Media Nation: The Political History of News in Modern America

Media Nation: The Political History of News in Modern America

Media Nation: The Political History of News in Modern America

Media Nation: The Political History of News in Modern America

Synopsis

From the creation of newspapers with national reach in the late nineteenth century to the lightning-fast dispatches and debates of today's Internet, the media have played an enormous role in modern American politics. Scholars of political history universally concede the importance of this relationship yet have devoted scant attention to its development during the past century. Even as mass media have largely replaced party organizations as the main vehicles through which politicians communicate with and mobilize citizens, little historical scholarship traces the institutional changes, political organizations, and media structures that underlay this momentous shift.

With Media Nation, editors Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer seek to bring the media back to the center of scholarship on the history of the United States since the Progressive Era. The book's revealing case studies examine key moments and questions within the evolution of the media from the early days of print news through the era of television and the Internet, including battles over press freedom in the early twentieth century, the social and cultural history of news reporters at the height of the Cold War, and the U.S. government's abandonment of the Fairness Doctrine and the consequent impact on news production, among others.

Although they cover a diverse array of subjects, the book's contributors cohere around several critical ideas, including how elites interact with media, how key policy changes shaped media, and how media institutions play an important role in shaping society's power structure. Highlighting some of the most exciting voices in media and political history, Media Nation is a field-shaping volume that offers fresh perspectives on the role of mass media in the evolution of modern American politics.

Excerpt

Bruce J. Schulman and Julian E. Zelizer

In the middle of 1966 the United States sank deeper and deeper into Vietnam. Although television had become the dominant medium by that time, the three major networks—CBS, abc, and NBC—remained reluctant to devote coverage to political issues outside of the half-hour nightly newscasts. These commercial enterprises and their executives hesitated to interrupt shows that could generate advertising revenue.

When Senator J. William Fulbright, a Democratic internationalist from Arkansas and former ally of President Lyndon B. Johnson, held hearings about the Vietnam War, the networks initially limited their coverage to brief excerpts. After watching the first few days of testimony, with Fulbright grilling administration officials about what they had done, cbs News chief Fred Friendly decided that Americans needed to see what was going on. Imploring his colleagues to approve live broadcasts, especially since rival nbc had preempted regular programming on the morning a top-level administration official was going to appear, cbs executives agreed to show half an hour of testimony, canceling the popular children’s show Captain Kangaroo. With double the morning audience of nbc, cbs President Frank Stanton balked at giving up any more time.

But as the hearings became even more dramatic, with the legislators directly assailing the entire rationale behind the war, cbs stayed with the live broadcast, preempting lucrative reruns of I Love Lucy, The McCoys, and The Dick Van Dyke Daytime Show. Friendly persuaded his colleagues to continue into the after noon, which meant calling off the soap operas and game shows that earned huge ratings.

The decision did not please the network brass. cbs also came under pressure from the White House. Concerned about the impact the hearings were having, President Johnson telephoned Stanton and asked him to end the . . .

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