What I’m Reading

By Penny Smith — January 10, 2018

Elizabeth Gillespie McRae, “White Women Overwhelmingly Supported Roy Moore. We Shouldn’t be Surprised.” Google that and you can get a copy. McRae works at WCU; her essay was published in the December 20, 2017 edition of the Washington Post. This posting has been making the rounds in various Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Dr. McRae gives us a rapid, clear lesson in the history of women’s support for conservative causes. Their advocacy of men like Roy Moore and Donald Trump has been ever with us, as has their support for segregation and organizations that upheld it. The “macho pitch” of the conservative narrative has obscured their participation.  This is a good article for some background talking points and perhaps making the strategic mistake of spending too much time on some segments of the white female voter population in preparing for the 2018 campaign. An extension might be the participation of women in church-led morality movements, like the Anti-Saloon League – that history supports McRae’s thesis.

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Katy Tur, Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. New York: Dey Street Books, 2017.

I read this over the weekend and was pleased to see that it confirmed my preconceptions of the character of Donald Trump and his rallies. Tur intersperses the story of the campaign with a close reading of the night of the election; the book helpfully distinguishes the two with different colored pages.

Most of us are familiar with Katy Tur; she was the MSNBC/NBC campaign correspondent for the Trump campaign from the beginning, increasing her on-air time as he won primaries. In Unbelievable Tur tells the story of the campaign itself, with attention focused on Trump’s use of her as the epitome of dirty reporters and “fake news.” We never get a clear idea why she won that dubious honor, but we do get a true sense of how disconcerting and even dangerous it made Tur’s life. We also get to know more about her, her family, the costs of doing journalism on one’s time and personal life, the general environment of news telling on cable television and the major networks, and some of the ways the process has changed with new technologies.

I came of age reading about modern politics seriously during the Nixon Administration. The Boys on the Bus floated through our various library carrels in 1973, detailing the 1972 Presidential campaign. Timothy Crouse shows us what campaign following was like in the era of buses, typewriters, and newspaper deadlines. Unlike Tur, he lampoons, criticizes and applauds the various national pundits by name. It’s a good book to reread in conjunction with Unbelievable. If nothing else, it illuminates the limitations of “Pack Journalism.”

The 1972 campaign also gave us Hunter Thompson’s political reporting, summarized from a set of articles into Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. He definitely broke from “the pack,” popularizing what became known as “Gonzo Journalism,” a style in which the author makes no claims to objectivity, but is often decidedly partisan (Thompson hated Nixon and lets you know it.) If you haven’t read Thompson and have an aversion to the absurd and/or four letter words, you probably want to avoid gonzo journalism altogether.

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