quotes & notes from
The Boys on the Bus
Timothy Crouse

These pages: The Boys on the Bus

first part (here)

second part




index pages:

The Boys on the Bus

Riding With the Campaign Press Corps

Copyright © 1972, 1973 by Timothy Crouse

PART ONE: Covering the Primaries and Conventions

Chapter I: On the Bus
Stooping to pick up the schedule, they read: “8:00—8:15, Arrive Roger Young Center, Breakfast with Ministers.” Suddenly, desperately, they thought: “Maybe I can pick McGovern up in Burbank at nine fifty-five and sleep for another hour.” Then, probably at almost the same instant, several score minds flashed the same guilty thought: “But maybe he will get shot at the ministers’ breakfast,” and then each mind branched off into its own private nightmare recollections of the correspondent who was taking a piss at Laurel when they shot Wallace, of the ABC cameraman who couldn’t get his Bolex to start as Bremer emptied his revolver. A hundred hands groped for the toothbrush.
There was giddy cameraderie mixed with fear and low-grade hysteria. To file a story late, or to make one glaring factual error, was to chance losing everything—one’s job, one’s expense account, one’s drinking buddies, one’s mad-dash existence, and the methedrine buzz that comes from knowing stories that the public would not know for hours and secrets that the public would never know. Therefore reporters channeled their gambling instincts into late-night poker games and private bets on the outcome of the elections. When it came to writing a story, they were as cautious as diamond-cutters.
Pool reports varied in length. Jim Naughton of the Times, the most meticulous pooler on the bus, once turned in a report that went on for eight double-spaced pages. Dick Stout of Newsweek wrote the year’s shortest report: “Oct. 30, 1972. 5 P.M. to bed. Nothing happened untoward. Details on request.”



But they all fed off the same pool report, the same daily handout, the same speech by the candidate; the whole pack was isolated in the same mobile village. After a while, they began to believe the same rumors, subscribe to the same theories, and write the same stories.

Everybody denounces pack journalism, including the men who form the pack.

“You delude yourself into thinking, ‘Well, if I get on the bad side of these guys, then I’m not gonna get all that good stuff.’ But pretty soon the realization hits that there isn’t any good stuff, and there isn’t gonna be any good stuff.”

Note (Hal’s):
Karl Fleming, formerly of Newsweek and editor of LA, which folded soon after.

— end note

Most American newspapers—at least 85 percent—are owned by conservative Republicans and regularly endorse Republican candidates. The greatest cross that these owners have to bear is that most reporters are Democrats.

The campaign day was drawing to a dreary close. Had all the events taken place in a single room, the reporters would have been climbing the walls with boredom by mid-afternoon. It was the bus rides and plane flights, the sense that a small army was being efficiently deployed, that had given the day its pace, variety, and excitement. Yet the reporters seldom wrote about this traveling around, which was so important in forming their gut feelings about the campaign.

Chapter II: Coming to Power

As for the candidate, he was usually accessible for news conferences or informal chats throughout the trip. Truman even played poker with the boys; one of them [...] lost four hundred dollars to the President in one afternoon and had to make it up by padding his expense account for the next few months.

Note (Hal’s):
This is from background about campaigning by train until 1956 or so.

— end note

As recently as 1960, or even 1964, a coalition of party heavies, state conventions, and big-city bosses had chosen the candidate in relatively unviolated privacy, and then presented him to the press to report on.

Now the press screened the candidates, usurping the party’s old function. By reporting a man’s political strengths, they made him a front runner; by mentioning his weaknesses and liabilities, they cut him down. [...] The press was no longer simply guessing who might run and who might win; the press was in some way determining these things.

Chapter III: The Muskie Three and Other Campaign Reporters
The campaign reporters had been assigned to live with the candidate for as long as he was in the race, or until further notice. They followed the candidate everywhere, heard his standard speech so many times they could recite it with him, watched his moods go up and down, speculated constantly on his chances, wrote songs about him, told jokes at his expense, traded gossip about him, and were lucky if they did not dream about him into the bargain. They ate and drank with his staff and, in some cases, slept with his lady staffers. At their best, they were his short order biographers, experts on his positions, habits and character. At their worst—and the deadly fatigue of the campaign trail guaranteed that all but the hardiest of them were occasionally at their worst—they were like the foreign service officer who is sent abroad and goes native; they identified with the candidate and became his apologists.



A campaign reporter’s career is linked to the fortunes of his candidate. If he is writing about the front runner, he is guaranteed front-page play for his articles, and, as Walter Mears once told me, “Everything is measured by play in this business.” If he can hang on to a winner through the primaries, he will probably be assigned to follow him through the fall election—perhaps all the way to the White House.

But I remember the gist of what Naughton said, and he has since repeated the rest for me.

“When I was in Cleveland and I was a young political reporter—fairly naive, fairly idealistic, fairly liberal—there was a state representative [...] A man of immense charm. Seemed to me to represent what was right, what was the future. I thought he would make one helluva mayor. And my news stories may have reflected that, and I’m sure my columns did. And that may or may not have helped get him elected.

“And as soon as he got elected, he turned around and shat on all the people who had worked their asses off for him. He was just a bastard. He had terminal ego. And that convinced me you should never place your trust in a politician.”

Note (Hal’s):
Jim Naughton, of The New York Times.

— end note

Quite naturally, this first batch of McGovern reporters had not written in great detail about McGovern’s proposals; they were lucky to get enough space to describe the day-to-day progress of McGovern’s campaign. The band of ex-Muskie regulars who took over in May had a different problem. Coming in late, they had to learn about the workings of the McGovern campaign as quickly as possible. They had no time to study his more complicated proposals. Thus, neither group of reporters was able to give McGovern the careful scrutiny he deserved, and which might have saved him from making disastrous mistakes later on.

“Politicians are different from you and me,” Reeves went on, apropos of McGovern. “The business of reaching for power does something to a man—it closes him off from other men until, day by day, he reaches the point where he instinctively calculates each new situation and each other man with the simplest question: what can this do for me?” Reeves saw that McGovern was a politician, and he predicted the compromises that McGovern would make with party regulars later in the year.

Note (Hal’s):
Richard Reeves, of New York magazine.

— end note



Chapter IV: The Heavies

David Broder of the Washington Post
“Both sides used the classic tactics,” he said. “Come early, stay late, vote often, pack the staff with your people, and always find an acceptable stooge to front for you. [...] You even had to worry about the political affiliation of the guy who was taking the paper down to the print shop on any given night, because if he was on the other side he damn well might rewrite a lead or a headline to get the party line into the paper.”



Chapter V: More Heavies

Haynes Johnson of the Washington Post
In early 1968, the press had been flying high—reporting the sensational, irresistible story of McCarthy’s overnight rise; thrilling to Kennedy’s charisma; helping to topple an incumbent President. The press felt its oats when Johnson fell. The bulk of reporters felt that they were powerful as never before, in tune with the country, expressing the feelings of a huge constituency that hated the war. Then, suddenly, Chicago blew up in their faces. Beaten by cops and jeered by delegates, reporters found themselves openly detested as a biased, leftist elite. The violence in Chicago radicalized a few journalists [...] But most of the newsmen were simply shocked and hurt to find out that a majority of Americans thought that the press sucked.
Chapter VI: The Newsweeklies

John Lindsay was a fixture of political journalism, a sensitive and observant man who was deeply dissatisfied with the world and had cultivated a cynical manner to deal with all the hypocrisy that he saw. [...] He grew up in a small Massachusetts town and entered politics for a few weeks in his youth, managing a losing campaign for a man who wanted to be state representative from Milford, Mass. “I had a job digging graves at the time, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to vote anybody from the cemetery,” he said. “It was a clear indication that I wasn’t cut out for politics.”

Note (Hal’s):
John J. Lindsay, of Newsweek.

— end note

Chapter VII: Television

“I don’t think people ought to believe only one news medium,” Walter Cronkite told an interviewer during the Republican Convention. “They ought to read and they ought to go to opinion journals and all the rest of it. I think it’s terribly important that this be taught in the public schools, because otherwise, we’re gonna get to a situation because of economic pressures and other things where television’s all you’ve got left. And that would be disastrous.”



The TV reporters were the direct descendants of Nathaniel Currier and James Ives, the pioneers of American pictorial journalism. In 1860, Currier and Ives mass-produced cheap, accurate prints (sold at corner newsstands) of Lincoln, Douglas, and Breckinridge. For the first time, the public knew exactly what the candidates looked like. The Currier and Ives operation was a wild success, and it was based on the principle that would become the cardinal rule of TV news: “Don’t just tell a story, show it.”

TV journalists weren’t quite the easy riders that Eaton made them out to be. In the world of straight, “objective” journalism, the more freedom you gave a reporter, the more he censored himself. “Freedom” scared a reporter out of his mind, because it wasn’t really freedom at all. “Freedom” simply meant that nobody had clearly marked all the pitfalls and booby traps, so the reporter became cautious as a blind men on a battlefield. A network correspondent worried about the FCC breathing down his neck, he prayed that he wouldn’t cross some little quirk of the network-news president, and he thought of all the money he was pissing away [...] To say that TV reporting was an “individual thing” was to say that if a reporter fumbled a story, the shit-hammer came down squarely on his head. There were no middlemen to blame.




But as I walked away from the press trailer that night, slightly shaken, it occurred to me that the networks regarded themselves as omnipotent and sacred institutions, roughly like the Presidency.

Maybe the correspondents didn’t, but the corporate heavies did. Later in the year, I would come across the same mammoth PR operation, the same desire to classify the most trivial and worthless information, the same arrogance, and the same mindless lickspittle respect for any higher executive—at the White House, of course.



text checked (see note) Oct 2006

top of page