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Lawrence Spivak (left), host of Meet the Press, and program participants, 1964

Courtesy of Library of Congress

By the 1950s, presidents realized that much of their time and money should be spent on television. Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first presidential candidate to appear in a television campaign commercial, in 1952. His unorthodox decision surprised many, but the power of television was soon apparent.

Since then, television has been the dominant medium for the expression of presidential leadership. Manufacturing an effective presidential image today requires the use of newspapers and news magazines, talk radio, and more recent technologies such as the Internet. However, the prevailing standard of communication, appearance, and performance is still defined by television.

Nixon postcard
Richard M. Nixon's televised "Checkers speech" demonstrated that diligent preparation and mastery of production details could position a candidate in a favorable light. The speech was a response to allegations in the press that Nixon had used campaign funds for personal expenses, a charge which jeopardized his place on the 1952 Republican Party ticket.

The broadcast's most memorable feature was Nixon's account of how his children received Checkers, a black-and-white cocker spaniel. The dramatic quality of Nixon's speech, his heartfelt delivery, and his insistence that the family would keep Checkers "no matter what" struck a chord among viewers.

A stream of sympathetic cards and supportive letters flooded the campaign. Relieved staffers responded to each one with a picture postcard of the vice-presidential candidate and his family.

Cartoon, "This Speech is costing over $4000 a minute"
By the 1950s, it became necessary for political parties to acquaint presidents and presidential hopefuls with the importance of their television appearance and how to conduct themselves on the medium.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Interior page, convention magazine, 1956 Democratic National Convention
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