Game Changer

JFK 50 Years Later: What Are the Legacies of His Presidency and Assassination?

By Sarah Niebler, assistant professor of political science

My American Government class recently discussed the 1960 debate between Kennedy and Nixon. Students were surprised to learn that members of the electorate who listened to the debate on the radio believed Nixon won, while those who watched on television thought Kennedy was victorious.

More than 50 years later, media's role in contemporary presidential elections cannot be overlooked. The segmentation of the television media environment means that while people can watch programs about news and public affairs 24 hours a day, many opt out of news programming altogether. Furthermore, partisan news sources present increasingly differing views of what is happening in the world, and individuals are more likely to choose news with a point of view that is similar to their own. The segmentation of television news and the rise of partisan journalism are not solely responsible for today's polarized political environment, but they contribute to the gridlock in American politics.

Americans no longer have television news or the televised coverage of political events as common cultural touchstones. Approximately 40 percent of the American public watched the Nixon/Kennedy debate, but only about 25 percent watched the first debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. I do not want to wax nostalgic about "good old days" when television was only broadcast channels; however, if Americans want compromise in government, we need to find a way to move past the media segmentation and talk with one another about contentious political issues.

Read more faculty perspectives on JFK.

Published November 20, 2013