Longtime crisis public relations pro Eric Dezenhall is so troubled with media character assassination that he’s written a novel about it, his 11th book.
And because he lives in Washington and thinks the national media are the experts at taking down those they don’t like, he set False Light in the nation’s capital.
“That’s kind of what is done here, and it’s all between Washington, D.C., journalists. I mean, it’s all set here,” said Dezenhall in a recent interview.
His just-out novel is a page-turning thriller that media consumers will devour because it features out-of-favor, old-school journalists, new-style gotcha reporters interested in getting on TV at any cost, and an abusive big shot editor that needs to go down.
And the type of character assassination that Dezenhall has been charting for years in the Washington P.R. business gave him the perfect plot to do that. And at the same time, it is giving him a chance to reveal what he thinks of Washington journalism.
“I’ve been teaming with and doing battle with the media for almost four decades,” he wrote at the end of the novel. While he is a strong supporter of the First Amendment, he said, “I also believe there is corruption in the media, supported by our laws, that allows them to become assassins and ideological warriors versus reporters of the news.”
But it’s broader, and he said that the character attacks spin out of control too fast and far in some cases.
“It’s become a tool, and Harvey Weinstein had his character assassinated, but he deserved to,” he said. “I think Harvey Weinstein needed to go down. I’m not so sure about [former Sen.] Al Franken,” he added.
His book suggests that fairness in media attacks is irrelevant, especially to reporters desperate to become famous. “It’s a story about character assassination. I mean, that’s the weapon of our age. You have a new generation of journalists who are basically saying, ‘Look, I just want to destroy somebody and get on TV and talk about it,’” he said.
Many in the former Trump administration would agree, and Dezenhall, a one-time Reagan aide who did not like Donald Trump, said they had a legitimate complaint against the White House press corps.
“They wanted this guy out,” he said of Trump.
He said that media bias isn’t always in how stories are written but what reporters and media outlets cover. For example, he cited the Hunter Biden scandals that got big coverage in conservative media but very little in legacy TV and print.
“The fact is is there was not an enormous appetite to look at it,” he said.
At the end of the book, in an interesting Q&A, he reveals that he has been at the receiving end of attacks similar to the plot of his book.
“Journalists have threatened me with ruin on several occasions by virtue of the controversial cases I’ve worked on, and I have seen how the press has free rein legally to take down whomever they don’t like,” he wrote.