How did the advent of television impact politics?

Television's Impact on Voters

TV has also changed the way political news is packaged. With large amounts of time to fill, 24-hour news stations have introduced analysis by spin doctors and talking heads to fill the schedule. Spin doctors, usually paid professionals working for one party or another, try to spin the news in favor of their side. Talking heads, independent of party control, usually lean one way or the other, and offer their take on recent developments [source: Smoller].

Analysis has become so common that much of the actual political news, like speeches or news conferences with politicians, has been reduced to sound bites, which are, on average, only 9.8 seconds long [source: Hart]. News producers anxious to keep broadcasts fast-paced will take one key snippet from a much longer series of remarks [source: Smoller]. That gives news producers a huge amount of power over how the public digests political events.

Looking at trends like sound bites and talking heads, many media analysts have criticized TV for dumbing down political discourse. News coverage of elections, for example, usually focuses on "horse race" developments like movements in the polls to determine who is winning. The news is less likely to focus on in-depth discussion of candidates' platforms [source: Dover]. Given TV's visual nature, scenes of carnage after the bombing of a foreign country tend to be more powerful than a president's carefully written speech about the necessities of war [source: Smoller].

In recent years, savvy political advisers have taken advantage of the power of TV and the talking heads to get their candidates' messages across. For example, top George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove used skillful control over the media message to help win two elections for Bush, and create momentum for controversial policies like the war in Iraq. Brilliant or diabolical, depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall, Rove used a network of conservative columnists, analysts and commentators to spread the administration's message on TV news and in print through talking points [source: Silverblatt]. Ronald Reagan's communications team pioneered a similar strategy, using "lines of the day" to keep administration officials and conservative commentators on message [source: Smoller].

At its best, TV can serve as a watchdog, keeping government officials accountable. One famous example is when respected news anchor Walter Cronkite presented a special report on the Vietnam War in 1968. Today, many historians look to the moment Cronkite called the war a "quagmire" as the beginning of a larger shift in public opinion against support for Vietnam [source: Hart]. Keep reading for more information on how TV has impacted politics.

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