"Fat Man Fed Up: How American Politics Went Bad"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie SEP 16, 2004)
Jack Germond has been one of my favorite political reporters for years. Germond is the "fat man" of the title. And he IS fed up with American electoral politics. As a newspaperman he covered national politics since the 1960 presidential election. He spent 20 years covering the political arena for the Gannett Newspapers, the Washington Star and the Baltimore Sun. I used to listen to his commentary regularly on the Today Show, The McLaughlin Group, and Inside Washington and, now that he has retired, I miss his punditry. I picked up a copy of his recent book Fat Man Fed Up: How American Politics Went Bad, because I too am fed up and believe that today's politics are as bad as I have experienced - and I clearly remember some rotten political abuses in the 1960s and 70s. Germond addresses the decline of substance, civility and integrity in politics today. And he certainly doesn't disappoint readers with this scathing, witty, insightful assessment.
Fat Man Fed Up tackles problems that other journalists seem reluctant to address. Indeed he believes that one of the reasons politics has gone bad is because journalists have allowed it to. He laments that most newspapers seem to have lost interest in politics, while talk radio and cable TV news have increased divisiveness and partisanship in the country. Mr. Germond responds to complaints of liberal bias in the media and points out that these complaints "miss the real point." He questions if the bias actually exists, and if so, whether it colors the way editors and reporters work. Germond takes today's press to task for its failure to accurately portray prominent political figures - from Barbara Bush to Al Sharpton. Politicians and the media are criticized for their use and abuse of political polls to mislead uninformed and gullible voters.
Germond also holds forth on the extraordinary influence of TV on the electorate, and campaign coverage driven by sound bites. He reminds the reader that the TV networks control dialogue and all but the most simplistic, shallow political coverage is provided. Given that many Americans are not particularly knowledgeable or politically savvy, candidates and their managers know how to manipulate them. Meanwhile, Germond writes, the media focuses on all the wrong things - meaningless polls and meaningless scandals. I recently heard him cite the coverage given to whether John Kerry threw away his Vietnam War medals or his ribbons during a demonstration that occurred over 30 years ago. "Who cares?" he asks. Politics today, he claims, is built on television, money, and celebrity. Germond also blasts "the big lie" school of campaigning - where empty slogans and noise sell the candidates.
What I most enjoy about this book, however, are not the problems Germond discusses, but the wonderful anecdotes - the juicy tidbits - he supplies to illustrate his points. Most of these are drawn from his own experiences.
This is much more than the usual election year publication. Fat Man Fed Up is a memoir of sorts, of and by a reporter who has seen it all and offers you his memories, close up and personal, of past presidential candidates, elections and our political process. Mr. Germond's prose is a wonderful example of the plain style in American journalism. He conveys both facts and opinions in a crisp, concise manner, unadorned with spin or hype. He has a wonderful way with words and his prose is a pleasure to read. Pertinent, highly readable and, at times, outrageous, this book is difficult to put down. Highly recommended!
- Amazon readers rating: from 8 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Fat man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics (January 2002)
- Fat man Fed Up: How American Politics Went Bad (July 2004)
With Jules Witcover:
- Wake Us When It's Over: Presidential Politics of 1984
- Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency, 1988
- Mad as Hell: Revolt at the Ballot Box, 1992
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- AJR review of Fat Man in the Middle Seat
- The Early Show on Fat Man, Fed Up
- St. Louis Today review of Fat Man, Fed Up
- AlterNet on Fat Man, Fed Up
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About the Author:
Jack Germond been a political columnist for the Baltimore Sun, the Gannett bureau chief in Washington, and a columnist and editor for the late Washington Star. He first appeared on Meet the Press in 1972 and has been a regular on the Today show, CNN, and The McLaughlin Group. He now serves as a panelist on Inside Washington and writes occasional newspaper pieces.
Jack and his wife Alice live in Charles Town, West Virginia on a bend of the Shenandoah River.