This essay examines how housewife and political activist Irene McCabe drew national television news coverage to protests against busing for school desegregation. While thousands of parents across the nation raised their voices against busing, none received the same level of national television attention as McCabe and her Pontiac, Michigan – based antibusing organization, the National Action Group. In a protest that was more than simply an example of white backlash against civil rights, McCabe learned from other protest movements, creating television-ready scenes that garnered attention and framed her cause in a favorable light. Focusing on a series of widely televised antibusing protests in the early 1970s, this essay examines how McCabe cultivated a multifaceted television persona, combining political acumen, sexuality, and a calculated vulnerability that made local antibusing politics into national news. This study highlights how television news made local protests meaningful for national audiences, how McCabe articulated private and public identities of motherhood that both troubled and exemplified television's boundaries between the private and public spheres, and how McCabe's self-inflicted suffering during the mothers' march lent the event a dramatic narrative quality that echoed other television genres. All of this unfolded against the backdrop of the Nixon administration's attack on television news broadcasters for their liberal bias, which made McCabe more appealing to news producers as a representative of white opposition to civil rights.
Skip Nav Destination
Matt Delmont; “Miserable Women on Television”: Irene McCabe, Television News, and Antibusing Politics. Camera Obscura 1 December 2014; 29 (3 (87)): 33–63. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2801507
Download citation file: