The Boys on the Bus: 1979 vs 2012

Campaign bus
What it looked like inside the Conservative campaign bus in the 2008 general election. Reporters are seated with Conservative “minders” around them. And watching over all of us, that’s Sen. Marjory LeBreton in the bottom right corner.

Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz files a great piece of what it’s like to be one of the Boys on the Bus (to borrow the title of Timothy Crouse’s 1973 classic) covering the U.S. Presidential campaign.

Having covered a few Canadian general elections often on the buses or planes of different leaders, there was a lot in Horowitz’s piece that was familiar to me. But there were also some significant differences. For one thing, those poor American reporters never get a chance to put a question to the candidate. In the last Canadian general election, the challengers, Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff, would answer pretty much any and all questions the travelling press could dredge up while the incumbent, Prime Minster Stephen Harper, would take questions every day but only a limited amount (usually 5 or so). While I (and many Canadians) don’t like the fact that the current PM takes only a limited number of questions every day from reporters, it’s absolutely god-awful in the U.S. where the incumbent, Obama, has not taken a spontaneous unscripted question from the press that travels with him for months. Romney’s not much better apparently.

Before I get off track on a rant about reporters’ abilities to ask questions of campaigning leaders, let me encourage you to read Horowitz’s piece and then, if you haven’t already, take an hour and watch History on the Run: Media and the ’79 Election, the NFB documentary by Peter Raymont which chronicles the coverage of the battle between incumbent PM Joe Clark and the guy who wanted his job back, Pierre Trudeau.


History on the Run: The Media and the ’79 Election by Peter Raymont, National Film Board of Canada

Now:  If you believe the media’s job is to help inform a citizenry so it can make a choice at the ballot box, was it better in 1979 or better now? I can see an argument to be made either way but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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