Get On the Campaign Bus

How reporters book their seats.

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty. Click image to expand.

Last weekend, reporters learned that Rudy Giuliani had purchased three new buses, including a “pretty nice maroon one” for the traveling press. Bus tours have been a colorful element of presidential-campaign theater for decades, and the travel experience has been glamorized by reporters like Timothy Crouse, Hunter S. Thompson, David Foster Wallace, and Steve Carell. So, how would a reporter go about getting a seat on Giuliani’s sweet new ride?

Just call his press office. Staffers coordinate who gets to ride where, usually trying to maintain a balance between local reporters and national correspondents. The selection process is fairly informal: Campaign workers are already familiar with most of the reporters and bloggers who request a ride, but they might ask for some verification if you’re working for a small or unknown publication. Even student journalists can sometimes get onboard if there’s room. (Those who can’t get official permission might try working the trail as a stowaway.)

Reporters who pass muster with the press office are given a badge that sometimes includes the tour’s slogan. The Giuliani campaign, like some others, charges members of the press for their bus seats—usually by dividing the total cost of operating the bus by the number of reporters and prorating the fee based on how much time each spends onboard. John McCain makes a special point of letting reporters ride for free, and even allows them to travel in the same bus that he does.

There are several reasons presidential candidates provide press buses, which vary according to the campaign. For one, it’s a way to control access: If the reporters are all sequestered in one place, it assures they’re out of the candidate’s way except for scheduled announcements and interviews. For candidates who have Secret Service protection, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, things operate more smoothly if reporters stay separated from the crowds of onlookers.

Press buses are also an effective way to entice coverage. In a small state like Iowa, campaign stops mostly take place in rural towns. Reporters who ride the campaign bus are spared the inconvenience of renting vehicles and taking long, time-consuming drives.

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Explainer thanks Slate’s John Dickerson and Crystal Benton of the John McCain campaign.