Furiously paced real-life thriller set in 1970s Hollywood
4/5 FSG This furiously paced real-life thriller will make you ache for Hollywood’s ’70s-era boldness (All the President’s Men’s Alan J Pakula would have crafted a killer movie out of this). Mark Feldstein’s multi-decade history works as both gripping drama and darkly funny analysis; at its core is the tangle between two dirty tricksters – one, a paranoid president; the other, a nationally syndicated columnist. As early as the HUAC hearings, Richard Nixon (then a junior representative) was already scrapping with limelight-seeking cub reporter Jack Anderson over damage control, an uncivil relationship that would end up defining their egos.
Feldstein never loses sight of a delicious irony: Nixon’s hobbling certainty that he was being singled out by spiteful journalists might have been completely justified, given Anderson’s shark-like viciousness – the writer wasn’t above making bribes or playing hardball. Poisoning the Press lacks the big-picture clarity of Rick Perlstein’s essential Nixonland, a larger statement on the rise of gossip politics. A more elegant author would have also teased out the unspoken affinity between the two schemers. But by the time we’re with Nixon in the Oval Office, as he swears up a storm and investigates the possibility of rubbing out a member of the press with a drug overdose, you simply can’t deny Feldstein’s verve. Backstabbing is endemic to life in Washington DC, but it sure sounded a lot meatier back in the day.