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How did the advent of television impact politics?


Television's Impact on Government's Roles
Congressional leaders like House Speaker John Boehner often use the press to help get across their messages to their constituents and the American public.
Congressional leaders like House Speaker John Boehner often use the press to help get across their messages to their constituents and the American public.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Since the invention of TV, the executive branch has become more and more powerful, thanks partly to New Deal policies that created and expanded many federal agencies [source: Kaid]. TV has contributed to that increase in power by making the president more visible and therefore more a part of people's everyday lives. With that visibility comes the power to garner support for his policies (as long as he's popular enough). For example, riding a tide of popularity from his recent election, in 1981 President Reagan made a televised address urging citizens to support a tax and budget package that had stalled in Congress. After the address, congressional leaders received a flood of letters and phone calls in support of the president, and Reagan got his package through [source: Foote].

According to a survey from the 1990s, the average network newscast spent 20 percent of its time throughout that decade discussing the president, and a full 97 percent of broadcasts featured at least one story on the commander-in-chief [source: Smoller]. Because TV is a visual medium, it's easier for newscasts to focus on one person, like the president, than several hundred members of Congress [source: Smoller]. Traditionally, the president can ask for free broadcast air time to push his agenda and comment on important events, while congressional leaders usually have a hard time getting the same consideration, except during high profile events like the State of the Union address [source: Foote].

The TV news cycle has also changed the pattern of presidential announcements. Big news is generally released by 2 p.m. in hopes that it will become the top story on the evening news. News the administration wants to keep quiet typically comes out over the weekend hoping something else will distract the attention of news producers by Monday [source: Malcolm].

Congress has had its share of changes brought on by TV, too. Television coverage of high profile hearings, like Joe McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, or the Watergate hearings in the 1970s, have given certain members of Congress extremely public platforms for their views [source: Foote]. C-SPAN, a cable channel that has been broadcasting all open sessions of both houses of Congress since the 1980s, has led to debates becoming more theatrical, with members accusing each other of going over the top for the cameras. But theatrical or not, televised congressional proceedings have increased the level of transparency between the U.S. government and the people [source: Kaid].


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