Duffy, Michael 1958- (Michael Wolf Duffy)
Duffy, Michael 1958- (Michael Wolf Duffy)
Born September 7, 1958; married; children: three sons. Education: Oberlin College, B.A., 1980.
Defense Week, Washington, DC, military affairs reporter, 1980-85; Time (magazine), New York, NY, correspondent in Washington, DC, 1985-97, Washington, DC, bureau chief, 1997-2005; freelance reporter and writer, 2005—.
Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency, 1995; Goldsmith Award for Investigative Reporting (corecipient), Joan Shorenstein Center, 1998.
(With Dan Goodgame) Marching in Place: The Status Quo Presidency of George Bush, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992.
The Preacher and the Presidents was adapted as a one-hour television documentary, ABC-TV, 2007.
An Ohio native and Oberlin College graduate, journalist Michael Duffy became a Beltway specialist as a political correspondent and one-time Washington, DC, bureau chief for Time magazine. He got his start after college as a military affairs reporter for Defense Week and was hired by Time in 1985. As a transition from his earlier work, Duffy began at Time as a Pentagon correspondent. He "developed a reputation as a maverick," according to E. Bruce Hallett in a Time article, who could uncover deeply buried information, "most notably in 1986, when he broke the details of a top-secret U.S. attack on Libya 36 hours before the strike occurred." He also covered the 1986 presidential campaign and then settled in to cover the White House, beginning with the George H.W. Bush administration. Along with fellow Time journalist Dan Goodgame, he quickly learned the inner workings of the Bush presidency, and the pair became "the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid of the presidential beat," according to Time writer Elizabeth P. Valk. Duffy and Goodgame would write an unflattering portrait of the president in Marching in Place: The Status Quo Presidency of George Bush.
Marching in Place portrays the first President Bush as a man who did little to move the country forward and much to maintain power for the elite upper class from which he came. Duffy and Goodgame use evidence to counter Bush's claims that after graduating from Yale he led an independent life from his family. Rather, the reporters show, Bush landed an easy job with a Texas company owned by one of his father's friends, and he was given a car to drive and three hundred thousand dollars of starting-off money. The reporters continue to paint a picture of a man driven by the idea of winning at any cost, a politician who would reverse his position on a number of occasions for the sake of political expediency. On the other hand, the authors also show Bush to be a very congenial man on a personal level, one who was devoted to his family and conscientious of other people's feelings. In a New York Times Book Review assessment by Martin Tolchin, the critic faulted the authors for barely addressing such embarrassments as how the president's son Neil was involved in the savings and loan scandal, and that his brother Prescott also got caught in shady business practices. Overall, Tolchin labeled the book "evenhanded" and appreciated the authors' conclusion "that the President's slow response to the recession underscores his failure to appreciate the concerns of average Americans." Nevertheless, the president maintained fairly high approval ratings during his term. "[We] discovered that Bush was popular not despite his lack of action but because of it—and what's more, we learned it was largely by design," Duffy is quoted by Valk as saying. The authors correctly predicted, though, that Bush's policies could prevent him from gaining a second term in office.
With his next book, The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House, written with fellow Time editor Nancy Gibbs, Duffy follows the lengthy involvement of Protestant leader Billy Graham in the presidencies of Harry Truman through George W. Bush. The book offers insight into Graham's character and the question of the separation of church and state. Graham, who had refused to make public his private papers, nevertheless granted Duffy and Gibbs four interviews at his home in North Carolina. Newsweek reviewer Lisa Miller noted that many books and articles had already been written about Graham, and one "might imagine that there's nothing new to say about him." However, with "passionate inventiveness," she declared, the authors demonstrate a "peculiar gift among newsmagazine writers for being able to shape masses of complex and contradictory information into a compelling narrative."
With each president, Graham had a different relationship. Most, with the notable exception of fellow Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter, frequently sought Graham's spiritual guidance. There was also, however, a definite quid pro quo arrangement. As Christian Century contributor Michael G. Long remarked: "Graham was fully aware that presidential connections could give him access to areas often closed to missionaries (for example, India, South Africa and Russia), and presidents were delighted that Graham could give them an entree into the vast bloc of evangelical voters and could grant religious legitimacy to their candidacies, policies and wars." Graham is portrayed as a very supportive confidante to many of America's leaders, but also as a man not without flaws—in particular, his apparent attraction to power.
Duffy and Gibbs consider Graham's stubborn loyalty to Richard M. Nixon to have been his greatest blunder, but also one that the minister learned from. Graham stuck by Nixon through the Watergate scandal, believing in the president almost to the point of naivety, and the authors show Graham as being genuinely distressed upon hearing what was on the fallen president's secret tapes. After that experience, the authors relate, Graham was reluctant to get that close to a sitting president again. "Gibbs and Duffy make much of this change, even suggesting that it helped to save Graham's public image and ministry," explained Long. "But Graham did not always follow his own advice in the post-Nixon years—the vacations he took with the Bush family in Kennebunkport come to mind." Although not agreeing entirely with the authors on this one point, and being disappointed when the authors do not take Graham to task on his Vietnam position, Long considered The Preacher and the Presidents to be a "captivating narrative," especially appreciating the interviews with Graham that result in a work that is "one of the most significant contributions to the study of religion and politics in the United States in the 21st century." The authors "have done posterity immense (and very readable) service by chronicling Graham's devotion," Ray Olson similarly concluded in a Booklist review.
In 2005, Duffy resigned his post as Washington bureau chief for Time, deciding to devote himself to freelance work but promising to continue to contribute articles to Time. After reporting on two Bush administrations, the Clinton administration, two wars, a world-changing terrorist attack on U.S. territory, and an impeachment, he claimed to have become burned out. "I never expected history to be quiet," he told James Kelly in Time. "But I didn't expect it to be this raucous."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 2007, Ray Olson, review of The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House, p. 13.
Christian Century, December 11, 2007, "Pastor to Presidents," p. 42.
Newsweek, August 20, 2007, "The Pastor to the Presidents; a New Biography of Billy Graham Explores His Love for People and for Power," p. 19.
New York Times Book Review, September 20, 1999, Martin Tolchin, "The Winning Thing," review of Marching in Place: The Status Quo Presidency of George Bush.
Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1992, review of Marching in Place, p. 43; June 27, 2005, "Billy Grahammania Has Struck," p. 12; June 4, 2007, review of The Preacher and the Presidents, p. 44.
San Diego Business Journal, May 28, 2007, "Starmack Group," p. 36.
Time, January 30, 1989, "Time Magazine Has 2 New White House Correspondents," p. 5; October 15, 1990, "From the Publisher," p. 6; August 24, 1992, "From the Publisher," p. 4; January 25, 1993, "From the Publisher," p. 2; February 7, 1994, "To Our Readers," p. 4; June 2, 1997, "To Our Readers," p. 4; October 17, 2005, "Passing the Torch from Michael to Jay," p. 6; August 20, 2007, "Praying with Presidents," p. 6.
Washington Week,http://www.pbs.org/weta/washingtonweek/ (April 10, 2008), author profile.