Television and Politics

May 15, 1968

Report Outline
Role of Television in the 1968 Campaign
Growing Use of Television by Politicians
Fairness Problem and Image Projection
Special Focus

Role of Television in the 1968 Campaign

Politics and television have contracted an informal, mutually uneasy alliance of convenience in this presidential election year. No candidate for high national or state office can afford to ignore a medium that reaches at least 98 per cent of all American households wired for electricity. And the networks must perforce devote a considerable amount of time to political speeches and to news coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Politics on television is costly—both to the candidates and to the broadcasters. If the goal is to enlighten the electorate, are political telecasts worth the outlay of time and money?

Television has been praised for bringing the candidate and the voter into more intimate contact than was formerly possible. On the other hand, it is argued that TV tends to stress “image” at the expense of substance and thus to reward the facile candidate. Gene Wyckoff, a writer and producer of television films, supports that somewhat controversial view. In a new book on The Image Candidates: American Politics in the Age of Television, Wyckoff prophesies, moreover, that “American politics in the age of telesion” will undergo “a subtle increase of incompetence in high places at crucial moments, a subtle corrosion of our government's traditional dedication to being representative of and responsive to a consensus of informed public opinion.” Voicing a more widely held view, Kenneth P. O'Donnell, former special assistant to John F. Kennedy, has asserted that while television “thrusts people into prominence,” they “must have the qualities of greatness” to remain there. “TV cannot manufacture them. It can only transmit what is there.”

Call for Debate Between the Candidates

President Johnson's announcement, March 31, that he would not be a candidate for renomination gave rise to proposals that the principal 1968 nominees for President and Vice President engage in a series of “great debates” similar to those between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960. Frank Stanton, president of the Columbia Broadcasting System, urged in telegrams to the chairmen of the Senate and House Commerce committees, April 1, that “the views of the leading contenders for the nominations of the major parties be placed fully before the public during the primary campaigns, and that such parties' nominees have the fullest opportunity to present their views during the general election campaign.” Vincent T. Wasilewski, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, made a similar suggestion before the N.A.B. convention in Chicago the same day.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Feb. 19, 2021  Hollywood and COVID-19
Apr. 11, 2014  Future of TV
Nov. 09, 2012  Indecency on Television
Aug. 27, 2010  Reality TV
Jun. 20, 2008  Transition to Digital TV
Feb. 16, 2007  Television's Future
Mar. 18, 2005  Celebrity Culture
Oct. 29, 1999  Public Broadcasting
Aug. 15, 1997  Children's Television
Dec. 23, 1994  The Future of Television
Mar. 26, 1993  TV Violence
Sep. 18, 1992  Public Broadcasting
Oct. 04, 1991  Pay-Per-View
Feb. 17, 1989  A High-Tech, High-Stakes HDTV Gamble
Dec. 27, 1985  Cable Television Coming of Age
Sep. 07, 1984  New Era in TV Sports
Sep. 24, 1982  Cable TV's Future
Apr. 24, 1981  Public Broadcasting's Uncertain Future
May 09, 1980  Television in the Eighties
Oct. 25, 1972  Public Broadcasting in Britain and America
Mar. 26, 1971  Video Revolution: Cassettes and Recorders
Sep. 09, 1970  Cable Television: The Coming Medium
May 15, 1968  Television and Politics
Mar. 01, 1967  Financing of Educational TV
Dec. 16, 1964  Community Antenna Television
Oct. 21, 1964  Sports on Television
Feb. 28, 1962  Expansion of Educational Television
Aug. 28, 1957  Television in the Schools
Jan. 18, 1957  Movie-TV Competition
Sep. 06, 1955  Television and the 1956 Campaign
May 18, 1954  Educational Television
Sep. 03, 1953  Changing Fortunes of the Movie Business
Apr. 20, 1953  Televising Congress
May 31, 1951  Television in Education
Jan. 26, 1949  Television Boom
Jul. 12, 1944  Television
Campaigns and Elections
Campaigns and Elections
Radio and Television