Television has allowed events and people to be more accessible, even if the audience is hundreds of miles away. This has not necessarily had a positive impact. Since the 1960s, American presidential elections and events surrounding the elections have been broadcast on television. Although this allows for more of an audience to be politically active, as a result, images have become almost as important as a person’s actions. Through television, an authority figure has the power to manipulate public opinion or change the complete truth to something more suited to his viewpoint. Television is dangerous.
It is historically evident that during a presidential campaign, a candidate will discuss a subject that relates to the audience around him. A candidate will not get into a debate about retirement funding if he is speaking to an audience between the ages of 18 and 30. Instead, he will discuss a topic that his audience has an interest in. In this way, he can gain support from many ages and groups. Through television, this method could lead to comments about topics other than politics. When discussing his underwear preference in a political campaign for an MTV audience, Bill Clinton was focusing on his image, not the issues at hand. The members of the MTV audience that could relate to him and voted for him were not voting completely about Clinton’s take on the issues but on his image. During the election of 1960, those who listened to the presidential debates over the radio felt that John F. Kennedy did not do as well as those who watched the debates on television felt he did. This evidence shows the “distorting effects of television” (source C) in its emphasis on image. By using television as a key in presidential campaigning, a certain percentage of voters are basing their votes on image and personality instead of the political issues at hand.
Television can also be sued as a form of manipulation. Audiences may not be getting the full story or coverage of an event or issue. The lack of information or change in information can alter their opinion. Ted Koppel wrote in 2001 that a presidential debate was a “joke,” but “because we were able to pull the best three or four minutes of the ninety-minute event, Nightline made the whole thing look pretty good” (source F). In this scenario, Nightline changed the debate for its audiences, who in turn may have changed their minds for or against one candidate or the other. Through the power of editing, companies can cut and alter footage to sway their audiences.
One person can also have a profound effect on public opinion. If a movie star is seen wearing a new blue shirt, millions of fans go out and buy the same or a similar shirt because they admire and trust the star. This scenario can also apply to news and politics. If an influential person were to declare that her or she disagreed with one of the candidates, some of their fans might use their opinion when voting. During the Vietnam War, a well-known and trusted news anchor, Walter Cronkite, declared that he did not completely agree with the president’s actions overseas. Therefore, “if Walter Cronkite thought that the war was hopeless, the American people would think so too” (source E). Walter Cronkite had so much effect on public opinion that President Johnson decided to remove some troops from Vietnam.
Television is used as a tool by presidential candidates, producers, and people of influence to sway public opinion. The use of television has had a negative impact on presidential elections because it has the ability to unfairly alter opinions.