Truman & the Television

By Kaleena Fraga

Last week marked the anniversary of the first televised presidential debate (September 26, 1960) between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. This is a moment that gets the most attention–it arguably altered American politics forever by bringing in a new level of stakes for candidates. Image became paramount. It’s an oft repeated anecdote that while radio listeners gave the debate to Nixon, television viewers awarded it to Kennedy. Any observers of the 2016 election would likely agree that the fever pitch around the debates (especially during the primaries) is indicative of the importance of image in today’s political culture.

But the real television trailblazer is Harry S Truman, who on this day (October 5th, 1947) gave the first televised address by a U.S. president. Pre-Marshall Plan, Truman was appealing to his fellow Americans to help support war-torn Europe by not eating meat on Tuesdays, not eating chicken on Thursdays, and to eat less bread.

Truman didn’t have a large audience–the television itself was still something of a commodity. But he seemed to have faith in the medium–the rest of his White House speeches were all televised.

TRUMAN
Truman’s televised inauguration in 1949

He also was the first president to have his inauguration televised. We can only speculate on what a Truman-Dewey debate might have been like!

(Thanks to “Truman” by my fave David McCullough)

 

 

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