What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

Updated 15 October 2018

What We Are Reading Today: Debating War and Peace by Jonathan Mermin

  • Mermin shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news
  • The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations

The First Amendment ideal of an independent press allows American journalists to present critical perspectives on government policies and actions; but are the media independent of government in practice? Here Jonathan Mermin demonstrates that when it comes to military intervention, journalists over the past two decades have let the government itself set the terms and boundaries of foreign policy debate in the news.

Analyzing newspaper and television reporting of US intervention in Grenada and Panama, the bombing of Libya, the Gulf War, and US actions in Somalia and Haiti, he shows that if there is no debate over US policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news. 

Journalists often criticize the execution of US policy, but fail to offer critical analysis of the policy itself if actors inside the government have not challenged it. Mermin ultimately offers concrete evidence of outside-Washington perspectives that could have been reported in specific cases, and explains how the press could increase its independence of Washington in reporting foreign policy news. 

The author constructs a new framework for thinking about press-government relations, based on the observation that bipartisan support for US intervention is often best interpreted as a political phenomenon, not as evidence of the wisdom of US policy. Journalists should remember that domestic political factors often influence foreign policy debate. The media, Mermin argues, should not see a Washington consensus as justification for downplaying critical perspectives.


What We Are Reading Today: Catching the Wind by Neal Gabler

Updated 01 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Catching the Wind by Neal Gabler

In the tradition of the works of Robert Caro and Taylor Branch, Catching the Wind is the first volume of Neal Gabler’s magisterial two-volume biography of Edward Kennedy. 

It is at once a human drama, a history of American politics in the late-20th and early-21st centuries, and a study of political morality and the role it played in the tortuous course of liberalism.

By the time Kennedy died, in August 2009, he had represented Massachusetts in the US Senate for nearly 47 years — longer than any of his brothers had lived. 

He was eulogized as one of the most important legislators in American history, an assessment reflecting not only the affection he enjoyed on both sides of the aisle, but also genuine awe at his achievements. 

“In this sweeping biography,  Gabler tells a story that is Shakespearean in its dimensions: The story of a star-crossed figure who rises above his seeming limitations and the tragedy that envelopes him to change the face of America,” said a review in goodreads.com.