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Book Review: "The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina"
By Kirkus Reviews
July 12, 2006

NEW YORK A new book by New York Times columnist Frank Rich, "The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina" will be published by Penguin on Sept. 26. In the book, Rich delivers a savaging sermon on the US government's "rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of 'compassionate conservativism,' the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts"—and so much more.

Anyone who knows his work will know that Rich is no fan of either George Bush, a man "not conversant with reality as most Americans had experienced it," or the Bush administration. In this blend of journalism and mentalits-style history—that is, the study of the mindsets that underlie and produce events—Rich looks closely and critically at the White House's greatest hits, from the 2001 defense of gas-guzzling as essential to the American way of life to "Heckuva job, Brownie" to the ongoing morass of Iraq.

By Rich's account, of course, that parade of missteps is organic; Bush and company cannot help but err. In an effort to disguise that track record, the Republicans have exercised single-minded control of the grand narrative of the last five years, at least in part because they have exercised quasi-totalitarian control over the news media. (They are nearly forgotten already, but one needs to remember Judith Miller, Jeff Gannon, Karen Ryan and various columnists and commentators paid off to repeat the party line.)

Not for nothing did a White House adviser reveal to one journalist that his bosses were set on creating their "own reality," one that all Americans were expected to share; not for nothing did that reality include spinning amazing lies about everything from the death of football- and war hero Pat Tillman to the kidnapping of Jessica Lynch to the government's preparedness for Katrina. And yet, and yet . . .

Though the administration may be remembered as the worst in American history, the people seem mostly silent. One wishes that Rich had explored that particular mentalit along with the others he so fluently discusses.

(Courtesy of Kirkus Reviews, one of E&P's sister publications at VNU.)

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