David Greenberg

Speech Topics

In this talk, based on his book Republic of Spin—a vivid history covering more than a hundred years of politics—presidential historian David Greenberg recounts the rise of the White House spin machine, from Teddy Roosevelt to Barack Obama. In a sweeping, startling narrative, David will take you behind the scenes to see how the tools and techniques of image making and message craft work.

You’ll meet Woodrow Wilson convening the first White House press conference, Franklin Roosevelt huddling with his private pollsters, Ronald Reagan’s aides crafting his nightly-news sound bites, and George W. Bush staging his “Mission Accomplished” photo-op. You’ll also meet the backstage visionaries who pioneered new ways of gauging public opinion and mastering the media—figures like George Cortelyou, TR’s brilliantly efficient press manager; 1920s ad whiz Bruce Barton; Robert Montgomery, Dwight Eisenhower’s canny TV coach; and of course the key spinmeisters of our own times, from Roger Ailes to David Axelrod.

In chronicling this forgotten history, Greenberg also examines the profound debates Americans have waged over the effect of spin on our politics. Does spin help our leaders manipulate the citizenry? Or does it allow them to engage us more fully in the democratic project? Exploring the ideas of the century’s most incisive political critics, from Walter Lippmann and H. L. Mencken to Hannah Arendt to Stephen Colbert, David Greenberg will illuminate both the power of spin and its limitations—its capacity not only to mislead but also to lead.

In this talk, presidential historian and media expert David Greenberg, author of the prize-winning history Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency, explains how changes in the media landscape enabled the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump—and how Trump’s actions and singular personality promise to change that landscape even more.
In the past, plenty of presidents battled with the White House correspondents who covered them, and Greenberg reviews the rise of an adversarial relationship between the president and the press since the 1960s. But while some of Trump’s predecessors overstepped constitutional lines, not even Richard Nixon launched his presidency with a declaration of warfare against the news media writ large.
Greenberg’s talk weaves together several long-brewing trends that made conditions in 2016 ripe for Trump’s ascent. On television, punditry displaced reporting, showering attention on candidates who make outrageous statements that can be argued about incessantly. Partisan journalism—talk radio, cable news outlets, internet sites—dispensed with the old norms of objectivity and verification, creating bubbles in which consumers encounter only opinions that confirm and inflame their beliefs. Twitter created a space for a candidate given to impulsive and emotional outbursts of opinion—a space Trump readily filled.
Trump has already used the influence of the White House to try to create an alternative reality in which fringe beliefs and conspiracy theories enjoy credibility. Greenberg reviews strategies for how journalists—and citizens—can continue to establish objective truth in the face of partisan spin and misinformation. 


Donald Trump has been portrayed as a clown, a showman, an opportunist, a faux conservative, and an egomaniac bent on power and glory—but rarely as a man with an intelligible ideology. In this talk, presidential historian David Greenberg, author of Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency, traces the neglected intellectual traditions behind the policies that helped Trump win election and that he means to implement as president.
Greenberg reviews the rise of the conservative movement after World War II. The war discredited previous right-wing beliefs, including isolationism, protectionism, and racial hierarchy. It wasn’t always evident to liberals, but conservative leaders, from William F. Buckley to Ronald Reagan, policed their movement’s boundaries excluding and at times excommunicating those who openly trafficked in anti-Semitism or “Fortress America” rhetoric. But these ideas were kept alive by figures like Pat Buchanan and Phyllis Schlafly and in the 1980s cohered into a minority strain of thought on the right called “paleoconservatism.”
Greenberg explains how three momentous events of the 21st century reinvigorated paleoconservatism. First, the invasion of Iraq undermined conservative support for the hawkish foreign policy that had been Republican orthodoxy since Reagan. Second, the 2008 crash undercut the enthusiasm for the free trade pacts and support for Wall Street that market conservatives promoted. Third, Obama’s election—and the prospect that whites would soon constitute a minority in a multiracial, polyglot society—inspired a backlash among newly racially conscious whites. These conditions conspired in 2016 to make the unlikely candidacy of Donald Trump possible.



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David Greenberg is a professor of History at Rutgers University and a frequent commentator in the national news media on contemporary politics and public affairs. He specializes in American political and cultural history. He has just published Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency (W.W. Norton), a history of the White House spin machine.

Prof. Greenberg’s first book, Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (W.W. Norton, 2003) won the Washington Monthly Annual Political Book Award, the American Journalism History Award, and Columbia University’s Bancroft Dissertation Award. Calvin Coolidge (Henry Holt), a biography for the American Presidents Series, was published in December 2006 and appeared on the Washington Post’s list of best books of 2007. Presidential Doodles (Basic Books, 2006) was widely reviewed and featured on CNN, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and CBS’s “Sunday Morning.”

Formerly a full-time journalist, Prof. Greenberg has served as managing editor and acting editor of The New Republic, where was a contributing editor until 2014. Early in his career, he was the assistant to author Bob Woodward on The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House (Simon & Schuster, 1994). He has also been a regular contributor to Slate since its founding and has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Daedalus, Dissent, Raritan, and many other scholarly and popular publications. His awards and honors include the Hiett Prize in 2008, given each year to a single junior scholar in the humanities whose work has had a public influence; a fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and the Rutgers University Board of Trustees Research Fellowship for Scholarly Excellence. He graduated from Yale, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and earned his PhD from Columbia.

He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Suzanne Nossel, who is executive director of PEN America, and their children, Leo and Liza.

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