Karabell defines the 1948 presidential election as “the last campaign,” arguing that it was the last time that “an entire spectrum of ideologies was represented in the presidential election.” In 1948, radio and print media were the dominant mediums through which the candidates reached the voters. Reporters saw themselves as “the Fourth Estate,” and expected to play a role in the presidential campaign. Reporters of that era “believed they served a vital purpose. They believed…they had the power and responsibility to mediate the election.”
Reporters and candidates traveled together and candidates were accessible for news conferences or informal chats. Truman played poker with the reporters and used the accessibility to his advantage. Stories of the race contained the basics and reporters wrote what they saw and what the candidate, sticking to the “cut-and-dried formula stories.” Truman in particular took advantage of this type of reporting, engaging in a “Give-‘em-Hell-Harry” strategy full of negative campaigning and empty promises. Dewey, in contrast, ran a civil but dull campaign that would become the model for future candidates struck by the advent of technology and intrigue.
By 1972, as Crouse so vividly documents, the reporters on the train had become “the boys on the bus.” The reporters covering McGovern, Nixon, Humphrey and Muskie were a different breed than their predecessors covering Truman, Dewey, Thurmond and Wallace. By this time television had begun its revolution of political coverage and the young, educated reporters were there to “analyze the political process and report on how it worked.” The press at this point responded to the dull, scripted campaigns that Dewey had introduced by focusing on the game of the race over the standard quotes on the issues delivered by the candidate and his staff. TV journalists devoted less time to candidates’ qualifications and positions on the issues than had been printed in newspapers a generation before. Candidates responded by closing in rank and focusing on offering the perfect shot for the camera more than the perfect quote for the paper.
In both elections, the push-and-pull of the media and candidate relationship was a constant. The candidates were able to manipulate the press (“If the press operation is this good, they must have a helluva voter registration operation!”) in the same vein the press held power over the candidates (“Well, Marty,” said the Senator [Muskie]. “I guess you’re right.”…he apologized for his outburst). Crouse hits the nail on the head in defining campaign journalism as, by definition, pack journalism. In 1948 and 1972 alike, reporters on the train and reporters on the bus followed each other’s lead, too often responding to the whims of their editors “whose suspicions of any unusual story made pack journalism look cozy and inviting to their reporters.”