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March 6, 2005 - "The Boys on the Bus" - a review 33 years past deadline...

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Book Wrangler

March 7, 2005

By Bob Patterson


The death of Hunter S. Thompson has sparked a great deal of publicity for his books and many folks who have read his work in the past will want to re-read their favorites, and for those who have never read his books, now may seem an appropriate time to get one of his books out of the local library and see what all the fuss is about. 


One other book deserves some mention in this sudden flurry of Thompson revival and that is Timothy Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus, which chronicles the press coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign.  That was the year that Hunter Thompson covered the presidential campaign full time for Rolling Stone magazine.


In 1960 Theodore White started writing a book about the Kennedy vs. Nixon election and he did one for several subsequent presidential elections. 


Joe McGinniss wrote Selling of the President about Richard Nixon’s manipulation in the 1968 campaign of the various news media to become the winner of that contest.


For the 1972 campaign Hunter S. Thompson was assigned to cover the process from start to end for a new magazine, Rolling Stone, which was primarily interested in music.  Thompson convinced his editors to also assign Timothy Crouse to go to Washington and help him establish the Rolling Stone office.  He also persuaded his bosses to assign Crouse to cover the coverage while Thompson covered the story.  Then, as the year played out, the main aspect of the coverage was just how Thompson managed to bring a fresh style of reporting (called gonzo journalism) into the process.  It was as if, in what was to become Thompson’s legendary style, he had tricked them into hiring a personal press agent just for his own benefit, but it was ground breaking coverage and the magazine got their money’s worth out of Crouse and Thompson became a trailblazing über-star in the world of journalism.


Crouse’s book will be of interest to any of today’s Internet surfers who read Romenesko regularly because some of the methods that Richard Nixon used to  manipulate the media, will seem very familiar to anyone who followed the events of the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns closely. 


The book proceeds from an adversarial point of view.  Crouse quotes Karl Fleming about the failure of the free press to make sure voters could make well informed decisions: “You give the publisher information his business associates or his friends at the country club don’t have; you’re performing a very valuable function for him, and that, by God, is why you get paid.”  (Page 9 the Ballantine Books paperback edition)


Back then such shoddy working conditions produced a poor attitude.  Fleming elaborated:  “So eventually a very subtle kind of thing takes over and the reporter says to himself, ‘All I gotta do to satisfy my editor and publisher is just get what the other guys are getting, so why should I bust my ass?’” (op. cit. Page 10)


Crouse describes in detail the day-to-day events on the campaign trail and how, in that particular year, Hunter Thompson managed to break the conspiracy of silence keeping the public from getting all the relevant details of the inner workings of political campaigns.


The Ballantine paperback edition, which was first published in August of 1974, has a Chapter 13, with a look at the work of Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein for the Washington Post about the relevance of the Watergate break-in to the election.  Crouse quotes an LA Times story about the motivation thus: “Justice Department officials involved in the investigation have said that the real motivation for the bizarre incident have may never emerge.” 


[Did the burglars find any confidential paperwork about the man who was named the Vice Presidential nominee getting some electroshock therapy?  The news about that came out quickly after the nominee was selected and that threw the Democratic campaign into disarray for a short time.  Could the break-in have been a fishing trip and the troubles with the Democrat’s VP candidate the payoff?  Or was that all just a big co-inky-dink?]


Crouse’s 1972 assessment of reporter Dan Rather was: “Rather would go with an item even if he didn’t have it completely nailed down with verifiable facts.  If a rumor sounded solid to him, if he believed it in his gut or had gotten it from a man who struck him as honest, he would let it rip.”  (op. cit. Page 328)


Crouse writes that Hunter Thompson’s opinion of the press corps, based on his experiences of 1968 when Thompson was collecting material for a book that was never completed (was it finished but unpublished?) was this: “He (Thompson) told me that they had been a bunch of swine, a collection of suspicious reactionary old hacks who cared only about protecting their leads and were hopelessly out of touch with anything interesting that was happening in the country.”  (op. cit. Page 330)


In 1968 a project called True Value TV (TVTV) made documentaries of both the Republican and Democratic conventions using the small new videotape technology.  The big three networks were using film that had to be taken back to the studio and processed before it could be aired.  The man leading the project, Michael Shamberg, thought that the networks were failing to capitalize on the advantages the new technology offered.  “The networks, with their economic dependence on mass audiences and mass advertising, would eventually go the way of the mass magazines like Life, he (Shamberg) thought.”  (ibid. Page 182)


This vintage look at the media coverage of political events was revolutionary when it was published and, even though it is more than 30 years old now, will be a very interesting read for the ditto heads who want some background on the “liberal” media, critics of journalism, and folks who are skeptical that the politicians can and do manipulate the media to their own ends.  Heck, even the folks who listen to Air America will find it worth the effort to find this book.


Those who do take this recommendation and find a copy of this book, should also, after they have read it, take a look at the two websites the one for the American Journalism Review and the Columbia Review of Journalism website that both provide criticism of the contemporary status of media performance.  Read them regularly for a while just to see how much the media’s methodologies have (or have not?) changed since Crouse (and Thompson) covered the 1972 presidential election process.


The Boys on the Bus notes that traditional news journalism is reluctant to embrace innovation and modern technology and that should sound vaguely familiar to folks following the stream of snide remarks being traded by bloggers and the editorial spokesmen (not persons) for well known American newspapers. 


Does the philosophy “Some things never change” still sound relevant today or has the Internet made that old fashioned and obsolete?


Marshall McLuan has been quoted as saying: “‘The Medium is the Message’ because it is the medium that shapes and controls the search and form of human associations and action.”


Now, if the disk jockey will play one of Roy Orbison’s lesser known cuts titled:  “Paper Boy,” we’ll hit the streets for this week.  With some luck our coverage of the geriatric period for the Rebel Without a Cause generation will continue next week, if the good Lord is willin’ and the creek don’t rise (a major concern this year in Southern California).  Until then, stay away from the Griffith’s Observatory (because it’s closed for renovation) and have a good week.  (Where else on the Internet are you going to find stuff that includes “op. cit.” and “ibid?”)




Copyright © 2005 – Robert Patterson



Editor’s Note:




In 'Gonzo Gone, Rather Going, Watergate Still Here' Frank Rich writes that Hunter S. Thompson's 1972 "diagnosis of journalistic dysfunction hasn't aged a day," and George McGovern finally concedes that he picked the wrong running mate.


The second link takes you to a Los Angeles Times item by George McGovern containing this -


… I have always been pleased that among the precious few who thought I would have made the better president [than Richard Nixon] was Hunter S. Thompson, who went to his untimely grave saying that I was "the best of a lousy lot."


And this –


It's true, as many have noted in recent days, that Hunter did not devote his energy and talent to the pursuit of factual accuracy. But accuracy isn't everything.


There is some disagreement on that.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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