exercises in compound storytelling

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Selling of the President 1968

I spent last week in London, getting back to Santa Fe yesterday. I left sick but on antibiotics, so I sort of pampered myself while I was there, cutting my schedule to not much more than working, eating, and sleeping. Oh and reading.

I got back to reading Joe McGinnis's campaign memoir The Selling of the President 1968. Because I'd been away from it so long I started over at the beginning so as not to miss anything. It turns out to be a short book, less than two hundred pages, supplemented by copies of memos and letters that serve as artifacts for the main narrative, describing different characters' dispositions in their own words. It's mostly straight-up reporting, which is refreshing but not surprising given that it was written in the pre-Gonzo era of campaign reporting: Nixon isn't presented as a malevolent force, just a guy who has tried and failed to become President and is returning determined to win. It's not a story of the campaign, but of the story of campaign television commercials, and as such it's fascinating. This wasn't the first television campaign (I guess that was 1960) but it's the first post-McLuhan campaign, made especially interesting because there was no incumbent in office.

I loved this book, and I'd be tempted to break it down chapter by chapter, but I've read a couple of books since then I need to write about before I forget them. If I had to read this book again I think I'd be tempted to read the artifacts in the appendix when they're mentioned. I'm not sure which is more important: to know who the characters are, and see them presented in different episodes, or to read their own words and then see them act.

And now of course I need to read the Theodore White book about the 1972 campaign.

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