Ellen Fitzpatrick, Professor of History
University of New Hampshire
Mass media has transformed not only presidential politics but the American presidency itself. This webinar focuses on John F. Kennedy, the nation's first television president. In 1950, only 11% of U.S. households owned a television; by 1960, when Kennedy campaigned for the presidency, that number had reached nearly 90%. Had all the forces of nature conspired, it is hard to imagine they could have created a candidate and president better suited to emerge in this new era than JFK. He understood the power of television, made masterful use of the medium and was ideally suited to it. From his campaign for the White House, throughout his presidency, and even in his tragic death, Kennedy would define the medium that made him president even as it deeply etched the nation’s 35th president into our national memory.
Educators and older students may be familiar with JFK’s striking grasp of television’s potential in the first live presidential debates held with Vice President Richard M. Nixon in the fall of 1960. Less well known are the wildly popular press conferences viewed by millions of Americans. They featured lively exchanges between the president and press corps that prompted some advisors to question reporters’ respect for the dignity of the office. From his Inaugural Address to his historic June 1963 speech on civil rights, Kennedy delivered on live television addresses that powerfully engaged the public, especially in moments of crisis. Finally, widespread coverage of Kennedy’s young family promoted an image that captivated many Americans in the new age of television.
This webinar will explore the impact of television on Kennedy's presidency and on the country in a tumultuous and defining era in modern political history. It is presented as part of the JFK Centennial.
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