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McGovern: The Man, the Press, the Machine, the Odds | The Nation

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McGovern: The Man, the Press, the Machine, the Odds

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'The power of a reporter or columnist is dependent, to a large extent, on his contacts with those who actually hold power. And he is tied emotionally and professionally to those with whom he can most easily communicate. One can imagine James Reston dining with Hubert Humphrey at the latter's summer home in Waverly, Minn., and emerging with a week's worth of "insider" column material. It is more difficult to imagine Reston—or for that matter Eric Sevareid, Evans and Novak, Joe Alsop, Max Lerner, Roscoe Drummond or Joe Kraft—dining on their own turf with members of a black caucus, a women's caucus, a Chicano caucus, or indeed with any of the "new power brokers" of the recent Democratic convention. They are outside the personal and informational orbits of these men.

The ties between newsman and news maker are effective information channels when the political alignments of a country maintain an even keel; but at times of political upheaval, of dramatic voter shifts and "new coalitions," the elite reporters and columnists will throw in their lot naturally with the old coalitions—the sources of their information and the sources of their power. Their wisdom will be conventional wisdom; their insights will be dated; their biases will rise to the surface in even the most dispassionate of news commentaries.

Other reportorial errors can be traced directly to candidates who try to sell a particular image of an opponent to the press and the public—the "planted leak." Often the image takes on a life of its own in the netherworld of journalists attached by habit and need to that candidate's camp. Sen. Henry Jackson was one of the first to worry in public about McGovern's "difficulties on amnesty, pot and abortion." Soon the idea gained such wide currency that it managed to outlive the political fortunes of its major proponent.

Newsweek: "Perhaps more important, many Democratic veterans wonder what will happen to McGovern's blossoming blue-collar appeal when Humphrey and Wallace begin drawing attention to his stands in favor of bussing, legalized abortion and eased penalties for marijuana use."

The Los Angeles Times: "The toothache stems from McGovern's positions on a group of ticklish issues, including abortion, amnesty, bussing, tax reform, and his personal attitude toward business."

Time: "Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott was moved to call McGovern the 'triple-A candidate—acid, amnesty and abortion.'"

Everyone, it seemed, knew of McGovern's "difficulties on amnesty, pot and abortion"—even those who could not state with any accuracy his positions on those questions.

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