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Joe Hallett Book Review
“I really enjoyed Front Row Seat at the Circus!

During an Ohio Statehouse interview about presidential politics with Doris Kearns Goodwin, the famed author and historian, Jim Heath’s own past suddenly caught up with the moment.

“It hit me: I’ve been face-to-face with all the modern-day Americans who want to be president,” Heath marvels in his new book, Front Row Seat at The Circus: One Journalist’s Journey through two Presidential Elections.

“How many Americans have looked these leaders in the eye and asked them about the future of our country?”

Heath had spent the 2008 and 2012 election cycles training his television cameras on the likes of Democrats Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and John Edwards, and Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.

And he did so not by skulking the hustings with TV network reporters endlessly begging for a minute of face time with a candidate, but by sitting back in South Carolina and Ohio. When you are chief political reporter for a television station in a battleground state, the candidates come to you.

Heath spent six years at WPDE-TV in Myrtle Beach before joining WBNS-10TV in Columbus where he mainly covered politics and anchored Capitol Square, a Sunday morning politics show.

The dozens of interviews he recounts with presidential wanna-bes are interesting enough, but he enhances them with prescient historical context and analysis to transport readers back to the thick of campaigns.

He tells of his surprise when he was informed that a joint-interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards would not be possible, and the nagging unease he felt as he sat down separately with a husband and wife who seemed to say all the right things by rote.

“What we didn’t know at the time is that she was fully aware that her ‘fully supportive husband’ was having an ongoing affair with a former campaign videographer that threatened to destroy his presidential ambitions.”

Heath’s anecdotes include Obama’s growing anger about an interview going too long, Clinton’s proficiency at “interview tennis” when he asked about her husband’s affairs, and how he was thrust into the eye of a media storm after asking Romney an innocent question.

A native of Van Wert who moved to Arizona at age 6, Heath forthrightly tackles media bias, revealing his own conversion to political objectivity after being elected the youngest Republican county chairman in Arizona history.

“It was actually quite easy having never been particularly ideological,” he wrote. 

Joe Hallett is the former Senior Editor and Chief Political Reporter at the Columbus Dispatch


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