Covering the campaign, 1972-style

The Boys on the
Bus* 
by Timothy Crouse
Sometimes I wonder how certain books get forgotten/overlooked/lost
to history.
This book is a perfect example of a book we don’t hear about, but
really should.
The only reason I know of its existence is that the brilliant and
witty William McKeen mentioned it in his audio lecture series about literary journalism
I suppose part of the reason we don’t still talk about this book
is that Timothy Crouse was overshadowed by his much more audacious colleague at
Rolling Stone, Hunter S. Thompson. (Seriously:
how could you not be overshadowed
that that guy?)
But I gotta tell you: The
Boys on the Bus
is a terrific piece of work. It captures the 1972
presidential campaign season and the journalists who
covered it. (Sure, go ahead: Groan if you like. But 1972 is the year that
brought us Watergate, guys. It was a zippy little year!)
And in Crouse’s hands (actually, in his words), it comes to life. It’s the story about the story, and it is excellent. (And Crouse’s language is so delightful, I’m gonna quote lots of it.)

So we hear about Richard Nixon (and his much-despised press
secretary Ron Ziegler), and we hear about George McGovern. (“Since Richard
Nixon was declining nearly all invitations to share the pleasure of his company
with the electorate, the only real Presidential campaign belonged to George
McGovern.” [p. 320])

But the journalists are really the ones in the spotlight in this
book. And they are a weird and wonderful crew.
Here’s just one example: “Every so often in the course of the fall
campaign, Jules Witcover appeared at a White House briefing in his black,
funereal raincoat, looking like a cut-rate version of the bad fairy.” (p. 243)
Or, when Crouse gives a sense of life on the press bus: “It was the
kind of bus to which most bus-fanciers would give three stars—the windows were
tinted and there was a toilet in the rear, but the seats did not recline. The
time was 7:30 A.M. and two-thirds of the seats were already filled with silent
and bleary-eyed reporters who looked as cheerful as a Georgia chain
gang on its way to a new roadbed.” (pp. 11-12)
(OK. Every time I read that last bit, I laugh.)
And shortly after the 1972 election, Crouse met Woodward and
Bernstein at the dining room of the Hay-Adams hotel and talked with them about
their Watergate reporting. That chapter of the book allows us to be a fly on
the wall during their conversation, and really: what could be better than
that? 
Well, maybe this, about the great Merriman Smith:
“His sprints to the phone booth were legendary. He trampled
anything or anyone in his way; he once slipped and dislocated a shoulder on the
way to the phone but dictated for an hour before passing out from the pain.”
(pp. 196-197) 

I tell you: they don’t make reporters like they used to. 

It’s a crying shame.
This book is an entertaining look at some one-of-a-kind old-school
journalists.
* Yeah. There were very few “girls” on the bus in those days. And it was no picnic for those who were there. Here’s an example of what Sarah McClendon of the North American Newspaper Alliance had to endure: 
“But the men still tittered whenever Sarah McClendon asked a question, and Ziegler still treated her as if she were a wino who had wandered in off the street (although he was always very sweet to her after the briefing, which only disgusted her more).” (p. 210) We’ve come a long way, baby. 
For more on women (fighting sexism) in journalism, try Nan Robertson’s excellent The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and the New York Times

by

Reader, librarian, & happy little geek

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