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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Boys and Girls on the Bus

The media have changed, as Jeremy W. Peters reports at The New York Times:

For decades, campaign buses were populated by hotshots, some of whom covered politics for decades, from Walter Mears to David S. Broder to Jules Witcover. It was a glamorous club, captured and skewered in Timothy Crouse’s best-selling “The Boys on the Bus,” about the 1972 campaign.

Now, more and more, because of budget cutbacks, those once coveted jobs are being filled by brand new journalists at a fraction of the salary. It is not so glamorous anymore.


“People are watching you,” Fernando Suarez, a CBS News reporter who covered Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign, admonished the young reporters. He recounted once innocently checking his e-mail and Facebook page during a Clinton rally in Oregon. A local blogger looked over his shoulder, snapped a picture of him and then wrote an item criticizing the media for being disengaged.

“Just be smart,” Mr. Suarez added. “Now that everybody has a Flip cam, they’re looking to get you.” The young reporters nodded earnestly.


“The press was just a law unto itself, and there really was no way to come back against it, especially the very tightly knit cabal of political reporters,” said Richard Ben Cramer, who wrote the book “What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” an account of the 1988 election.

“Even if you had the wherewithal to embarrass a reporter, there was no mechanism to do it,” Mr. Cramer added. “And in most cases, you might as well save your breath because the reporter had no shame anyway.”


Jake Tapper, the senior White House correspondent for ABC News, recently composed a tip sheet he called “13 Pieces of Campaign Advice for Young Reporters.” No. 11 on the list: Someone somewhere thinks things you say and do are interesting and reportable.

“This is an increasingly sophisticated and hazardous media world,” said Mr. Tapper, who as a rising media star often found his career and even his personal life the subject of interest by blogs and media critics. “Undermining a 27-year-old reporter — if it is in the interest of a campaign or a party that wants to discredit a news organization — it’s impossible for me to believe that’s not going to happen.”

The article overlooks another problem with the youth brigade: lack of historical memory. Reporters such as David Broder could watch a campaign event and immediately draw comparisons to things that happened 4, 8, or 32 years earlier. The newbies lack this experience, and in some cases, have only a sketchy knowledge of history.