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9 January 2008

New Hampshire’s mad media circus

Dan Hancox reflects on a crazy few days in which the world's media descended on Manchester, New Hamp

By Dan Hancox

Dan Hancox and Tom Humberstone are on the road in America blogging the US presidential primaries, with Dan writing the words, and Tom drawing the pictures

Though few would weep, it remains true that if a bomb dropped in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire this week, the world’s media might never recover.

As we grace the city’s main street on primary day, scores of satellite trucks speckle the snowy side-streets, outnumbering even the campaigners on the street corners. Virtually everyone who walks past is wearing a nametag (or six), swinging their telephoto lenses, talking urgently into cell phones about deadlines and bulletins. This is New Hampshire on primary day, where there’s a laptop bag for every shoulder, a lanyard for every neck.

The only people in town who aren’t the media are the campaigners – for specific candidates and also for specific issues, like global warming, universal health care, even legal reform. Some stand on street corners handing out leaflets, some drive up and down the main drag, honking their horns and waving banners. Two people in bright pink pig suits, standing up in a red convertible, drive past. They’re holding signs, something to do with meat farming and global warming, but sadly – as is happening all over town – the issues are drowned out by the vociferous media hum.

As we walk the main drag, shrugging off interview requests from Canadian television (“erm, we’re media ourselves, sorry..”), eyes agog at the insanity of it all, a couple of guys wearing tin-foil hats fall in alongside us. They aren’t sporting the standard-issue media paraphernalia, and they aren’t wearing specific candidate campaign badges. They do have an enigmatic, home-made sign with a smiley face on it though. ‘What or who are you guys campaigning for?’ we ask, slightly cautiously. They grin broadly.

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Rob and Janet, from a Harvard magazine about sex and sexuality called Harvard H-Bomb, join our table in the Radisson, a hotel that is teeming with journalists like ants in an anthill. They want to know what people think about sexuality and American politics; right now they want to know what we think about sex and American politics. Dennis Kucinich walks past, and I point them his way; a neat way of avoiding a tough question – thanks Dennis.

The day before, in the sleepy seaside wonderland of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where we’d been personally accosted by both Chelsea Clinton and Governor Bill Richardson (twice), we attended a low-key John Edwards rally in a small school. Edwards had declaimed his populist message for probably the thousandth time: a return to government guided by ordinary Americans, not corporate lobbyists or braying media. Just prior to his arrival, Tim Robbins had warmed up the crowd with a speech decrying celebrity culture, and decrying the way the TV media have covered the election. As the results come in and the campaigns move on to the next circus site, Robbins words are still ringing in my ears:

“It’s the people who don’t already have mics in front of them that we need to hear from.”