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img015 - 32 Politic by Other Mean Presidents were the first...

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Unformatted text preview: 32 Politic: by Other Mean; Presidents were the first national officials to see the opportuni— ties in this development. By communicating directly to the elec- torate through newspapers and magazines, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson established political constituencies for them— selves independent of party organizations and strengthened their own power relative to Congress. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the radio, notably in his famous fireside chats, to reach out to voters throughout the nation and to make himself the center of American politics. FDR was also adept at developing close personal relationships with reporters that enabled him to obtain favorable news coverage despite the fact that in his day a majority of news— paper owners and publishers were staunch conservatives. Following Roosevelt’s example, all subsequent presidents have sought to use the media to enhance their popularity and power. For example, through televised news conferences, President John F. Kennedy mobilized public support for his domestic and foreign policy ini- tiatives. In the 19505 and early 19605 a few members of Congress also made successful use of the media—especially television—to mo- bilize national support for their causes. Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee became a major contender for the presidency and won a place on the 1956 Democratic national ticket as a result of his dra- matic televised hearings on organized crime. Senator Joseph Mc- Carthy of Wisconsin made himself a powerful national figure through his well—publicized investigations of alleged Communist infiltration of key American institutions. These senators, however, were more exceptional than typical. Through the mid-1960s the executive branch continued to generate the bulk of news coverage, and the media served as a cornerstone of presidential power. The Vietnam War shattered this relationship between the press and the presidency. During the early stages of US involvement, American officials in Vietnam who disapproved of the way the war was being conducted leaked information critical of administrative policy to reporters. Publication of this material infuriated the White House, which pressed publishers to block its release; on Eleaaml Decay and I mtitutional Conflict 33 one occasion, President Kennedy went so far as to ask the New York Time: to reassign its Saigon correspondent. The national print and broadcast media—the network news divisions, the national news weeklies, the Washington Port, and the New York Timer—discovered, however, that there was an audience for critical coverage among segments of the public skeptical of administration policy. As the Vietnam conflict dragged on, critical media coverage fanned anti- war sentiment. Moreover, growing opposition to the war among liberals encouraged some members of Congress, notably Senator]. William Fulbright, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Comv mittee, to break with the president. In turn these shifts in popu— lar and congressional sentiment emboldened journalists and publishers to continue to present critical news reports. Through this process, journalists developed a commitment to adversarial journalism, while a constituency emerged that would rally to the defense of the media when they came under White House attack. This pattern, established during the Vietnam War, endured through the 19705 and into the 19905. Political forces opposed to presidential policies, many members of Congress, and the national news media began to find that their interests often overlapped. Liberal opponents of the Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Bush admin- istrations welcomed news accounts critical of the conduct of exec— utive agencies and officials in foreign affairs and in such domestic areas as race relations, the environment, and regulatory policy. In addition, many senators and representatives found it politically advantageous to champion causes favored by the antiwar, consumer, and environmental movements because by conducting televised hearings on such issues, they were able to mobilize national con- stituencies, to become national figures, and in a number of in— stances to become serious contenders for their party‘s presidential nomination. For their part, aggressive use of the techniques of investigation, publicity, and exposure allowed the national media to enhance their autonomy and carve out a prominent place for themselves in American government and politics. In essence, the media came to ...
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