In honor of President’s Day, I have posted a review of a reporter’s fascinating memoir from the 1972 presidential “Watergate break-in” campaign between President Nixon and Senator McGovern.
Be aware, my weekly blog will now be an every other week blog as I set forth on my next book, Black Spring – the story of baseball’s integration of spring training.
When Theodore White published his iconic The Making of the President 1960, no one could have predicted its unintended consequences.
Up until the publication of White’s book, the public had little knowledge of what really took place on the presidential campaign trail. It was understood by most reporters that coverage of the candidates was limited to public functions. By documenting the day-to-day, hour-by-hour private conversations and movements of the candidates in a full-length narrative, White, whether he realized it or not, forever altered the reporting of campaigns for the nation’s highest office.
While White’s book on the 1960 election was viewed as cutting edge when it was released, his subsequent books (the elections of 1964, 1968 and 1972), which were written in a similar tone and style, were deemed by his younger and more aggressive contemporaries as antiquated and benign.
When his final campaign book was published, the public was not as interested in what he had to report. Americans didn’t have to wait for “Teddy White’s book [to] come out.” The stories that White included had already run in the daily paper or on the six o’clock news.
In contrast to White’s work, in The Boys on The Bus (1973), Timothy Crouse did not focus primarily on candidates and campaigns, but instead explored how news was gathered and reported during the presidential contest of 1972. The investigative journalism that White had pioneered more than a decade before, Crouse demonstrated, was now standard practice in the field. Nothing was off limits to reporters — a candidate’s family, his donors, blunders, even medical history.
In fact, the major scandal of the 1972 campaign was not about a candidate’s voting record or fraudulent activity at the polls, but the Democrat Party’s vice presidential nominee’s medical issues. Only a decade earlier, this topic would have most likely been swept under the rug. Not in today’s media orbit.
As Senator George McGovern waivered on how to handle his running mate’s decision to receive electro shock treatment for depression years earlier, reporters were out in force, investigating every possible fact about the nominee, Thomas Eagleton. It was apparent to everyone (eventually, McGovern himself) that Eagleton would be compelled to resign from the ticket, which he did.
Interestingly, Crouse, who joined his fellow Rolling Stone colleague Hunter Thompson on the campaign trail, reminded the reader what life was like before technological gadgetry dominated our lives.
Forty years ago there was no CNN, Twitter, The Daily Beast, Politico, or Fox News. It was an era when newspapers were still dominant and carried both a morning and an evening edition. Reporters didn’t email their stories to their editors, but wired it via Western Union, or, if they were in a time crunch, over the phone by reciting it verbatim. Television news was still evolving, doing its best to ward off its kinks as one camera operator experienced before a shoot: `”Oh, Christ, we ran out of film!”
Despite the technological advancements, there’s still a lot that hasn’t changed.
Political conventions, for example, served no formal purpose than to boost media ratings for the networks and newspapers (sound familiar?). Time still outsold (the now defunct) Newsweek. And Infighting within a candidate’s campaign resulted in the frontrunner, Maine Senator Ed Muskie, not being selected as his party’s nominee (somewhat similar to Hillary Clinton’s situation in 2008).
Even the Secret Service was up to the same ol’ shenanigans. In trying to predict where the next stop would be on a candidate’s itinerary, Crouse’s colleague had received a tip from a motel clerk in Las Vegas that their plane was en route to Los Angeles. Apparently, members of the candidate’s security advance team had contacted prostitutes from a brothel nearby — their services were being requested in the next state over.
Other noteworthy factoids were a few folks mentioned in the book who had little or no recognition then, but would later become embedded in popular culture.
From reporter Dan Rather to McGovern staffers Candace Bergen (Murphy Brown) and Gary Hart (senator and one-time presidential candidate) and, most importantly, two metro journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, from the Washington Post, who had recently reported on a burglary of the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.
While Crouse’s point about the transformation of the media landscape was clear, Boys on the Bus had another purpose.
In the end, it was a story about the spirit of a dedicated “pack” of journalists, all fighting for that same story. They respected one another, but would do anything to scoop one another. Crouse was part of that exclusive, mostly male fraternity. They went from one town to the next, ate and drank together, listened to the same speech over and over, schmoozed with the candidate’s staff (and in some cases, slept with them), and, hoped, that a story, somewhere, would magically appear before their deadline.
And in Crouse’s case, it did.
This review originally appeared in BlogCritics.