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The Power Of The Media

By Ken Foote, Director of Programming for CBS 11

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44 years ago today, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew delivered a speech in Des Moines, IA that would later come back to haunt him.

This infamous speech was coined “Normality Has Become The Nemesis Of Network News”. Delivered during the Vietnam War when there will still close to 500,000 troops there, Agnew attacked the American mainstream media not only for its incessant criticism of President Nixon and his policies, but also for the powerful concentration of power that the networks had to sway public opinion to views that Agnew firmly believed were totally baseless in fact.  He named the “men of the media’ a small and unelected elite.

In the 1939 theatrical movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington starring James Stewart, Claude Rains, and Jean Arthur, Stewart plays the part of Jefferson Smith, a bandleader who is appointed to be senator to serve out the remaining term of the one who died. Early on, Smith is interviewed by the Washington press and, being ignorant and innocent of things, gets himself some bad press that in essence makes him look like a buffoon. When the papers come out and reflect him negatively in pictures on the front pages, he heads to the National Press Club and starts punching out the reporters. When some of the other reporters are able to grab him, the others start laughing at him. Smith asks why they don’t they tell the people the truth to which one reporter mocks him by saying, “the truth! What is the truth!!”. Another one says, “you’re not a Senator, you’re an honorary stooge!”. Smith then walks out of the club in shame when one reporter comes up to him and says, “don’t let it worry you Senator, no one will remember tomorrow.”  While this movie is a comedy, there are moments of drama and some sadness…and some parallels in real life about just how influential the media is.

In 1969, we only had CBS, NBC, and ABC. PBS wasn’t founded until 1970. There was no CNN, MSNBC, or FOX News Channel. Newspapers were still very influential among its readers. Talk radio was still in its infancy and only the major radio markets had all-news stations, like WCBS880 and 1010WINS in New York.  No social media either. But in that day a news anchor like Walter Cronkite could affect the outcome of an political election, such as forcing President Lyndon Johnson to not seek a second term.

Agnew’s image was never the same after this speech and then in second term of the Nixon Administration he was forced to resign on charges of tax evasion. Agnew passed away on September 17, 1996.

See you next time.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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