MOB SCENE

3 minute read
Jeff Greenfield

IT WAS A SCENE RIGHT OUT OF THE BIRDS. OUTSIDE the New Hampshire home of former state senator Barbara Pressly on a freezing winter afternoon, a lone cameraman appeared; then a second camera; then four boom mikes. Twenty minutes later, when the press was invited inside, 50 men and women with full field packs stampeded toward the front door. Finding myself by happenstance between them and their goal, I had a fleeting sensation of what General Custer might have seen in his last moment on this earth.

I was lucky. At a Lamar Alexander rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on All Caucuses’ Eve, a cameraman for a local TV station, while trying to make his way through the forest of cameras and lights, knocked over a tripod, which slammed into the head of a young woman, knocking her into semiconsciousness.

These are two of the more dangerous manifestations of what has become patently obvious: there are simply too many of us out there. When Pat Buchanan leaped from his van in New Hampshire exclaiming, “Real voters! Real people!,” dozens of journalists instantly surrounded him as he reached for the hand of a single terrified citizen. Viewed from across the street, it looked as if Buchanan had suddenly gone berserk, seized a hostage and was being followed by a SWAT team.

When the press shows up en masse to cover “face-to-face” campaigning, only the pretense remains. Senator Bob Dole talks to a barnful of TV cameras and a few “lucky” residents of Indianola so the folks watching the news can see him talking to Iowa farmers (two-thirds of whom were college students bused in from Ohio to give the event a shot of adrenaline). It has all the authenticity of an infomercial audience whooping it up for the Veg-O-Matic at two o’clock in the morning.

Now here’s what we can do about it: nothing.

You can “pool” an event with one camera inside a hall, but what do you tell the local TV stations that now journey from all over the country to get their own pictures they can beam back home on the cheap, thanks to satellite technology? What do you tell independent stations, foreign journalists? And besides, would it really be a good idea to reduce every campaign event to one single image, provided by one single view?

Nor would the campaigns be especially thrilled by a shrunken press presence. “I know these lights and cameras are a little distracting,” Alexander said in a small church basement in Londonderry, New Hampshire, “but I’m really glad to see them.”

If there is one dim ray of hope this year, it came from the campaign of Pat Buchanan. The New Hampshire victor did very little face-to-face glad-handing. He was, however, more than happy to invite the press in to watch him reach voters the new-fashioned way: recording commercials, videotaping commercials, even writing commercials. His other prime method of communication was decidedly old-fashioned: the speech at the rostrum, where audiences came not to shake his hand but to listen to what he had to say.

Now there’s an inventive way to cover a presidential candidate. And it cuts way down on the odds of bloodshed.

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