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« American Fascists, by Chris Hedges | Main | Hostile Takeover, by David Sirota »


The Greatest Story Ever Sold, by Frank Rich

By an everyday book reader
May 1, 2007

New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich examines the trail of fictions manufactured by the Bush administration from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina, exposing the most brilliant spin campaign ever waged.

Demonstrating the candor and conviction that have made him one of our most trusted and incisive public voices, Rich brilliantly and meticulously illuminates the White House's disturbing love affair with "truthiness," and the ways in which a bungled war, a seemingly obscure Washington leak, and a devastating hurricane at long last revealed the man-behind-the-curtain and the story that had so effectively been sold to the nation, as god-given patriotic fact.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina
by Frank RichBook Picture

Hardcover: 352 pages
Penguin Press
September 2006
ISBN: 9781594200984, 159420098X

When America was attacked on 9/11, its citizens almost unanimously rallied behind its new, untested president as he went to war. What they didn't know at the time was that the Bush administration's highest priority was not to vanquish Al Qaeda but to consolidate its own power at any cost.

It was a mission that could be accomplished only by a propaganda presidency in which reality was steadily replaced by a scenario of the White House's own invention---and such was that scenario's devious brilliance that it fashioned a second war against an enemy that did not attack America on 9/11, intimidated the Democrats into incoherence and impotence, and turned a presidential election into an irrelevant referendum on macho imagery and same-sex marriage.

As only he can, acclaimed New York Times columnist Frank Rich delivers a step-by-step chronicle of how skillfully the White House built its house of cards and how the institutions that should have exposed these fictions, the mainstream news media, were too often left powerless by the administration's relentless attack machine, their own post-9/11 timidity, and an unending parade of self-inflicted scandals (typified by those at The New York Times).

"Many people who might have supported the Iraq war under different circumstances remained intractably opposed because they believed Bush hadn't proven that Baghdad was making nuclear weapons or working with al-Qaeda. They held this view because, among other reasons, in the months and years after 9/11, they were reading the smart, critical and blessedly spin-proof writings of Frank Rich." - David Greenberg, The Washington Post

"... the point of Rich's fine polemic is that the Bush administration has consistently lied about the reasons for going to war, about the way it was conducted and about the terrible consequences. Whatever the merits of removing a dictator, waging war under false pretenses is highly damaging to a democracy, especially when one of the ostensible aims is to spread democracy to others. If Rich is correct, which I think he is, the Bush administration has given hypocrisy a bad name." - Ian Burma - The New York Times

"Rich (New York Times; Ghost Light) also explores the Bush administration's sophisticated management of the media. His earlier career as a film and theater critic serves him well in his analysis of the staging of various presidential events such as Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, delivered on the USS Abraham Lincoln after he landed a plane on its deck. Rich deconstructs the event, from the repainting of the plane, the timing at dusk - prized by cinematographers for its glow - and the echoing of popular movies like Top Gun. He sees the fabric of the Bush storytelling success now unraveling with the ongoing war in Iraq, the Valerie Plame CIA leak, and the Katrina disaster. The press and public are asking more questions about what's behind the curtain. Like Nunberg, Rich argues that truth has been replaced by the best story (what Stephen Colbert has coined "truthiness"). He is concerned about an American culture that embraces such "reality-remaking." The most engaging of these books; public and academic libraries will want to purchase." - Library Journal

"By Rich's account, of course, that parade of missteps is organic; Bush and company cannot help but err. In an effort to disguise that track record, the Republicans have exercised single-minded control of the grand narrative of the last five years, at least in part because they have exercised quasi-totalitarian control over the news media. (They are nearly forgotten already, but one needs to remember Judith Miller, Jeff Gannon, Karen Ryan and various columnists and commentators paid off to repeat the party line.) Not for nothing did a White House adviser reveal to one journalist that his bosses were set on creating their 'own reality,' one that all Americans were expected to share; not for nothing did that reality include spinning amazing lies about everything from the death of football- and war hero Pat Tillman to the kidnapping of Jessica Lynch to the government's preparedness for Katrina. And yet, and yet... Though the administration may be remembered as the worst in American history, the people seem mostly silent. One wishes that Rich had explored that particular mentalite along with the others he so fluently discusses." - Kirkus Reviews

"Starred Review. This blistering j'accuse has vitriol to spare for George Bush - calling him a 'spoiled brat' and 'blowhard' - and his policies, but its main target is the PR machinery that promoted those policies to the American people. New York Times columnist Rich revisits nearly every Bush administration publicity gambit, including Iraqi WMD claims, Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' triumph, the Swift-boating of John Kerry and the writing of fake pro war letters-to-the-editor from soldiers. He uncovers nothing new, but his meticulously researched recap-cum-debunking - complete with appended 80-page time line comparing administration spin to actual events - builds a comprehensive picture of a White House propaganda campaign to bamboozle the public, smear critics, camouflage policy disasters and win the 2002 and 2004 elections through trumped-up security anxieties. Along the way, he pillories a sycophantic media (Bob Woodward gets spanked hard), spineless Democrats and an infotainment culture that happily accommodates the Bush administration's erasure of the line between reality and fiction. Sometimes Rich's critique of Republican politics as cynical image-manipulation goes overboard, as in his 'wag the dog' theory of the Iraq war as a Karl Rove electoral maneuver; more often, though, it's on target. The result is a caustic, hard-hitting indictment of the Bush administration, timed to make a splash in the upcoming election campaign." - Publishers Weekly

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