How Mass Media Shaped Politics & Embroiled Trump.
Social Media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the new fuel for political campaigns but it started with radio and television.
First came the newsletters, then television advertisements and finally social media. The exchange of communication today happens instantaneously. Speed in this regard also shows the consequences of politics unlettered view of America and its history are, if anything, more direct than ever. However, the rise of narcissistic politicians like Donald Trump did not occur overnight. Presidential campaigns required some form of mass media that encouraged voters to pay attention to budding potential candidates.
Mass media differs from social media because mass media is used to create passive public perception such as a politician filming a commercial emphasizing their achievements. Social media influences individual and societal thinking by making anyone an active participant quickly through social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram putting the audience in an active consumer position. Social media is usually embraced by a younger audience and is an effective way to reach a large audience quickly through conversational content. Mass media is traditionally consumed by an older more mature audience and is valid through branding. In an era of instant gratification social media rules, the day but mass media laid the foundation.
Mass media took politics by storm in the 1960’s with the presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Americans for the first time felt the impact of the television becoming not only an intricate part of their households but their political viewpoints as well. The Vietnam war began in the fall of 1955 swarming newspapers, photos and televisions with wounded soldiers on the battlefield and the terror war created. Politicians and military generals alike complained about the popularity of this new form of mass media and how it was hurting the moral of the war effort.“One of the most influential acts during the war was the decision of Life Magazine to fill one edition of its magazine with photographs of the 242 US soldiers killed in Vietnam during one week of the fighting.” (Simkin,1997).
The milestone of getting the American public more involved in politics and less on the tragedies of war had been answered. “As the story goes, those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. But those listeners were in the minority. By the 1960’s 88% of American households had televisions-up from just 11% the decade before” (Webley, 2010). This mass media change was profound for its time. It impacted people to do away with listening to a politician on the radio to now visually seeing who that politician was. Kennedy being the younger candidate made up what he lacked in experience with handsomeness and confidence. Nixon who was overcoming a bout with the flu spoke nervously and appeared sickly and sweaty. As the campaign trail blazed along Nixon recovered and debated well against Kennedy but a first impression can be a lasting one. This swayed the individual and societal thinking of voter’s enough that watched Kennedy on TV. Thus, allowing Kennedy to gain support within the Democratic party and ultimately a presidential victory winning the popular vote.
The Freedom of Information Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. Johnson signed into law a huge milestone allowing the public and news media outlets disclosure to government documents and public records. In a pre WaterGate enviroment this act felt like perfect timing for mass media as whispers of politicians telling the American public what type of citizens they should be versus living the exact opposite in their own personal lives.
In 1992, presidential debates were commonplace and voters going through a failing economy demanded answers and follow through on real policy. By the 90’s the American public has seen bribery, corruption and numerous pitfalls by politicians over the years. The Watergate scandal involved then-President Richard Nixon in wiretaps, bribery and various other dirty tricks used against his political opponents. What made the Watergate scandal unique was the level of media and mass exposure of corrupt government it created after the Nixon administration attempted to cover it up. Two journalist Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein changed mass media forever in American politics. As stated by The Washington Post, “Woodward and Bernstein uncovered a system of political “dirty tricks” and crimes that eventually led to indictments of forty White House and administration officials, and ultimately to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.” (Washington Post,1974). Richard Nixon’s actions mirrored the new up and coming Governor from Arkansas Bill Clinton, who was a man haunted by his own scandals including numerous sexual misconduct allegations.
The Bush, Clinton, Perot presidential debate impacted individual and societal thinking by allowing for the first time in American politics a third-party candidate being featured on stage. Bill Clinton who was extremely articulate ran political advertisements daily attempting to sell skeptical American voters that his policies for economic expansion were legitimate. “Perot, in fact, led the polls at various points in the campaign season. But as the economy continued to flounder and Bush came under increasing fire for violating his infamous “No New Taxes” pledge, the race appeared much closer to a dead heat, and Clinton capitalized on an enormous convention bounce” (Thurm, 2012). The three-man debate which was a televised event allowed the candidates to showcase their political talent in more of a conversation style with voters instead of a two-man confrontation. Clinton and Perot exchanged words and policies while Bush seemed non-engaged to the mass media attention. “The candidates were asked by a voter how the national debt had directly affected their lives, and if it hadn’t how they could then relate to the economic problems of ordinary Americans and deal effectively with the economy. Bush not only didn’t understand how to answer the question, but he also checked his watch at the beginning of the question. (Thurm,2012). Bush checking his watch showed the audience how out of touch he was with America’s current problems. Clinton capitalized with his natural ability to engage ordinary people and answer questions instead of using scripted talking points that may disengage the audience. Clinton won a solid victory with his southern charm in the 1992 campaign as the challenger versus the incumbent. Bill Clinton made good on his word as president amidst the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the controversial crime bill signing years later. Until this day with the use of mass media Bill Clinton is the only U.S. president to achieve the lowest unemployment and highest homeownership on record.
What some may consider as the first-time social media directly impacted a presidential campaign others saw as a huge milestone and change of dynamic in American politics particularly involving race relations and taxing of the wealthy. That milestone was the Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney presidential debate in 2012. A far cry from the 1960’s television mass media that was strict and controlled a new age of social media has evolved and impacted not only the individual that decides to vote but an interconnected network of millions of people in society through conversation and content. The presidential debate between Obama and Romney changed social media not solely because Obama was the first African American president going for a second term but the record collective number of tweets created in the ninety-minute debate created during the process. “Overall, according to Twitter, 10.3 million tweets were sent during the 90-minute debate, with a peak of 158,000 tweets per minute.” (Carbone, 2012). Young voters mainly making up the African American and Latino demographic used social media to voice their opinions on Romney’s lackluster performance. Romney berated Obama on tax cuts Obama snapped back using a tax plan based on previous President Bill Clinton’s approach which was not taxing small business and creating a deficit into a surplus.
At debate’s end, Obama showed maturity and wisdom from his last 2008 debate debut. Barack Obama kept voters glued to various social media outlets using smooth modulation on his take on universal healthcare, position on Iraq and global warming. Mitt Romney came off like a rich billionaire that was out of touch and backing the big banks and corporations. Romney and Obama both used digital content to their advantage. According to the Pew Research Center, “By 2008, candidate websites were standard, and campaigns were taking steps to try and control their messages in ways that bypassed the traditional media”. (Pew Research Center, 2012). A new level of political conversation through digital posts like never seen before flooded Twitter. These digital tools were employed by both men, but Obama eventually stole the win for a second presidential victory a historic milestone in its own right.
It’s almost impossible not to be drawn into mass media and social media both push and pull at our daily lives whether it derives from the news, blogs, advertisement or political campaigns. Since the 1960’s into the 2000’s mass media and political campaigns have changed and grown during each campaign era. It is still too early to tell, but the emergence of Donald Trump as president in 2017 will highlight his extensive damaging use of social media more than any president before him. Whether the future campaign trail will involve digital diplomacy due to Trump weaponizing Twitter against immigrants or the past John F. Kennedy/Richard Nixon, Bush/Perot/Clinton and Obama/Romney campaign tactics of old. Things are changing, America has removed the layer of hush and lack of understanding involved with speaking politics in public. Masses on opposing political sides are more divided than ever using mass and social media as ammunition to shape political views. No one knows what the future holds for media in politics. Whether loved or hated, profoundly flawed or extremely brilliant all the presidents had compelling arguments that not only shaped mass and social media but American politics at large forever.
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About The Author
Dawdu M. Amantanah is a technical writer and contributing editor for Bitcoin Magazine , BlackBitcoinBillionaire and Senior Editor for Satoshi’s Journal. He is passionate about cryptocurrency, economics, radical entrepreneurship, and whatever else he finds attractive at the time.