a single volume is a daunting task, particularly when one considers some of the other influential works that have examined this topic, most notably Larry Sabato's Feeding Frenzy (2000), Samuel Kernell's Going Public (1997), and Jeffrey Tulis's The Rhetorical Presidency (1987). Despite these challenges, Han's case study--reliant approach offers interesting insights on presidential media management.

Han is particularly effective in giving the reader a sense of each administration: how each approached media relations as well as how each sought to use White House reporters as tools to help convince Congress and the public to support the president's policies. Each administration is presented largely through the examination of the media management strategies employed to secure legislative support for two policy initiatives selected for close scrutiny.

The side-by-side comparisons allow readers to see how some administrations sought to repeat the media management successes of their predecessors and to avoid repeating previous mistakes. Han illustrates how particular media strategies were tailored to take advantage of the strengths of a given president: Reagan excelled at the prepared speech, while Kennedy was especially effective in the give-and-take of a press conference. Han also demonstrates how other efforts at media management backfired: George H. W. Bush was unusually accessible to the press, but his sometimes inarticulate comments tended to hurt, not help, his public standing.

Han examines only domestic policy initiatives before Congress because they are more likely to respond to presidential media strategies. In contrast, international policy matters are likely to represent presidential...

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