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America's History in the Making

Egalitarian America

Theme 3

An expanding and influential mass media simultaneously reflected and reshaped a changing cultural and political landscape.

During the 1960s and 1970s, print, radio, and television reflected an expanding and influential mass media that highlighted the struggles for social and political change, reshaped American popular culture and politics, and further nationalized communication networks. Politicians, leaders of protest movements, and, of course, the news media and the entertainment industry became adept at using mass media to persuade voters, win converts, and increase profits.

After 1960, mass media increasingly exposed the public to political and social events. Newspaper reporting included more analysis and in-depth coverage that differed from the headlines presented on the televised evening news. Television presented indelible images that brought the viewer into the event and allowed audiences to view events "live." The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy shocked the nation as they viewed endless replays. During the civil rights movement, television also projected an image problem for the United States, and the Soviets called attention to the episodes of racism covered by networks and the U.S. government's hypocrisy. Later, culture and politics came into American households for the moon landing, Vietnam, and the Watergate hearings. By the 1970s, live coverage of events occurred on a regular basis.

A television culture grew as 95 percent of American household owned a television set by 1970. ABC, CBS, and NBC produced television programs to appeal to a mass audience. Driven by the prospect that higher ratings could possibly translate into more profit, the networks competed with one another, hoping that the sponsors would want to strategically place commercial advertisements around a popular program.

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