In "Alpha Dogs," London Times editor James Harding investigates the Americanization of global politics and points to a culprit: the Sawyer Miller Group. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, the U.S. firm packaged and sold foreign politicians like consumer goods. Harding spoke with NEWSWEEK's Tony Dokoupil.
You call this book an "archeology of the present." What did you dig up?
Managers, speechwriters, pollsters and get-out-the-vote specialists have more power than we'd like to admit—and a substantial impact on election outcomes. This is the political equivalent of "the medium is the message": communication is the candidate.
How is that Sawyer Miller's fault?
Sawyer Miller pioneered the field of political consulting … They brought the new marketing techniques of Madison Avenue to work in politics. They framed the message; they made over the candidate's image; they peddled spin; they generally encouraged their people to go negative; they polled relentlessly; they emphasized personal character over policy. And it worked: they won and their techniques have become the standard playbook for any politician seeking high office.
Has democracy been cheapened as a result?
The people at Sawyer Miller started out as idealists. They believed that clever messaging and the savvy use of TV would break politics out of the smoke-filled backrooms and engage people … Instead, politicians appeared more slick, more prone to sound bites and, courtesy of the relentless stage management, more phony.