The media influenced the civil rights movement in key ways, and it is important to understand that the leaders of the movement understood this fact very clearly. First, the media tended to anoint leaders of the movement, particularly Martin Luther King. This had the effect of portraying King's vision of the movement, which was non-violent and essentially political (the media for a time tended to efface his statements about economic equality) as if it represented a consensus.
The other influence the media had on the movement was to televise its key events to a nationwide, and even worldwide audience. The entire nation was shocked by the shocking scenes from places like Birmingham and Selma. Not only did this lead to popular support for civil rights legislation everywhere but the South, but in a Cold War context, it created a major propaganda opportunity for the Soviet Union to portray US rhetoric about freedom as hollow and meaningless.
The media played a vital role in being able to...
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