Column

Lobster? Champagne? Doughnuts? Beer? Nothing's too good for the Boys on the Bus

Allan Fotheringham May 14 1979
Column

Lobster? Champagne? Doughnuts? Beer? Nothing's too good for the Boys on the Bus

Allan Fotheringham May 14 1979

Lobster? Champagne? Doughnuts? Beer? Nothing's too good for the Boys on the Bus

Column

Allan Fotheringham

On the Joe Clark campaign jet, they tell Joe Clark jokes. On the Trudeau campaign jet, they tell Joe Clark jokes. On the Broadbent jet, they tell Joe Clark jokes. The man who may be prime minister in two weeks has usurped the role of the Toronto Argonauts: he could unite the country by being the national punching bag. How do we know this? Because in the dullest election campaign since Red Kelly was a pup, the watchers have become the players. Society has reversed itself. Reporters who are supposed to take a vow of anonymity when entering their strange craft, like priests clasping chastity to their cool bosoms, are now personalities. As the politicians become mere faceless automatons, the media stars fill the vacuum of the vacated role. One has only to stroll along the main street of Upper Rubber Boot, Manitoba, behind a Bruce Phillips or Don z McNeill—with dear little ladies clutching their £ frames and rending asun£ der their handcrafted ° trench coats—to realize the plight of the poor politician. He is plowing on ahead in his main-streeting, his visage good for perhaps a four-year lifespan, while behind him darlings of the boob tube and byline are signing deals for future $2,500 appearances before the Loyal Order of Gerbils.

The person largely responsible for all this is a callow youth named Timothy Crouse, sometime-reporter for Rolling Stone, who slyly covered the last Nixon election by reporting instead on the reporters and wrote an eminently readable book called The Boys on the Bus. Every single reporter in Canada past the age of 14 has read it (and many of the editors who can read). The result is that in this Canadian election, there seems more interest in the voyeurs than in what they are watching. Everybody is writing about what it’s like in the campaign plane/bus/bar. Barbara Frum’s As It Happens does weekly tattletale reports on media incest. Doubleday has commissioned Vancouver free-lancer Clive Cocking to do a Canadian boys-on-the-bus epic and the

scribes, regarding him as faintly akin to the bubonic plague, are dressing better and drinking less whenever his turtlenecked presence hoves to on the horizon.

Any doubt as to the new objects of stroking in our life is dispelled with a stint aboard the mother ship. After his first experience aboard the Trudeau jet last election, Canadian Press reporter Michael Lavoie confided the Liberals had everything available “except a salt lick.” On the Clark DC-9—where reporters call themselves The Wimp Watch— lobster was served at midnight on the

run in from Halifax. On an arduous breakfast flight from Toronto to Trois Rivières, there was orange juice and champagne. Thanks to Calgary developer Brad Chapman and Toronto lawyer Art Lyon, two successful men who act as solicitous den mothers to The Wimp Watch and add an air of professionalism to the otherwise fey Clark crew, every small need is satisfied. Beer? Always there on the bus. Doughnuts? Peanuts? Lost your rubbers? Forgot to scrub behind your ears? All relevant Pablum, such as research on riding candidates, is dished up. You are not old enough to set an alarm? The Clark troupe knocks on your door, activates the wake-up call and—should you still be comatose—phones you to make sure the cardinal sin, missing the bus, never happens. The press is no longer responsible for itself. The press is a resource to be utilized for the greater good of the candidate and therefore must be coddled, fed, burped and massaged.

Ink-stained wretches who can’t tie their own shoes live for a few brief shin-

ing weeks as though they were J.P. Morgan. Doug Fisher, the sage columnist who can seldom be enticed out of the mental cocoon of Ottawa, plays catch in the aisle of the Trudeau plane. Patrick Gossage, a Trudeau aide, attempts to retrieve a Frisbee from atop the bus, falls and breaks his elbow. Jessica Savitch, a blonde face from NBC, joins the Clark camp-followers and is ignored. All the packing chores for the U.S. TV crews, one notes, are performed by blacks. Trudea;u reporters must wear red dog tags around their necks. The Wimp Watch on the Clark plane wears nothing, content—like butterfly fanciers—to collect a new Clarkism. Today it is “evidentiary,” to go along with “specificity,” “totality” and “I wouldn’t want to be wrongly nuanced.”

The No. 1 paperback read is The World According to Garp. The cruel songs roll on: The Spirit of High River (or, You Can't Sing When You Got No Chin). Stylish class is added to the Clark denmothering set by Pierette Lucas, former Tory candidate in Verdun. The Liberals counter with Suzanne Perry, a one-time New York singer who combines the pouty good looks of Jane Fonda with the tongue of Dorothy Parker. Can there be girls aboard the boys’ bus? When Ottawa press wives travel to the airport each weekend to collect the sagging eyeballs and limp torsos of their scribes, Suzanne is hidden in the luggage rack. James Gillies dances in the aisle at midnight as the Clark band jams.

Doug Small, a CP reporter with a Saskatchewan United Church voice, known as the George Jean Nathan of journalism, is eagerly sought by both planes for his gifts as a lyricist. The Washington Post comes aboard, heavy columnist David Broder and former Moscow correspondent Dusko Doder. Clark, smarting from his world tour debacle, seeks out reporters to chat up. Trudeau, never more friendly, jokes and sings along with naughty ditties. Something’s gone wrong here. The only interesting thing in this uninteresting election are the actors who are covering it.