Book Review: “All The Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” By Matt Bai (2014, 288 Pages)
It could have been a really good book.
“All The Truth Is Out” explores the causes and consequences of the sex scandal that forced Gary Hart, the front-runner in the 1988 presidential election, to withdraw from the race.
The book mixes investigative journalism on the scandal itself and in-depth analysis on the evolution of political coverage by news media over the last fifty years. Matt Bai’s thesis is that Hart’s scandal gave birth to tabloid politics.
Bai’s investigation is very interesting – especially for news junkies – and his thoughts on the evolution of media are often convincing. That’s why “All The Truth Is Out” could have been a really good book.
Unfortunately, it suffers from three major deficiencies:
- He defends Gary Hart to the point where his bias affects the objectivity of his work. Thereby, Matt Bai once again demonstrates that blind defenders are the worst advocates. Unlike other politicians (Bill Clinton, for example), his arrogance and vanity prevented Gary Hart from redeeming his mistakes. Yet, Bai victimizes him throughout the book.
- Bai defines a global, all-encompassing theory of media evolution and connects every bit of information to this paradigm. Again, this is undermining the credibility of his thesis because he ignores other factors. This is, for example, the case of his assessment of the presidential candidates who came after Hart (Bill Clinton, John Kerry, George W. Bush, John McCain, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney…). Bai reduces them to their relations with the tabloid news media without considering other strategic or tactical factors. Incidentally, Bai and Hart share a significant contempt for their contemporaries; this doesn’t make this book enjoyable.
- “All The Truth Is Out” is full of contradictions – I will only mention three examples. While criticizing the excessive role of character evaluation in the political media coverage, he accuses Mitt Romney of being “too dull and earnest to be in any way vulnerable on the character issue” and condemns Bill Clinton for his “sexual personality disorder.” He gives the impression, in a conversation with Gary Hart, of thinking that the best political minds tend to have character issues. And he reduces Obama to his star power without considering the political and societal message embodied by him during his first run for the White House.
I know the work involved in writing a book and I do not like to give poor reviews to the books I read. But, in this case, I think it is justified.