Tag Archives: Politics

The Boys on The Bus: Politics and Predicting the future of TV in 1972

The boys on the bus cover
The Boys on the Bus (1973)


It’s amazing how some things weather so well.

I’ve just finished reading The Boys on the Bus, Timothy Crouse’s landmark book about the press coverage of the 1972 US Presidential election. Written in 1973, the book reads as freshly as if it had been produced last week.

Richard Nixon effectively stonewalled the media and escaped any critical assessment. His much more open opponent, George McGovern, suffered for his accessibility and the relative chaos of his communications strategy.

Other than the candidates, very little has changed since then in how elections have been covered or the tactics used by political campaigns to ‘spin’ and try to control or manipulate the news cycle.

Perhaps social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – will draw the current era that started in the 60’s to a close. In some ways it already has, if we cast our minds back to Mitt Romney’s close encounter with almost everything being recordable, everywhere, all of the time when he gave his tuppence worth in a Florida hotel in 2012 on 47% of American voters being hooked on entitlements


How relevant will professional journalists be in future political campaigns, in the US and abroad? Or newspapers themselves?

Ironically, Crouse’s book suggests a fairly positive prospect. His central point about 1972 is that journalists were almost completely boxed in by official and officious handlers – as well as by their editors and publishers, and their own unwillingness to rock the boat and be frozen out.

Today such tight shepherding and shaping of what’s seen and heard is no longer assured: every phone can record and broadcast. A balance of sorts has returned between responsibility and authenticity, and a critical examination of candidates to an extent that Crouse bemoans was not possible in the 1972 may again be on the cards.

A useful analogy might be found in the world of TV. By the 70’s it was a tightly managed world, with little of it’s free-wheeling 1950’s origins. Formula and the health of the bottom line dictated as little experiment or deviation from the norm as possible.

But even as things became more regimented, Crouse’s book highlights that the undoing of the inventiveness-deficit was already an idea. He mentions how 28 young cable TV reporters headed by Michael Shamberg had an idea that they believed would revolutionise the small screen:

“The networks, with their economic dependence on mass audiences and mass advertising,  would eventually go the way of the mass magazines like Life, he thought. And cable TV – local, decentralised, appealing to small audiences and specialised tastes – would gradually take over. This might not happen until Shamberg was old as Walter Cronkite, but he was in no hurry ” [Chapter VII: Television. Kindle version, location 2761].

Crouse and Shamberg were spectacularly right, and far-sighted, on both scores. Right that cable TV was something worth mentioning and right that it would only come into its own far into the future.

But it did. And cable, HBO and the Sopranos and a host of other programming has reinvigorated TV.

A prediction and half from 1973.

Who knows what social media will do in the same time frame to come?

To TV, politics – and life?


Options: peace or genocide

Sometimes we like to shy away from what we really mean, from the ultimate consequences of our actions.

Sometimes we like to focus on the palatable instead of the actual.

To understand only so much, and only so far.

Euphemisms and metaphors cloak events and mask outcomes.

Plainly said and fully understood, many things would or should horrify. If openly stated at the outset, many paths would never be taken, many ends never pursued – except by the mad and the bad.

Complication, simplification, obfuscation, evasion, elision – all the tools necessary for conjuring delusion in ourselves and others.

Sometimes, maybe often in our personal lives, they make things bearable, pare down the ragged, jagged edges of truths that might cut too deeply, allow us to function in spite of our accumulated bruises and abrasions.

Sometimes though they do exactly the opposite – they stand in the way as a barrier between us and what we need to know and acknowledge. When things are too important to be mythologized or glorified.

Watching the tragedy unfold in Gaza, Israel, The West Bank, Palestine, call it as you will – shall we just say the area freshly demarcated everyday in blood and grief, maybe? We all know where we mean – brings the dangers of delusion and self-deception to grim clarity.

‘Defeat’, ‘Security’, ‘Safety’, ‘Victory’, ‘Triumph’, ‘Vanquish’, ‘Battle’, ‘Fight’, ‘Humble’, ‘Remove’, ‘Recover’, ‘Repel’, ‘Compel’, ‘Destroy’, ‘Struggle’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Drive into the Sea’ and so on and so forth. The aims and objectives of uncompromising not-an-inch slogans and battle cries appeal to sentiments like honour and patriotism, bravery and perseverance, staunchness and steadfastness. Age old tradition and validation by history.

But at the heart of all that is opposition, faction, friction and conflict. Buried within the claims is a noxious sense of superiority, of specialness: we are better than you. We are a unique flower of humanity; you are a worthless weed choking our land.

We can suffer more, last longer, try harder, kill better. We are better. More deserving. This should be ours. This will be ours. You are nothing. Not deserving. Not worthy. Not human. Dregs. Dust. To be swept away. Buried.

Not very pleasant when put that way, is it?

So how about we frame things in Israel/Palestine in honest stark terms?

Option one: both sides live in peace. Simple. [Ok, not so simple but wait till we see the other option]

Option two: one side wins. Not so simple. Both Palestinians and Israelis have a long history of resistance  and survival in the bleakest situations.

So, if ‘winning’, really winning, for all and for ever, achieving a situation where no one disputes the outcome or the new dispensation, not once, not ever, is the aim, how does that happen?

Israel has had many military victories, many crushing defeats of its enemies in the last 60 years. But here it is, still today after all that long sequence of effort and energy, in Gaza. Troubled, upset, rattled, riled and angry.  No peace, and no prospect of peace. Those pesky Palestinians just won’t give up, recognise reality and quit.

On the other side, Israel has faced down everything sent against it for sixty years. For two thousand years and longer, Jewish people have withstood every type of moral and physical violence intended to crush them and wipe from the earth. If by some turn of events in future, Palestinians came to control all the old British mandate territory, some eight million Israelis would be every bit as adamant in resistance as Palestinians are today. Those pesky Israelis just wouldn’t give up, recognise reality and quit.

So what’s left? Military victory, and overwhelming dominance is still vulnerable and susceptible to the actions of the ‘defeated’ population. Wishing them away or thinking they can be cowed permanently like animals, beaten and broken into dazed compliance, is as brutally cruel as it is fruitlessly fantastic. No one has a superiority of the human spirit.

What to do?  Well if a residual hostile population is the problem, the ultimate and only viable answer is of course not to have any.

Death or expulsion. Ethnic cleansing.

So, though both sides and all the on-looking interested parties would and never will put things in this formulation, the clear concise options for a permanent settlement boil down to peace or genocide.

I don’t believe that people on either side if presented with the situation in these cold terms would choose mass slaughter……

So let’s get on with peace?

Reshuffle: Fighting the last election

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton hope for a turn around in political fortunes

A relatively little known fact from the history of the Second World War is that the French army actually had more, and better, tanks at the outbreak of hostilities in 1940 than the Wehrmacht.

So how did things go so disastrously wrong?

France’s generals planned for the last war rather than the next battle. They arranged their forces to deal with 1914 all over again.

German blitzkrieg tactics were nothing like what was expected – they blithely swarmed around blocking obstacles placed in their way.

France’s best military resources could offer no effective resistance, despite being enviably strong on paper and, apparently, shrewdly deployed. Poor communication and coordination with their British and Belgian allies exacerbated the problems.

It was all over in six weeks.

Watching this week’s government reshuffle pan out brings some of the same questions to mind.

Many of the junior ministerial promotions (and demotions) seem to be aimed at tamping down potential Sinn Fein breakthroughs.

In the short term this has annoyed Irish language speakers unhappy with the new Gaeltacht minister, Joe McHugh, and given rise to some internal grumbling in Fine Gael over a perceived failure to promote more female ministers.

The question now is how well will this defensive redeployment work? Will a ministerial Maginot Line stem the Sinn Fein tide?

Or come the next election, will it transpire that the Coalition’s political strategists have planned for the last election?

And all be for naught?