There are many important examples of how the mass media and television in particular impacted the United States during the last half of the twentieth century. Let us look at three such examples.
- Impact on elections. Before the rise of television, elections were conducted very differently. There were no campaign ads as there are today. There were no televised debates. The way a candidate looked and how he came across on TV were not as important as they are today. This started to change with the 1960 presidential election. There was a famous debate in that campaign in which those who only heard the debate felt Nixon had won but those who saw the debate felt Kennedy had won. This was a major change in our politics.
- Impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Without television coverage, the Civil Rights Movement might not have succeeded. Much of the movement’s success was based on having people in the North see what was happening in the South. Television footage of the way that demonstrators were being treated helped turn the North in favor of the movement.
- Impact on the Vietnam War. Without television coverage, the US might not have pulled out of Vietnam when it did. This was the first war that was heavily covered on TV. The images of the war were therefore much more vivid to people at home. This helped to turn people against the war.
In these ways, the visual nature of television helped to affect American society in important ways in the 20th century.