Of course, as any newspaper editor will tell you, “Same as it ever was” isn’t a great headline. “The Influencing Machine” doesn’t break new ground. Starting with ancient Guatemala, where she says Mayan scribes wrote “primordial P.R.,” Gladstone takes us through touchstones familiar to any Journalism 101 student: the explosion of newspapers after the American Revolution, William Randolph Hearst’s yellow journalism, Watergate, and the invasion of Iraq. She also offers tired Jon Stewartesque gripes about partisan cable-news bloviators.
Here’s where the illustrations help. Josh Neufeld, veteran illustrator of topical graphic novels such as “A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge” and “9-11: Emergency Relief,” makes Gladstone’s arguments about, for example, the unreliability of polls, more memorable. Poll-hating isn’t novel – John Allen Paulos, for one, outlined arguments against surveys almost 20 years ago in “A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper.” Still, it’s easier to wade through a statistical discussion accompanied by Gladstone’s curly-haired avatar, which Neufeld supplies with a Sherlock Holmes cap and magnifying glass in one panel where she takes on NBC’s Chris Hansen.