Fact or Fiction: TV Politics

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About This Quiz

Television and politics go together like peanut butter and jelly. Or, peanut butter and seaweed, depending on who you ask. Some say television offers a huge amount of information to the general public, and others would argue it dumbs down political discourse to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Whether TV is good or bad for democracy, the two have a long history together. See what you know about it in our TV and politics quiz.

Fact or Fiction: In 1993, Bill Clinton appeared on MTV, making him the first presidential candidate to answer the question "boxers or briefs?" on national television.

Fact. Bill Clinton's appearances on youth-oriented television shows like MTV News and The Arsenio Hall Show (where he famously played the saxophone) contributed to his election victory in 1992. It also ushered in a new era of politicians using late night talk shows and other entertainment programs to increase their popularity and help their image.

Fact or Fiction: Rosser Reeves, the real life mad man who designed Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower's 1952 presidential campaign, first designed a campaign for M&M's candy.

Fact. "Ike" Eisenhower was one of the first campaigners to understand the power of television, and he used the medium skillfully, focusing on his war hero reputation and friendly, fatherly image in a series of compelling ads.

Fact or Fiction: Political ads account for 50 to 75 percent of all campaign budgets.

Fact. Campaigns spend so much money on ads because they are one of the only ways to directly communicate with voters in today's media-dominated society. It might be hard to get those swing voters to read a candidate's platform or stay on the phone with a canvasser, but if you can sandwich your message in the middle of the big American Idol finale, you have a captive audience.

Fact or Fiction: The famous "Checkers" speech that saved vice presidential candidate Richard Nixon from being ousted from the 1952 presidential ticket was named for Nixon's beloved cat.

Fiction. Checkers was actually the Nixon family dog, gifted to his children by a campaign supporter. Nixon used the heart-warming anecdote to prove that he was a good-natured family guy who wasn't up to any of the dirty tricks the opposition had accused him of. Nixon probably could have used a Checkers moment 20 years later, when he was forced to resign to avoid impeachment over the Watergate scandal.

Fact or Fiction: According to research, political ads are more important than debates or news reports to inform a voter's view of the election, the candidates and the issues.

Fact. Voters taking their cues from political advertisements might seem like a sign of an uneducated society, but that's not necessarily the case. Studies have also shown that ads tend to focus more on substantive issues and candidate records than news coverage, which is usually less informative and more personality driven.

Fact or Fiction: Before television, debates between presidential candidates were so marginalized in American politics that during the 1940 election, FDR turned down a debate challenge by Republican candidate Wendell Wilkie.

Fact. FDR didn't feel the need to debate the issues, and the press and the public were on his side. Wilkie's challenge was characterized by the media as a cheap publicity ploy.

Fact or Fiction: After the 1960 debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, no televised debates were held between presidential candidates until 1976.

Fact. Nixon famously appeared pale and sickly in the 1960 debate, losing the edge to Kennedy among TV viewers, but not radio listeners. The next presidential debates were held in 1976, between President Gerald Ford and Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter.

Fact or Fiction: During his 1952 bid for the presidency, Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson refused to air political ads, deciding instead to buy up 30 minute blocks of network television time to make direct addresses to the American people.

Fact. Stevenson felt that using ads was beneath him as a politician. He preferred to discuss the issues of the election in detail in long speeches. But the strategy didn't do him any favors. He lost the 1952 election and came back in 1956 ready to advertise.

Fact or Fiction: President John F. Kennedy became the first acting president to address the nation on television, in 1961.

Fiction. FDR was actually the first to speak on television, although the 1939 speech reached a limited audience due to the small amount of Americans who had TV sets at the time. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower both addressed the nation on TV before Kennedy.

Fact or Fiction: The White House Office of Communications was introduced in 1952 by President Dwight Eisenhower.

Fiction. President Nixon, who mistrusted the press and TV reporters, founded the Office of Communications. He exercised careful control over the way he interacted with the media. He preferred to give prepared speeches and statements, shunning press conferences and interviews when reporters might try to twist his words. Nixon's style of careful message control would become the norm for future presidents.

Fact or Fiction: The first ever presidential debate was held in 1858, between Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln and Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas.

Fiction. The debates between Lincoln and Douglas, famous for articulating the two sides of the debate over slavery, were actually held during the mens' campaign for Illinois senator. The first televised presidential debate was held in 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Fact or Fiction: Many analysts and historians agree that one of the effects of television has been an increase in power and visibility for the office of the president.

Fact. The president has benefited from the visual nature of television, becoming more than ever the symbol of the American government. His prominence on nightly newscasts and the ability to address the nation directly on broadcast TV has led to an ability to sway public opinion that Congress doesn't have.

Fact or Fiction: According to a 2004 poll, 61 percent of Americans under 30 claimed that they learned something new about the presidential election from a late night talk show.

Fact. The rise of shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report has contributed to the trend of young people going to comedians for their news. Politicians have noticed and taken advantage of the trend, regularly appearing on late night comedy shows like SNL and The Tonight Show to appeal to viewers.

Fact or Fiction: Because of the TV news cycle, elected officials like the president usually make important announcements first thing in the morning, so the story will be carried on cable news throughout the day.

Fiction. The president and members of Congress typically try to make big announcements at around 2 p.m. to make sure it will be the top story on evening newscasts. On the other hand, if they want to sweep controversy under the rug, they try to make those announcements over the weekend.

Fact or Fiction: Political party conventions were introduced after the popularity of television, as a way to dramatize the nomination process.

Fiction. Conventions have been around since the beginning of American politics. However, television has contributed to changes in the way conventions are held, making them more about putting on a show and introducing a candidate to the American public than about actually choosing a nominee.

Fact or Fiction: In 1959, future presidential candidate John F. Kennedy wrote about on the transformative power of television in politics for an article published in "TV Guide."

Fact. Kennedy predicted that TV could potentially be good, giving elected officials the opportunity to interact with the electorate in a way that had been unprecedented in human history.

Fact or Fiction: In the early 19th century, presidential candidates weren't expected to campaign for themselves. Activities like making stump speeches were considered below the nominees.

Fact. While the distaste for campaigning by presidential nominees began to fade before TV was invented, the new medium accelerated candidates' involvement in their own campaigns. Between news coverage, appearances on talk shows and press conferences, candidates are more visible now than they have ever been.

Fact or Fiction: Television has increased the power of political parties, by giving them a wider platform to disseminate information.

Fiction. Because of the image-focused nature of television, American politics has become more focused on personalities and individual candidates' stories than on political parties. While parties are still alive and well, fewer Americans identify with either of the political parties today than they did in the days before television.

Fact or Fiction: Political party conventions have only been televised in recent years, starting with the 1992 election.

Fiction. Political party conventions were first televised in the 1952 election. Coverage of primaries and conventions by networks and cable channels have contributed to a lengthening of the election cycle over the years, so that presidential hopefuls are campaigning several years in advance of the actual election.

Fact or Fiction: In the 1972 election, Democratic presidential nominee hopeful Ed Muskie's campaign rocketed to success after President Richard Nixon was caught on camera shedding tears at a press conference.

Fiction. Muskie was the one who was caught on camera shedding tears. The image lost him the Democratic nomination, and Nixon eventually beat challenger George McGovern in a landslide.

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