Be warned up front Robert M. Entman’s Scandal and Silence: Media Responses to Presidential Misconduct is not for the faint of vocabulary.
The start of the book reads like the introduction to a graduate paper, which could scare off the average reader. The writing seems to become less dense once the introductory chapter ends though.
Assuming that the reader doesn’t fear the discussion of methods, a few tables, and the multiple hypotheses, what the book eventually settles down into is a challenging of the conventional wisdom that depicts the print and broadcast media as scandal hawks that media crave and actively pursue scandals whenever they sense corruption. Entman’s thesis breaks down into four main points:
• Media neglect most corruption, providing too little, not too much, scandal coverage.
• Scandals arise from rational controlled processes, not emotional frenzies- and when scandals occur it’s not media but government and political parties that drive the process.
• Significant scandals are difficult for news organizations to initiate, sustain, and bring to closure.
• For these reasons cover ups and lying often work, while truth remains unrecorded and unremembered.
The period covered by the study is 1988-2008, though Iran-Contra and the grandfather of modern political scandal, Watergate, is covered. These earlier scandals in spite of their magnitude serve to support the Entman thesis.
It’s a difficult thesis to accept because its such a contrast to what we see every day in our newspapers and television. The image of the corruption infested politician is part of American culture. But Entman does a solid job of laying out this challenging thesis in a rational way without jarring the reader.