Scandal and Silence: Media Responses to Presidential Misconduct.

Author:Neville-Shepard, Ryan
Position:Book review
 
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Scandal and Silence: Media Responses to Presidential Misconduct. By Robert M. Entman. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. 269 pp.

In his latest book, Robert Entman is fixated on scandals that never materialized. Contending that American journalists have been inconsistent in their investigation of potential scandals, Scandal and Silence develops a theoretical tool--applying it to incidents involving presidential candidates from 1988 to 2008--to understand why some scandals cause a ripple while others are ignored.

Following the introduction, Entman spends much of his second chapter explaining how the "cascading network activation model" (p. 35) can help to explain how scandals develop. According to the author, presidential scandal frames require that certain behavior be identified as a problem, that the alleged misdeed be attributed to an individual, that the accused be condemned by elite political actors, and that sanction of the individual be widely debated. If news coverage of the story continues for a week in newspapers and television, then a full-fledged scandal might be triggered. As the next six chapters demonstrate, though, this outcome rarely happens.

In Chapters 3 and 4, Entman focuses on noncriminal, sexual behavior of political leaders. The media's obsession with Bill Clinton's inappropriate conduct with Gennifer Flowers is compared to rumors about the extramarital affairs of George H. W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, John McCain, and John Edwards. Reporters repeatedly ignored these potential sex scandals, he concludes, for several reasons: the situations were incompatible with media decision biases; Republicans proved to have "more power to circumscribe investigative zeal" (pp. 70-71); journalists punted stories in order to remain in Washington's inner circle; and audience backlash threatened media outlets.

In Chapters 5 and 6, Entman further explores the rules that determine when the mainstream media report on scandals, contrasting the coverage of accusations that Clinton, Dan Quayle, and George W. Bush were draft dodgers. Entman shows how Clinton and Quayle were harmed by the allegations, while Bush avoided the scandal frame. The account explains that stories with stereotype-confirming novelty are more likely to be reported and that a candidate's likeability, cultural symbolism, and popularity during the campaign also influence whether or not he will be tied to scandal. By focusing on the Rathergate scandal, Entman convincingly...

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