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Sound and Fury: The Making of the Washington Punditocracy Paperback – 14 Oct 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; Revised edition edition (14 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801486394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801486395
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,550,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Eric Alterman has made revisions throughout the book, with new material on the impact of the O.J. Simpson trial and the rise of the MSNBC as well as on the Clinton scandals and the resulting conflation of investigative reporting with gossip.'

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On what forecasters like to call "an unseasonably warm" February morning in 1990, my friend Loring and I rode the subway to the Capitol, where Vaclav Havel, the new president of Czechoslovakia, was to address a joint session of Congress. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
The Blind leading the Blind... 3 Aug 2000
By Ben Nedivi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a powerful and eye-opening book from Eric Alterman. He takes off where Noam Chomsky (Manufacturing Consent) and Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) left us wanting more. If you don't believe me, watch the Republican Convention, or as I like to call it, a 4-day television commercial, and you will understand...Thank you Mr. Alterman...I'm looking forward to your next one.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Important Topic; Impressive Effort 19 Jan 2004
By wildbill - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Although this revised study of the chattering class incorporates some of its author's liberal-left proclivities and perspectives, Mr. Alterman seems to this reader to try to be as objective as he can be.
Alterman's relative objectivity is crucial because his topic is so important: public opinion in the United States is often shaped by clever phrases, memorable sound bites, and comfortable beliefs spouted into popular culture via broadcast or written media. Alterman's contention is that conventional beliefs are molded and common sense is formed in large measure through the influence of observers who are more famous than informed.
Pundits rule America, the author argues, by constructing and maintaining "informed opinion" that marginalizes alternative perspectives left and right. Commentators narrow the possibilities and discount the imponderables, thereby deepening troughs in the stream where the opinion-shapers feel most comfortable. If these spinmeisters succeed in moving this or that trough closer to the opinions fashionable in their own circles, so much the better. Their most important goal, however, is to preserve, protect, and defend the mass-mediated mainstream in which they are reckoned to be authoritative.
This "dredging" narrows the diversity of acceptable facts, beliefs, perspectives, and insights that will be carried in mass media. As a consequence, novel critiques, original thinking, and perceptive syntheses usually cannot penetrate sequences of fabricated, exaggerated threats and reassurances that characterize everyday debates on television, the Internet, or radio and in newspapers and periodicals. This conventional wisdom tended by the pundits not only amplifyies the problem that so many ordinary Americans know little about politics, government, their own country, and the world but also exacerbates the difficulty that so many people who trouble themselves to follow the news know so much that is not true.
Alterman deftly describes and documents how pundits set themselves up as experts by making themselves well known for being well known (to steal Daniel Boorstin's phrase). Many of them know a little about a little. Through marketing and self-promotion, they pose as knowing much about nearly everything. The reader is first amused and then amazed at how little it takes for this columnist or that essayist to become a frequent guest on chatfests. The more that the pundit pretends to know without actually risking his or her "authority" (often pundits have no "authority" in any subject to begin with; they have merely recognition or notoriety) and the more memorable their snappy patter, the more invitations that television is likely to extend. If you have wondered how Alec Baldwin or Martin Sheen or Ann Coulter or Peggy Noonan came to populate cable "news" shows, this book will suggest some plausible hypothesies.
When Alterman documents how succinct phrases and other arts of punditry actually clash with genuine knowledge and merited authority, the reader begins to appreciate how the sound and fury of these media creations have diminished politics and impoverished discourse.
P.S. Does anyone else suspect that the customer review from "A reader from Alexandria, VA USA" was crafted by some lefty to imply that one who disliked Alterman's book due to Alterman's writing would himself or herself write so poorly?
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Let the Fur Fly 17 July 2003
By John G. Hilliard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am a self confessed political junky which means that as well as reading a number of books on the American political process I also indulge in a few hours a week of pundit television. With that said I was more then a little excited to read this book given that basically it covers the people that cover the politics I like. The book is not just a review of the major TV personalities of the day. The author starts out with something of a history of the pundit profession. This section held the least interest for me and I found myself skipping a few pages here and there. The author also covers the major print columnists that are making their voices heard.
The real interest for me was the details on the television personalities. Even though this book was written in 92, many of the same people are still the pundits stars now. The author has a sharp wit, which he uses with deviating effect on these masters of the sound bite. He takes on each of the pundits and gives you his opinion and all the gossip that is fit to print. He comments run from sharp to down right nasty. For some reason this author has a rather large chip on his shoulder and is not shy about venting his dislike via this book. He also lets many of his personal political views slide into the writing, at times I think he really wanted to do a review of Reagan / Bush presidencies.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Definitley biased, but makes great points... 23 Oct 2004
By Rebecca M. Henely - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I had to read this book for my Problems in Contemporary Journalism class and loved it. Throughout this book, Alterman covers the history of pundits from the first essays by the founding fathers, to Walter Lippmann, to the rise of television news and ends at the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal. At the end, his argument is that pundits have more influence in Washington than they do with the people, and it's up to the true journalists to knock them down.

The book could be an eye-opener for journalists and journalisms students. It argues that rather than uphold objectivity, journalists themselves should put commentary into their stories. This way there would be no need for pundits and news articles could provide for a greater understanding of an issue, rather than just shooting back the facts.

Sound and Fury is fascinating in its story of the history of pundits (the description of the first Gulf War sounds scarily like the second), and it provides some compelling arguments (although I don't know if they'll ever be able to work in the real world). It's also funny in its description of some of the pundits. (Jack Germond is "the pundit that Fred Mertz would have become if Ethel ever let him out of the house." Morton Kondracke is "the boy in the class waving his hands to answer the question only to promptly forget the answer when called upon.")

Unfortunately, the book is incredibly biased. A former pundit himself, Alterman just goes after the conservative and centrist pundits. Perhaps there truly are more conservative pundits, but there have to be a few truly liberal ones out there. The fact that he ignores them completely is a real down-side to this book.

Still, despite the bias, the book still has a lot of good things to say about journalism, the history of pundits, and the threats that pundits pose to journalism. For that, this book is very informative, and a little funny too.
15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Those who can't handle this probably need to read "Slander" 8 Jan 2004
By J. Bradford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
or other such childish trash. Funny how Alterman calls for a more mature discourse in 1993 and Coulter's drek comes out years later calling for the exact same thing....but then goes on a trashing dance all over those she opposes.
Alterman just calls for less BS, ala Coulter and Drugboy Rush, and more honest "where are our similarities?" discourse. Of course the overly moralistic Right takes offense at being called on the carpet for their lack of adult ideas, but hey, the truth hurts.
When our leaders can begin to think outside the box for solutions (considering all the "conservative" ideas have gotten us to where we are today) about what ails our world, then we might find some solutions. Getting "tough" on things has not worked on drugs, poverty or crime. Why anyone thinks it would work on terrorism just shows the neanderthal thinking that comes into play when people have been convinced, ala Bush et al, to be afraid of one another.
Until there is a change in leadership in America, we will be doomed to continue to commit the same mistakes over and over and over again. Cold war "warriors" (people who got wealthy off of the defense contracts paid by you and I) can think of no better solution than to "go to war" for everything from "defense" to economic stimulation. When in fact developing alternative fuels (a "liberal" idea) would make us more indepedent of the fuel in the Middle East, would dry up the money there and would dry up the funds being filtered to Al Quida from such areas. As long as we feed the monster of the Middle East, we had better be prepared for it to continue to bite the hand that feeds it. But that is just so much "liberal" thinking....an so out of the box!
Alterman nails the Right for being Wrong, on so many levels - which is something they can not stand. Just look at the arrogance of Cheney, Rumsfeld and the like who, due to their old white man/priveleged status think that everyone should believe them, no questions asked. They ARE life long politicians aren't they? Or are only life long democrats/liberals the ones who lie? To take the word of ANY life long politician is to naively follow at one's peril.
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