JFK: First TV President

Kennedy brought the presidency into the living room.

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The 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination is Friday. This is one of a series of blogs in which I analyze key aspects of the Kennedy presidency and assess what they mean for us today.

John F. Kennedy was the first true TV president. Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman, his predecessors, had very limited experience and understanding of the then-relatively new medium. But Kennedy seemed to grasp the importance and potential of The Tube, and his brilliant use of it set an example for other presidents who later used television to enhance the White House bully pulpit, such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Kennedy and his advisers realized how much television was permeating American life and JFK, through charm and wit, made himself welcome in America's living rooms.

[SPECIAL REPORT: JFK, 50 Years Later]

Good looking, articulate, youthful and self possessed, Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline had many personal qualities that translated well to television. Kennedy's televised news conferences were prime examples of his easygoing and appealing nature. His speeches on TV were riveting. His interviews were popularity builders and it must be said that his interviewers were generally a lot more respectful than interviewers are today.

"The eyes of the world are on you," President John F. Kennedy told University of Mississippi students in a nationally broadcast radio and TV address on Sept. 30, 1962, after announcing that James Smith, an African-American man, would be enrolling in the school as per a federal court order. "Your honor and the honor of the university are at stake.” (Henry Burroughs/AP)
"The eyes of the world are on you," President John F. Kennedy told University of Mississippi students in a nationally broadcast radio and TV address on Sept. 30, 1962, after announcing that James Smith, an African-American man, would be enrolling in the school as per a federal court order. "Your honor and the honor of the university are at stake.” (Henry Burroughs/AP)

Kennedy in a basic sense owed his election to TV. His famous televised debate with Republican nominee Richard Nixon in the 1960 campaign was pivotal. Nixon looked pale and nervous while Kennedy appeared robust and confident. Those who heard the debate on radio said Nixon won but those who saw the debate on TV gave the verdict to Kennedy.

[READ: How JFK's Assassination Changed TV Forever]

After Kennedy, presidential candidates and their strategists seemed more intent than ever on creating favorable images as personality began to overcome policy in our increasingly celebrity-driven culture.

 

More News:

  • JFK: What Might Have Been
  • Bob Schieffer Remembers His Ride to Dallas With Oswald’s Mother
  • JFK Embraced the Civil Rights Movement
  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.