THE PEOPLE MACHINE: The Influence of Television on American Politics by Robert MacNeil

THE PEOPLE MACHINE: The Influence of Television on American Politics

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Perhaps the most interesting insight of MacNeil's book is that television, which has brought ""radical change"" in the means of political communication, acts as a conservative factor in public opinion. Neither the networks nor the politicians rattle ""the reassurance syndrome"" which tells the audience what the polls indicated it wants to hear. Other opinions (or personality traits) are ""deemphasized."" This, he claims, is partly a failure of nerve, partly a fear of ratings (or votes). His conclusion is that television journalism has failed to provide the depth reporting it might, and that ""campaigning by commercial"" (which can create a vote-getting reputation in weeks), could be employed more pervasively--and, possibly, more dangerously--either by the networks themselves or the political Establishment. Today, only the President tends to propagandize fully, and MacNeil advocates that networks boycott Presidential control of interviews. In short, his book is a synthesis of what experts say, what campaign directors advocate, plus a few telling case studies (of Nixon, Kennedy, Milton Schapp) and his own prescriptions for emendation. But, as he points out, nobody had done the research yet to see if TV politicking really works and nobody knows how far the networks dare go (legally, morally, commercially). So the conclusions are rather tentative. An adequate, but popular, study of the effect of television on politics, which like the medium, doesn't probe too deeply. Gene Wyckoff's The Image Candidates (p. 97), may have preempted some of the audience by now.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1968
Publisher: Harper & Row