OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

David Greenberg

Portrait of David Greenberg

David Greenberg is an associate professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. A frequent commentator in the national news media on contemporary politics and public affairs, he is the author most recently of Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency (2016). His first book, Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (2003), won the Washington Monthly's Annual Political Book Award, the American Journalism Historians Association's Book of the Year Award, and Columbia University’s Bancroft Dissertation Award. His biography Calvin Coolidge (2006) was included in the Washington Post’s list of best books of the year. His Presidential Doodles (2006) was widely reviewed and featured on cnn, npr's All Things Considered, and CBS Sunday Morning. Formerly a full-time journalist, Greenberg served as managing editor and acting editor of the New Republic, where he was a contributing editor until 2014. 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 popular and scholarly publications.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

The talk surveys the role of spin in American politics from Theodore Roosevelt to the present day. It starts with TR's efforts to make the presidency the seat of policymaking by galvanizing public opinion on behalf of his causes and looks at the innovations in practice and method that developed over the decades. It also examines the public reactions to these developments, showing the concerns about spin to be, at bottom, concerns about democracy.
Today our political culture is pervaded by a widespread distrust of political messages and disdain for what we call spin. The lecture traces the roots of this suspicion to the First World War, when propaganda--from both the European belligerents and the American government--led to a backlash against the very use of propaganda. The talk traces how this suspicion became so debilitating that it discouraged Americans from taking seriously the Nazi threat until the eve of World War II.
The talk examines the enduring popularity of John F. Kennedy alongside revisionist scholarship that JFK was not a liberal. Arguing with these fashionable academic trends, it connects Kennedy's belief in a strong presidency and affirmative government to the strong public trust in government that prevailed in his day and that would precipitously fall with Vietnam and Watergate, never to fully recover.
The talk explores the debates about democracy in the 1920s, when many thinkers questioned the viability of government that rested on mass public opinion. It debunks that idea that the columnist Walter Lippmann was in a "debate" with the philosopher John Dewey, showing instead that Lippmann's intellectual adversary was the nihilistic, anti-democratic provocateur H.L. Mencken.
Examining politics, journalism, and popular culture, the talk addresses Nixon's changing image and public reputation during his long and controversial career as well as during his post-resignation campaign for rehabilitation. It seeks to rebut the notion that Nixon made a comeback, arguing for the durability of Watergate as his central legacy.