Television has transformed politics in the United States by changing the way in whichinformation is disseminated, by altering political campaigns, and by changing citizen's patternsof response to politics. By giving citizens independent access to the candidates, televisiondiminished the role of the political party in the selection of the major party candidates. Bycentering politics on the person of the candidate, television accelerated the citizen's focus oncharacter rather than issues.
Television has altered the forms of political communication as well. The messages on whichmost of us rely are briefer than they once were. The stump speech, a political speech given bytraveling politicians and lasting 11/2 to 2 hours, which characterized nineteenth-centurypolitical discourse, has given way to the 30-second advertisement and the 10 second "soundbite" in broadcast news. Increasingly the audience for speeches is not that standing in front ofthe politician but rather the viewing audience who will hear and see a snippet of the speech onthe news.
In these abbreviated forms, much of what constituted the traditional political discourse ofearlier ages has been lost. In 15 or 30 seconds, a speaker cannot establish the historicalcontext that shaped the issue in question, cannot detail the probable causes of the problem,and cannot examine alternative proposals to argue that one is preferable to others. Insnippets, politicians assert but do not argue.
Because television is an intimate medium, speaking through it require a changed political stylethat was more conversational, personal, and visual than that of the old-style stump speech.Reliance on television means that increasingly our political world contains memorable picturesrather than memorable words. Schools teach us to analyze words and print. However, in aword in which politics is increasingly visual, informed citizenship requires a new set of skills.
Recognizing the power of television's pictures, politicians craft televisual, staged events, calledpseudo-event, designed to attract media coverage. Much of the political activity we see ontelevision news has been crafted by politicians, their speechwriters, and their public relationsadvisers for televised consumption. Sound bites in news and answers to questions in debatesincreasingly sound like advertisements.