Television had a major impact on America from its introduction as a means of mass communication. While the entertainment programming certainly changed how Americans spent much of their free time, the greatest impact, for better or worse, was its impact on politics and how Americans viewed their government. The introduction of television into American households was rapidly exploited by the chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, otherwise known as the Kefauver Committee, for Senator Estes Kefauver. These televised hearings brought into American livingrooms the full picture of organized crime in America, as major figures in organized crime were paraded before the television cameras to be grilled by senators.
By the 1960s, television had become an established element of American political discourse, beginning with the televised presidential debates between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. Opinions differ on the extent to which these televised debates influenced the elections outcome, but most agree that the young, handsome senator came across on the cameras much better than the older, slightly hunched vice president. In fact, Kennedy and his advisors had a far greate appreciation for the importance of physical appearance on television than did their Republican counterparts.
One of the areas in which television had its greatest impact was in its coverage of the escalating war in Vietnam. Rather than newspaper photographs that were obviously limited -- but still effective -- in conveying the horrors of war, Americans now had the experience of video footage, including live broadcasts, on a nighly basis delivered right to their televisions. The impact of these broadcasts cannot be overstated, including the commentary of CBS newsman Walter Cronkite.
Television also conveyed images of social and racial unrest that changed America in very profound ways. Most would consider those changes to have been positive, thereby acknowledging the role of television in advancing social transformation.