Policymakers and the Third-Person Effect
Dominic L. Lasorsa
Just before the February 1987 airing of the controversial TV mini-series Amerika, well-known political scientist George Kennan wrote a letter to the New York Times in which he said the program contained false suggestions, namely, that the dangers of a bloodless Soviet takeover of the United States with the help of the United Nations were quite real. While noting that he himself considered such messages "outrageous," he added that "it is useless to suppose that 12 solid hours of such suggestions will not leave their marks" on TV viewers. He made it clear that if he had been in charge of programming at ABC, Amerika would not have been beamed into American living rooms ( Kennan, 1987).
Professor emeritus at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study and a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Kennan has been regarded generally as one of the world's most insightful political experts. When Kennan speaks, the New York Times often prints his words. One of the basic premises of this chapter, however, is that Kennan's fears about the effects of this dramatic TV presentation on its audience may not have been justified and that, furthermore, it may have been precisely his political expertise that led him to worry unjustifiably about its effects.
In trying to understand the role of political communication in the