Trailing the President

May 30, 2008

What’s interesting about The Last Campaign and The Boys on the Bus is that they both follow presidential races that include incumbents. You’d think that this would make the 1948 race and the 1972 race very similar. You’d be wrong.


In 1948, as reporters followed Harry Truman around on a train, they were sure that he was the loser. Technology can be wonderful but can also be a bit dangerous if relied upon too heavily. Lord knows I can’t spell because of spell check on my computer. In 1948 polling was just warming up and they said that Truman was a loser. Polling might be more of a science than a technology, come to think of it, but for now humor me. The latest and greatest of prediction tools was front and center and the reporters ate it up.


Thinking that Truman had already lost they blindly watched as the president campaigned his heart out. Since they knew that he couldn’t win they lost some of their motivation. He was a nice guy but wasn’t the next president.


Truman on the other hand campaigned like he had nothing to lose. Since he was already the underdog he decided to do whatever it took to prove the naysayer wrong. Instead of relying on radio, the latest technology, he met with potential voters face to face. He catered every speech to the individuals that he was speaking to instead of to the greater population. As technology began to change this wouldn’t be possible because every citizen would hear every word uttered by the candidates. In the end his homey, down to earth style won the hearts and votes of Americans.


In 1972 reporters were working with a president that just didn’t like them. Since Richard Nixon was in office he made it very hard for the press to reach him. His press secretary instead of being helpful was the watchdog of information. Since most of the press was afraid to make a misstep they all huddled together and filed very similar reports. They were expected to have the same headlines, as the AP reporters so there was little incentive to dig any deeper. Don’t rock the boat seemed to be the motto.


Nixon on the other hand could care less. He had no qualms with shutting out reporters who didn’t conform to what he wanted. He was the president and used that to his advantage. Instead of campaigning like Truman, with nothing to lose, Nixon instead campaigned more cautiously like a winner. The election was his to lose but he didn’t. In the background the Watergate scandal loomed over him but the political reporters didn’t touch it. In fact it took two metro reporters to dig in there and come up with the dirt. If the White House reporters had sunk their teeth into this story the results might have been different.

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