Whistlestop chronicles transformation of U.S. presidential campaigning

John Dickerson's Favourite Stories from Presidential Campaign History is both illuminating and entertaining

Whistlestop: My Favourite Stories from Presidential Campaign History
By John Dickerson
Hachette Book Group

TORONTO, Ont. Oct. 28, 2016/ Troy Media/ – This just in … Eisenhower won his convention via television … no kinescope at 11:00.

I realize it may only be witty if you know that American television anchors once belted out headlines, noting there would be “film at 11:00,” during the late news. In 1952, a kinescope took a grainy, low-grade film of a TV monitor and that’s how we can now see old TV broadcasts. Memory cards have since replaced video tape.

What a long way to go for an old technology joke.

But especially during this American election, it’s worth a bit of old tintype (photo) and kinescope history. We get it, remastered, by John Dickerson in his comprehensive book [popup url=”http://amzn.to/2dOGar8″ height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Whistlestop: My Favourite Stories from Presidential Campaign History[/popup]. Dickerson is moderator of CBS’s Face the Nation.

This is a book I’ll return to every election, as I do with Gil Troy’s [popup url=”http://amzn.to/2eJIgph” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]See How They Ran[/popup] (past tense for perspective).

Whistlestop is good for too many reasons to capture in this short space, but here’s a try.

Many think that TV campaigns and mediagenic candidates began with U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Americans wouldn’t know or care, but we had our own unlikely media darling in John Diefenbaker at least three years before Kennedy. But even Americans have a tendency to ignore the bitter fight over seating Texas delegates in the 1952 convention.

Eisenhower was called a delegate thief, having encouraged Democrats to vote in the Republican primary. The man who helped defeat Hitler was called too inexperienced, a leftist and even worse. His campaign staff got the bright idea to televise the floor fight. It worked.

Young, mediagenic vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon also used TV in 1952, in the famous “Checkers” speech, which saved his candidacy after controversy arose over contributions made to his campaign (the dog Checkers was one of the contributions).

Then Senator Kennedy triumphed in the 1956 Democratic convention with a promotional film that almost catapulted him to the vice-presidency.

And in the 1960 presidential debate, TV played an historic role, but the four debates were close and the election was closer.

This is a comprehensive book that provides details and debunks trivial myths. Case in point: Kennedy and Nixon had makeup applied for the debate.

Can we now stop dating TV’s influence to 1960 and blaming the lack of makeup?

The book also provides perspective and context, as all history does. We’ve been here before.

There are the campaign gaffs – Hillary Clinton’s stumbling, Michael Dukakis riding in a tank, Edmund Muskie crying (or getting hit by a snowflake) in New Hampshire, Howard Dean’s scream (which sounded fine in the room). Jimmy Carter, segregationist candidate George Wallace and many others also make appearances.

Where we’ve also been before are the 1824 and 1828 campaigns by Andrew Jackson. The “corrupt bargain” of 1824 and “rigged” election set the stage for Jackson’s victory in 1828. Jackson was a hero for killing 3,000 British soldiers after the war of 1812 was over, and for campaigning as an outsider.

They all do this now, but it was a “revolutionary gambit at the time.” Jackson had “very little respect for laws and constitutions … [and] revelled in … criticism.” He executed mutineers and broke treaties with First Nations people. In New Orleans, he “imposed martial law on the city, defying a writ of habeas corpus and jailing the federal judge who issued it.” He executed British citizens. Sound familiar?

Being a broadcaster, Dickerson writes fluidly and for the ear. His stories are a lesson and will be a pleasure to read each election cycle … with or without kinescope at 11:00.

Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted to a dozen heads of government, a dozen party leaders and 100 or so cabinet ministers on five continents over 30 years.  He is the author of [popup url=”http://amzn.to/2eZfXCk” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Political Conventions  the Art of Getting elected and Governing[/popup]. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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