By 1960, Rayburn was appalled at the new generation of politicians (e.g. JFK), the role of TV, and the faster pace; Rayburn hated the new age of politics. In 1971, LBJ, interviewed by CBS, blamed the media for not only forcing him out of the Presidency, but for changing politics for the worse. LBJ stated that without the media, there would not have been a JFK, or a Robert Kennedy, or a Ted Kennedy.
FDR used the media during the Great Depression to enhance his image as a President fighting for the common man, and radio was the medium that locked that image into place. FDR’s speeches were designed for the radio, not for print. FDR would repeat vital parts of the radio broadcasts (‘Fireside Chats”) for newsreels, since they were not allowed during the actual broadcast (the cameras were very loud on those days). Usually, 50+ million Americans listened to FDR on the radio. White House correspondents of course hated the new medium, and especially hated radio correspondents, refusing to see them as their equals in journalism. (ironically, radio forced print journalism to improve their quality and their standards). By the late-1930s, more Americans listened to CBS Radio than read the New York Times.
By a combination of timing, talent, and ability, JFK arrived on the national political landscape at the perfect time, and JFK knew that TV would amplify his power base. As early as 1956, JFK used TV to his political advantage, becoming a national figure. JFK became an expert at indirectly engaging journalists. Instead of formal face-to-face encounters (e.g. dinner parties), JFK often found it more effective to cultivate a journalist by sharing their main interest, the one in which they were most fascinated/passionate (it could be as simple as discussing a book or movie).
JFK was the first politician to use a political pollster in his “Circle of Trust’; that pollster was Lou Harris, and he gave JFK as close to real-time feedback as possible. JFK discovered that using a pollster was another tool (as was TV) a politician could use to avoid relying on the party’s infrastructure/power-brokers.
JFK’s religion (he was a Catholic) became an issue in Wisconsin (to his benefit), but in heavily Protestant West Virginia, his religion became a liability according to the polls. JFK’s opponents, especially Humphrey (and in the shadows, LBJ), looked forward to the WVA primary as the club that would finally derail JFK’s bid for the nomination. Adding to the pressure heading to WVA was an editorial in the Washington Post that argued that the WVA primary, not the earlier Indiana primary, was the “true test” of JFK’s Catholicism. JFK had very little time to make inroads in WVA, since recent polls had Humphrey at 60% to JFK’s 40%. What JFK needed to know most was whether or not he should openly confront the religion issue in WVA.
Two days before the WVA primary, JFK appeared on statewide television with Franklin Roosevelt, Jr, who was a political rock-star in the state. JFK stated that he believed in the separation of church and state, and if he violated that tenet as President, he should be impeached. JFK went further, saying that it would be a sin against God to violate that promise. The very next day, Harris had data that told him that JFK would win the WVA Democratic primary; winning WVA proved that JFK was a national level political figure, and major figure within the Democratic Party.
Not only did JFK had to deal with his religion, he also had to battle the perception that being 42 years old was too young to be President. Television helped make the “age thing” a non-issue in the minds of millions of voters across the nation. Also by using TV, JFK could bypass the Democratic Party apparatus and take his candidacy straight to the people. LBJ believed that the party apparatus would work in his favor, no matter what JFK did, so he didn’t see the need to run in any primaries. By the eve of the Democratic National Convention in 1960, JFK’s nomination was a fait accompli.
JFK understood the power of TV during his political ascendancy in the mid-1950s. Television helped most Americans overcome their suspicions of JFK’s religion in that the was handsome and didn’t “look Catholic”. JFK was not able to get the hardcore anti-Catholic crowd in his corner, so he never tried, but TV helped change the minds of the mildly anti-Catholic voters, which was a far more numerous segment of the population. The excitement that JFK generated on TV helped with the print media, in that their readers wanted more, not less, of this new rising political star. JFK was like a great dramatic novel that was being played out on television and in the newspapers and magazines.