Television news and the making of the boston busing crisis

Matthew Delmont

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


People outside of Boston came to know and care about the city's "busing crisis" because television news featured the story regularly and this essay examines how television news framed this story for national audiences. This essay illuminates the production techniques of a medium that framed the "busing crisis" in Boston for millions of national viewers. First, I examine how the television coverage of Boston busing in the mid-1970s focused on reports, analysis, and predictions regarding antibusing protests and violence. This day-to-day focus on current and emergent scenes of crisis ignored the history of desegregation efforts since the 1960s, including those that received television coverage in earlier years, like the community-funded Operation Exodus program to bus black children to schools in other neighborhoods and the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's suspension of federal school aid to Boston for violating the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Second, I consider how television news framed the use of force in the Boston busing story. Much of the footage from Boston focused on confrontations between antibusing protestors and authorities from the Boston Police and other law enforcement. Third, I look at how television news offered viewers background reports on two of the places at the center of the busing story, South Boston and Charlestown. Finally, I analyze how local television news programs in other cities presented busing in Boston as a failed policy and regularly replayed the archived footage from Boston to underscore efforts to educate viewers on the importance of upholding the law and avoiding violence. Boston was neither the first nor the last city to witness violent resistance to school desegregation, but extensive television news coverage fixed Boston as the emblematic busing crisis and shaped popular conceptions of the history of busing for school desegregation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-234
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2017


  • Boston
  • Busing
  • Civil rights
  • Education
  • Media
  • Television

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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