Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A little enlightenment on the media

One great thing about being in a class where the professor was once part of a presidential administration is that every so often, an interesting person who he knows makes an appearance in class. Today, author Richard Reeves, who has written books on American presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and his most recent President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination came to my Rhetoric of the American Presidency class to talk. I've actually read his books President Kennedy: Profile of Power and President Nixon: Alone in the White House which are great for all of the primary documents which Reeves has access too, including tapes, diaries, etc.

After he spoke, we got to ask him some questions, and I asked him what he thought about the media coverage of presidents and whether it was fair to say Kennedy and Reagan received good coverage and Nixon and Clinton bad coverage. His answer was very interesting. He said that for one, back when the media was covering Kennedy and Nixon in the late 1950s and early 1960s, most reporters were not part of a professional class of people who had received masters from the likes of Northwestern's Medill School or Syracuse. Back then in fact, they shared the economic views of other members of the working class--pretty different than today's media composition. Kennedy was appealing because of his good looks, good nature, new liberalism (though he wasn't as liberal as people think) and also his war hero status. When Reagan came along, the media--now a professional class--seemed to know less than they thought they did, portraying him as a genial but somewhat clueless old man who took a snooze next to Pope John Paul II, though Reagan was much savvier than that. So that's my slipshod summary of Reeves's comments about the media, but needless to say, his book on Reagan looks interesting.

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