Seamlessly combining sound reportage with perceptive insights, AP veteran and Pulitzer -winner Mears recalls the 11 presidential campaigns he covered.
Famous for his ability to come up quickly with an opening, a talent memorialized in Tim Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus, Mears was known as “What's the lead, Walter?” His speed was an enormous advantage, especially in the days before extensive TV coverage, when deadlines were tight and the print media had to be first with the story. The author recalls the tension and the adrenaline rush of getting it right, particularly on election night in closely fought races when returns were still coming in long into the night and he was expected to call a winner for the morning dailies. Mears began covering the campaigns in 1960 and retired after the 2000 race; he offers illuminating portraits of all the candidates as well as fair-minded assessments. Like most journalists, Mears appreciated JFK’s accessibility. Nixon was “the most fascinating figure I encountered as a reporter, a political genius with a conscience of clay.” Carter was “a master of having it both ways.” Clinton, “a political actor to rival Reagan with a sack of tricks Nixon would have admired,” was someone “for whom evasiveness seemed to be a habit.” Among the losers, Mears considered Dan Quayle a fine senator but not presidential material and found Walter Mondale solid but dull. Though he is primarily interested in the candidates, the author also records tremendous changes in their coverage. In 1960, TV cameras were still restricted to the studios, and the reporters were right up front; as the cameras became mobile, the reporters were pushed to the back. As campaigns were taken over by consultants, financing became all-important, and the press’s relationship with candidates changed. The level of trust eroded, and political reporters began to report what was once regarded as mere gossip.
A feast for political junkies.