Journalists Debate the Role of Media in Elections

Journalists debated the role of the press in politics--with some arguing that television news has reduced the quality of political debate.

"It's like the Jim Carrey movie, Dumb and Dumber," said Scott MacKay, a reporter for the Providence Journal.

MacKay was one of three panelists speaking on "The Media Filter: The Role of the Press in Shaping the Outcome of the Modern U.S. Presidential Election."


David Gergen, professor of public leadership at the Kennedy School of Government and longtime White House advisor, moderated the informal panel.

He introduced the struggle between politicians who say the press is invasive and overly critical and journalists who argue that the government attempts to exert too much influence over the press.

MacKay, the first panelist, claimed that television has created parties which breed candidates who can "win on TV."

He used the example of a candidate pausing during a debate. A magazine writer could describe this as "being reflective," but on television, a candidate pausing for more than a few seconds looks like a "dimwit," he said.

MacKay suggested that the night of the first televised national debate, between John F. Kennedy '40 and Richard Nixon, was a watershed event because it established the importance of television to campaigns.

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