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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of television on national politics

Talmadge discusses the impact of television on politics during his tenure in the United States Senate. Talmadge first used television for political purposes during the 1952 Democratic National Convention. According to Talmadge, the medium of television allowed him to rise to national prominence as a politician and he contends that television had very much revolutionized the ways in which politicians interact with their constituents. His comments reveal the ways in which mass media shaped national politics in the mid-twentieth century.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK NELSON:
What about the impact of mass media?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I don't think that there is any doubt but what television today has the most enormous impact on people's thinking of anything in the country. I know that most of the time I try to watch the evening news and people like Huntley-Brinkley report the news, they can omit whatever they want to and state whatever they want to and they have got fifty million people watching them and sometimes those fifty million people are too busy to read a newspaper. That might be the only source of information they have.
JACK NELSON:
And mass communications, and I suppose particularly television, have had a tremendous amount to do with all the movements that we have been talking about.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
No doubt about it.
JACK NELSON:
Civil rights and environmental protection and consumerism.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
That's correct.
JACK NELSON:
What about the impact of television, you said on people's thinking? Have you ever been involved in the Senate in any of the legislation that had to do with advertising that affects children or violence on television and so forth?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
That doesn't come before any of my committees. It goes before the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee that have jurisdiction over television and radio licenses. We have had some bills, I think, that have come from the committee, but the Constitution of the United States, you know, contains the First Amendment and there is a prohibition against regulation of free speech and freedom of assembly. So, you are in a difficult area to regulate. Of course, I presume that theoretically you could regulate it to some degree because we grant the license. And the television and radio networks would be a little bit different from the newspapers in that regard. It is extremely difficult to regulate something of that nature because you get into the First Amendment.
JACK NELSON:
How has television changed your own campaigning, Senator?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I think that television . . .
JACK NELSON:
I know that you still do an awfully lot of the person to person campaigning.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Television, I think, has benefited me more than anything in my political career. I remember the first nationwide program that I was on at the Chicago convention in 1952. We were trying to nominate Senator Russell as the Democratic nominee at that time. It was my first appearance on "Meet the Press." The format has changed somewhat since that time. They had a panel of about nine reporters there asking the questions and I think that I came out pretty well on it. I got five thousand letters and telegrams as a result of that one program all over the United States. Some of them said, "Thirty minutes ago, I wouldn't have traded you for an alley cat and now I would like to see you as President of the United States." Prior to that time, the news media could project any image of me that they wanted to. Most of them were hostile and Time Magazine particularly would write little snide things. For the first time it gave me an opportunity to go into the living rooms and they could see Herman Talmadge as he was and not Herman Talmadge who had been fabricated by Time Magazine and some other journalists. So, I think that it gives people an opportunity to see the candidates themselves, to judge the candidates themselves, their intelligence, their philosophy and their candor. I think that it has been enormously beneficial to me.