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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House » User review

Just as he wasn't

  • Nov 28, 2007
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Given the enormous financial and investigative resources available to Time magazine reporters Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, it shouldn't be too much to expect historical accuracy in this biography. Then again, Time has been an uncritical cheerleader for Graham's ministry since the day in 1950 when publisher Henry Luce visited the young minister, then a houseguest at South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond's mansion, and decided to join William Randolph Hearst's efforts to "puff Graham." Time has a substantial investment in Graham's ministry, having run more than 600 stories about his career.
Unfortunately, historical accuracy isn't one of the strong points of a book that is otherwise a pleasant enough read. People make mistakes, of course, but when they tend to fall in the same direction, one begins to suspect a hidden agenda. On the other hand, simple sloppiness can't be ruled out, as when they place Graham at Bob Jones College in Greenville, S.C., for his first year of higher education. When Graham dropped out during his freshman year that school was located in Cleveland, Tenn. The subtitle tells you all you need to know about the story between the covers. The book begins with Graham's rocky relationship with Harry S. Truman and ends with his fatherly embrace of George W. Bush. Those attracted to the preacher will find nothing to dislike, but also little that is new. This is the same generous tale told by Graham's publicity team in countless books, articles, movies, advertisements, TV appearances and, of course, crusades. According to this account, from Eisenhower forward, all of the presidents have sought Graham's counsel in varying degrees, and discovered a deep well of comfort and spiritual wisdom. The authors make mild forays into Graham's political mistakes and spend a long while on his purported close friendship with and later betrayal by Nixon, but the poking is gentle and Graham emerges as an older but wiser hero.
The mistakes and omissions are telling, however. Careful to paint Nixon as the agent of darkness, they write: "The beloved Ike, Nixon charged, was `a far more complex and devious man than most people realized.'" Thus they imply that Nixon was even nasty to sweet old Dwight Eisenhower. But this can only be a deliberate misquote. In his book Six Crises Nixon actually concluded the sentence "and in the best sense of those words." His intention was to PRAISE Eisenhower.
It is important for Nixon to be the sinner because the preacher the authors have chosen to present was supposedly suckered into long-term support for Tricky Dick, and was devastated when he learned that Nixon had deceived him. Much to Graham's enduring dismay, his back-room politicking had been tape-recorded and would come back to embarrass him over and over again through ensuing years. Nor have all of Nixon's notorious tapes yet been released. Graham's support for civil rights is painted as enthusiastic and heartfelt, but his actual record is far from clear. The authors repeat Graham's assertion that Martin Luther King, Jr., endorsed his arms-length approach to integration, without corroborating evidence, and neglect Graham's reaction to "I Have a Dream" in 1963. Graham conducted a press conference the next morning and said, "Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children."
Concerning King the authors also claim that he delivered volumes by Gandhi disguised in Billy Graham book jackets to imprisoned Freedom Riders in Mississippi. This is another example of either the authors' incautious research or eagerness to hitch Graham's wagon to King's star. According to Taylor Branch, writing in Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years 1963-65 (America in the King Years) (which the authors cite as their reference), the transporter of disguised books was Rev. Edwin King, a white preacher of no known relation to MLK.
Lest it be overlooked elsewhere as it is in THE PREACHER AND THE PRESIDENTS, Graham's nonprofit enterprises have profited nicely from the high profile that presidential palavering has, in no small part, afforded him. While his annual personal income from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association only totalled a bit over $500,000 in recent years, he enjoyed a well-appointed "log cabin" estate in Montreat, N.C., with high tech communications gear and an indoor swimming pool, a vacation home in the posh country club community of Pauma Valley, California, and controlled tax-exempt properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars in North Carolina alone. Nor do these figures include income from books, recordings and television appearances, and may not include the receipts of the individual LLCs created for each of his crusades. To top it off, he bragged that he "never paid for a suit or a hotel room," though he seems to have preferred lodging in various mansions, both public and private, to the common discomforts of life in commercial rooms. THE PREACHER AND THE PRESIDENTS offers comforting fiction disguised as history. It is, without doubt, a book written for believers.

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More The Preacher and the President... reviews
review by . November 12, 2007
I bought this book for my dad and he raved about it so much, I borrowed it back. Billy Graham is an icon, a man of deep faith whose counsel has been sought by Presidents and world leaders. Although a Baptist, Graham has the unique ability to transcend that barrier when dealing with people of differing religions. He is a man who appeals to all, no matter their faith, ecoclass, or race. The book provides an intriguing peek into one man's impact on presidencies through the years, his insight into his …
review by . August 31, 2007
Gibbs and Duffy, editors at Time, detail a half-century of Evangelist Billy Graham's spiritual direction of eleven American presidents. From Harry Truman to George W. Bush, Graham was both spiritual friend and personal friend to all of them (excepting Truman). With insights culled from historical records and interviews with Graham himself, "The Preacher and the Presidents" treads new ground in describing the nature of Graham's ministry to each of these "most important men in the world." What is …
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Cecil Bothwell ()
Ranked #684
Writer, publisher, Asheville City Council member, builder, gardener.
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*Starred Review* Despite Kennedy-era bigots' fears, the only clergyman to visit the White House regularly has been a minister of the major Protestant denomination historically most committed to separation of church and state, the Baptists. Veteran Time staffers Gibbs and Duffy's sympathetic history of evangelist Billy Graham's relations with every U.S. president since Truman testifies that, although sorely tempted by intense interest in politics and political leadership, Graham crossed the line of that separation only in his friendship with Richard Nixon. When he realized Nixon's duplicity and his own susceptibility to political seduction, Graham determined to be strictly a spiritual counselor to political leaders. In that capacity, he earlier served Eisenhower and Johnson, and later, Reagan, both Bushes, and both Clintons, all of whom acknowledged deep appreciation (that he likewise counseled Nixon after the latter's downfall speaks volumes about Graham's character). Kennedy wasn't much interested, Ford infrequently consulted him, and Carter was sufficiently spiritually grounded not to resort to Graham's counsel. But called upon or not, Graham was always available to the president and always prayed for him. Gibbs and Duffy have done posterity immense (and very readable) service by chronicling Graham's devotion. Olson, Ray
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Details

ISBN-10: 1599957345
ISBN-13: 978-1599957340
Author: Nancy Gibbs
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Publisher: Center Street
First to Review
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