Thu, Nov 06, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Book Review: All the Truth Is Out

Journalist Matt Bai examines the origin of the US media’s obsession with political scandals in his new book ‘All the Truth Is Out’ by situating the Gary Hart scandal as the major turning point

By Michiko Kakutani  /  NY Times News Service

Many of the attributes Bai praises in Hart mirror Clintonian qualities touted by the former president’s supporters — most notably, a gift for connecting “politics and culture and theology and history and technology seamlessly and all at once.” He also describes Hart as “the young, forward-thinking alternative to his party’s aging liberal establishment” in terms that make him sound uncannily like a harbinger of Clinton, who would evince a centrist “third way,” breaking with Democratic Party orthodoxy.

Crash and Burn

Why did Hart’s political career crash and burn, while Bill Clinton survived the Monica Lewinsky follies to become one of America’s most popular politicians?

Bai does a deft job here of parsing the dynamics between personality and politics, noting that Hart could be stubborn and arrogant — traits that did not serve him well with either the public or the press.

In the years since the Hart scandal, much has been written about the blurring of lines between news and entertainment and even more has been written about what Clinton has called “the politics of personal destruction.” Perhaps the Gary Hart story is more a point on a curve than an actual hinge moment. In these pages, Bai adroitly shows us how an array of forces was converging to change the dynamics of political coverage — most notably, a post-Watergate eagerness on the part of reporters to expose politicians’ secrets; satellite technology and cable news that would put politics on a 24/7 cycle; and a growing impulse in popular culture “toward gossip and ridicule.”

“What you can see now, some 25 years on,” he writes, “is that a series of powerful, external forces in the society were colliding by the late 1980s, and this was creating a dangerous vortex on the edge of our politics. Hart didn’t create that vortex. He was, rather, the first to wander into its path.”

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