Wednesday, April 06, 2011

White House Biographies?

Ever think the White House biographies are a bit "white washed?" Well, you are not alone. This article quotes several historians who critique these biographies:
Doris Kearns Goodwin has read a lot of upbeat material about American presidents, but some of the entries on the White House website were so sunny that they reminded her of the happy talk at Boston Red Sox games.

So what are some of the critiques of these biographies?
George W. Bush's entry, for example, makes no reference to Hurricane Katrina or the economic collapse of 2008, but does find room for the names of his dogs. Ronald Reagan's biography does not mention the Iran-Contra scandal, which made headlines during his second term. Gerald Ford's 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon is noted in a few words, with nothing about the fierce criticism it received. Vietnam is included on Lyndon Johnson's page but not his fateful decision to send ground troops.

Thomas Jefferson is introduced as a "powerful advocate of liberty" who "inherited some 5,000 acres of land," but is not identified as an owner of slaves. Andrew Jackson's page says virtually nothing about his advocacy of slavery or harsh treatment of American Indians. The life of William Henry Harrison, a military commander who became the ninth president, is narrated as a valiant crusade against Indians.

The biographies were also critiqued for political incorrectness (example: using the word Negroes), leaving out essential information (example: nothing on the election of 2000 in Bush's entry), or overly personal versus political entries.

The White House did not comment on the white, but a spokesperson said it would be looked into. The biographies were originally written in 1964 and meant, in the words of Jackie Kennedy,"to provide a brief, popular historical sketch to accompany the images of the official White House portraits and meant to enhance the public's enjoyment of their White House tour."

A quote by Eric Foner is a good way to sum this up:
One would have to think about the purpose of the White House biographies. If the purpose is simply to instill admiration for all American presidents, it's working. If the purpose is to give citizens a realistic sense of the presidents, it's not working.

Thanks to Greg, at History Buff Wannabe for the link.

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