Professor's New Book Details How Presidential Manipulation of the Media Is Hurting America

by Jim Greif

As the United States enters the final weeks of the 2008 presidential election campaign, the media and the candidates are in full gear exploiting each other, often at the expense of public information and debate on substantive issues, a Mason professor argues in his new book.

In "Spinner in Chief," Stephen J. Farnsworth, assistant professor of communication, details how presidents and presidential candidates use traditional and new media to promote their policies and themselves, even as they are manipulated by the same media they desperately seek.

"Regardless of what the founders intended, American politics now centers on the White House," media scholar and former journalist Farnsworth says.

"With this focus, the modern presidential obsession with public relations and marketing controversial policies undermines the country's long-term ability to deal with crucial problems."

Distributed by Paradigm Publishers, "Spinner in Chief" provides a comprehensive look at presidential communication during the Internet age, paying particular attention to the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

By detailing media strategies relating to the Iraq War, health care reform, tax and budget debates and the Lewinsky scandal, Farnsworth examines how presidents shift the direction of the news and limit the amount of public debate over policies.

In addition, "Spinner in Chief" looks at how the 2008 presidential candidates are using new media and online communications – and how rivals and special interest groups are using the same techniques to sling mud and false accusations.

Prior to joining Mason this fall, Farnsworth taught at the University of Mary Washington and Georgetown University, and has served as a Canada-U.S. Fulbright Research Scholar at McGill University.

The author or coauthor of three other books on mass media and U.S. politics, Farnsworth also worked for 10 years as a daily newspaper journalist, mostly with the Kansas City Star & Times. He has led reporter training seminars in India, the Philippines, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia on programs funded by the U.S. government.

His current research project compares how domestic and international media cover the U.S. government.