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Home Reviews Book Reviews Battle for America 2008: Two veterans deliver a master class in journalism – and let their readers decide the rest

Battle for America 2008: Two veterans deliver a master class in journalism – and let their readers decide the rest

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When I was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we got three television channels: KLTV-Channel 7 from Tyler, KVTV-Channel 11 from Dallas and KSLA-Channel 12 from Shreveport/Texarkana. They came in only if the weather was cloudy, and the antenna was turned just right. My grandfather was the pressroom foreman for the Dallas Morning News, so we also used it as part of our window on the world.

Our nightly news came from Chet Huntley and David Brinkley or Walter Cronkite – and we trusted them. We followed the anchormen during political conventions and through the nightmare assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. We were with them in the rice patties of Viet Nam, and we traveled through space with them during man’s first walk on the moon.

The organizations Huntley, Brinkley and Cronkite worked for didn’t seem to be driven by ratings and the bottom line like today’s news outlets. Telling the truth was a virtue. Stating the facts without an editorial angle and letting the viewers decide for themselves were the first lessons taught in journalism class, and those rules was strictly observed when news was delivered, either in print or on the TV.

So, what happened to the truth and non-biased reporting? The need to feed a 24/7 news cycle is what happened. Immediate, late- breaking news became more important than a well-researched story, based on fact and then followed up with a view from both sides. Sensationalism crept into the mix as cable networks fought each other for ratings. Then, talk radio got into the game and the truth was forever lost as everyone took a stance.

During the past presidential election, it was nigh on impossible to find an un-biased news source.

Depending on where you directed the remote, Hillary Clinton was the heir-apparent to the highest position in the land; Mitt Romney was going to be the first Morman to live in the White House; John McCain’s campaign was over almost before it began; or that the young senator from Illinois was going to enter the fray before he was tested and ready to lead.

So, imagine how refreshing it is to find a thorough and totally engaging book that tells everyone’s story straight up, leaving the reader to decide what really happened to Hillary in Iowa; to McCain when he “went rogue” by picking Sarah Palin; or to Obama after the late Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts endorsed his candidacy.

In their book, “The Battle for America 2008: The Extraordinary Election,” veteran journalists Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson leave no stone unturned as they dissect the events leading up to the election of Barrack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

Balz, the lead reporter for the Washington Post, also serves as the paper’s national editor and White House correspondent. Balz wrote a book, “Storming the Gates: Protest Politics and the Republican Revival” with Ronald Brownstein in 1996.

In 1999, he received the American Political Science Association award for political coverage.

Haynes Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize winning author, having penned 14 books, five of them bestsellers.

Although both men have been on the political scene for many years, they were obviously aware of the impact this election would have on our nation.

“... Nothing has equaled this election for the richness of characters, for the light it sheds on questions of race, gender, religion, class, and generational changes, and for the stakes it raises for the future,” they write in the book’s forward. “...We were present at many of the scenes recounted in this narrative, and we conducted recorded interviews, covering hundreds of hours of conversations, with the principal players, their strategists and advisers, and the voters who rendered final judgment on those who won and lost.”

Balz and Johnson follow each party’s major candidates, sharing insider details and relaying the intrigue that goes on behind the scenes in every political campaign.

They give us a peek at the maneuvering the Clintons did in their failed attempt to win Kennedy’s endorsement. They uncover a marked contrast between Clinton’s decision to ignore the Iowa caucuses, while Obama hit the small state full force, all the while developing a volunteer-based effort that caught everyone by surprise with its efficiency.

The authors also look deep into the Republican side of the primaries, paying special attention to the early implosion of the McCain campaign, when everyone wrote him off, only to see him rise like the Phoenix he is.

They use a lot of ink detailing McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. By all accounts, Sen. Joe Lieberman was “the romantic pick,” but fears of a forced roll call on the convention floor knocked him out of contention in favor of either Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or Palin.

In the end, McCain asked his advisors, “What’s your bottom line [on Palin]?” They replied, “John, high risk, high reward,” to which McCain replied, “You shouldn’t have told me that. I’ve been a risk-taker all of my life.”

By carefully covering the campaigns for two years and by keeping their opinions out of the final product, Balz and Johnson offer readers a fair, balanced and totally compelling account of the 2008 presidential election, in spite of what CNBC, CNN, FOX, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Keith Obermann and Rachel Maddow have to say.

The Battle for America 2008: The story of an extraordinary election
Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson - Viking Publishers
390 pp. - $29.95.
Five out of five stars



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