The First Television President (2010)
I spent the afternoon at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, and there was some good information on our first “Television President.”
There were a number of quotes and information signs along the tour, so I’ll just post them below:
The First Televised Campaign (Information Board)
Television shaped the 1952 Eisenhower campaign in revolutionary ways that confirmed the power of the new medium. The GOP’s elaborate TV strategy included using the Nielson company for televised conventions, and producing many “I Like Ike” commercials.
The First Television President (Information Board)
Because of the 1952 presidential campaign, with its exciting images of the Republican Convention, television was becoming a major source of political information for more and more Americans. As Franklin D. Roosevelt had pioneered the use of radio, Eisenhower was the first President to take advantage of the expanded opportunities to speak “in person” to the American public. His news conferences and addresses from the White House established new precedents and expectations for the presidency.
Eisenhower understood that television was revolutionizing politics. He could now address the American people through the new medium, urging them to support policies or explaining difficult decisions. Roosevelt had effectively used his famous “Fireside Chats” on the radio, and Ike tried to muster the power of television to do the same for his agenda.
“If the television craze continues, we are destined to have a nation of morons.” – Daniel Marsh, president, Boston University, 1950.
Televised Press Conference (Information Board):
Until 1955, press conferences had been “off the record.” Journalists could not quote the president until they received an edited, “official” transcript from the press secretary. In that year Ike began allowing television coverage of his press conferences. However, the press conferences were not live broadcasts; film was released to the media for broadcast later. Still, an important step had been taken in providing the American people with candid documentation of their president at work.”
“I don’t want to look like a movie star!” (Information Board)
Ike was not naturally at ease in front of the television camera. He appeared so stiff and awkward during a 1952 campaign appearance on Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” that the great journalist advised him to seek professional help. Eisenhower agreed to work with actor Robert Montgomery.
They rehearsed speeches ahead of time, and Ike finally agreed to wear makeup and blue shirts. Montgomery directed that all camera equipment and crews be hidden behind a black cloth with a hole for the lens, so that Ike might be less intimidated by the process.
Lights, Camera, Action: The Press Conference (Information Board)
During his eight years in office, Eisenhower held 193 wide-ranging question-and-answer sessions with news reporters, more press conferences than any president before him. The conferences were held in the Executive Office Building, now named the Eisenhower Office Building.
Unlike today’s format, which features the president entering the White House pressroom from a long hallway behind the podium, Ike strode into an often-mobbed room, pushed past reporters, and stood behind a large table. He generally did not speak from a lectern, and often paced back and forth while he considered reporters’ questions and formulated his responses.
The Eisenhower Complex consists of the library, the museum, his actual Abilene boyhood home, and his grave, and if you’ve never been I’d highly recommend going if you’re ever in the area.
Photo is licensed by Creative Commons.