Impact of Television in Presidential Coverage

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In the 1950's, television, having been introduced to political coverage as a new medium, surpassed the dominance of newspaper and radio media as the primary public source of information regarding politics by 1962. Political processes and events of various measures were all soon televised in recognition of overwhelmingly positive public feedback. By the 1970's, live coverage of major political events were as common as seeing grass on the ground.

Through the impact of television, political campaigns and elections have never been the same as they were before 1952– the presidential race between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. Political advertising enthusiast and author, Frank Biocca, states that this race was "essential to campaigning as we know it today"– creating a gateway in American politics as the Eisenhower campaign called upon product advertising executive, Rosser Reeves, to produce a series of short spot commercials to enhance Eisenhower's image in the public eye. These ads, which were as well crafted as any product ad, appeared during commercial breaks of television programs and were the first of its kind. These pro-Eisenhower commercials, which Stevenson refused to do, helped shape a caring, friendly, and devoted persona of Eisenhower into the minds of the masses which is credited to his electoral victory. Although Stevenson acknowledged the power of television, producing ads for his 1956 race, he still wasn't able to thwart Eisenhower's already-established popularity among the American people.

Political advertising in the use of television has become so significantly renown that it is the "major form of communication among candidates and the voters they seek to reach out to" according to Richard Brody, Stanford University Press. In realization of Eisenhower's success, every presidential campaign since 1952 has relied extremely on political ads. 40 years later, the political parties of George Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot spent over $110 million for the production and air time of television spots during the 1992 presidential race as reported in the "Social Science Quarterly" of June 1993. Presidential victory is not the only concern of a particular political party, however, as 50-75% of the campaign budget for Senate and Congressional seats goes to televised political advertisements as well.

"There are several reasons in which television ads are so important in the eyes of politicians" again says writer, Frank Biocca. The content and the commercial spots in which they are placed are always at the discretion and control of the candidate with his/her campaign– these spots can broaden an audience of people that other forms of media simply can't. The ads, placed specifically during bipartisan programming, can target and influence people of all backgrounds to vote for their candidate as research shows voters learn more from political spots than any news coverage or televised debate.

There are only a few restrictions and boundaries that affect the role of television in the political process. One such regulation was the Federal Communications Act of 1934 which contained the idea of Equal Time Provision– obligating radio and television stations that give or sell time to one candidate to do the same for all candidates running for that same federal office. The Fairness Doctrine, which was established in regard to political ad attacks– commercials devoted to the negativity of an opposing candidate– provided a candidate the right to respond to attack ads in broadcast programming. Because of concerns with the right of free speech, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have never imposed such a regulation to stop attack ads. The only rule implemented on all political message content was that they require sponsor identification.

Politics, in general, provide a natural source of content for television news programming. Every election period, you can always rely...
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