Every four years, Americans elect a president. And every four years, battle lines are drawn as presidential candidates and reporters face off in the conflict zone known as the campaign trail.The path to the presidency provides stories of privacy and personality, of image and character, of polls and spin.This Newseum exhibit examines the tactics used by politicians — and illuminated by the press — to put democracy to the test and a candidate in the White House.
President Roosevelt delivered his 1944 State of the Union address over the radio as a fireside chat after his doctor ordered him not to go out due to illness.
Time magazine covered the 1972 Republican National Convention, where the event's script was mistakenly released to reporters. It said President Richard M. Nixon would be renominated at 10:33 p.m. with 1,348 votes and a seemingly spontaneous “Nixon now!” chant. The program contrasted sharply with the Democratic convention, which was so unruly that nominee George McGovern didn’t speak until nearly 3 a.m. Eastern time — well after prime-time viewing.
Televised campaign ads have been shaping presidential elections since the 1952 race between Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Some ads were positive, but many took aim at opponents. Negative ads would later dominate campaigns.
During the 1960 campaign, Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon agreed to four televised debates. While Kennedy appeared tanned and relaxed in the first debate, Nixon looked pale and sweaty. To many of those listening to the debate on the radio, Nixon came out ahead. To television audiences, however, Kennedy was the clear winner. Newsweek covered the impact of televised debates on the election in this 1960 issue.
Democrat candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon spar over government controls on the U.S. farming industry in this clip from their first televised debate on Sept. 26, 1960.
Don Hewitt, former executive producer of the "CBS Evening News," reflects on the appearances of Kennedy and Nixon at their first debate.
TV news programs were still in their infancy when Walter Cronkite made his debut as “anchor” for a team of CBS reporters at the conventions. His job? Moderating reports and explaining the political process to viewers. The network promoted Cronkite’s role as “anchorman” for the conventions, and the term took off.
Republican challenger Ronald Reagan defeated incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Reagan's hometown newspaper, the Dixon (Ill.) Evening Telegraph, reported his triumph. Reagan understood television and the power of images and used both to maximum effect during his campaign. He was called “The Great Communicator” for his unique ability to translate his vision of a smaller government and an expanded military into simple, uplifting messages about the future of America.
Voting machines and ballots in Florida were almost as big a story as the election in 2000. The close results and the use of poorly designed ballots spawned charges that votes had mistakenly gone to the wrong candidate. Several news organizations launched investigations of those complaints. This voting machine and ballot are from Palm Beach County, Fla.
Bloomberg View columnist Albert Hunt discussed the history and importance of the New Hampshire primary to a packed crowd in the Newseum's Annenberg Theater in 2015. The bar stool was presented to legendary political columnist and TV pundit Jack Germond, who for many years held court at the Wayfarer Inn in Bedford, N.H. The inn has served as a meeting place and watering hole for reporters and candidates. As the first in the nation, the New Hampshire presidential primary wields an influence well beyond the state’s small size.
Politicians’ private lives were never the same after 1988 Democratic candidate Gary Hart told reporters asking about womanizing: “If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’d be very bored.” In 1987, The Miami Herald reported that Hart spent the night with a young woman. Hart quit the race, saying the system “reduces the press of this nation to hunters and presidential candidates to being hunted.” A month later, the National Enquirer ran a photo of Hart with Donna Rice on a boat called “Monkey Business.”
In 1992, the Star tabloid paid for and published Gennifer Flowers’s account of her 12-year affair with Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton. The candidate and his wife, Hillary, went on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” where he acknowledged “wrongdoing” but refused to admit to the specific allegations. Clinton was elected but was dogged by rumors of infidelity. An affair with an intern sparked legal proceedings that led to Clinton’s impeachment, but he was acquitted.
Huffington Post blogger Mayhill Fowler used this digital recorder to capture controversial comments that sent reporters scrambling during the 2008 campaign. Fowler recorded Democratic candidate Barack Obama saying that some “bitter” working-class voters “cling to guns or religion.” She also captured former President Bill Clinton insulting a reporter, sparking a backlash against Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign. The lesson: On the internet, anyone can break news.
Today, presidential candidates use Snapchat and live streaming platforms like Periscope to connect with young voters on their own terms. In 2015 The Young Turks online news program and the Newseum Institute assembled a panel to discuss how millennials consume election news. The discussion was led by The Young Turks co-host Ana Kasparian and included “Think Tank” host John Iadarola, the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel, Instagram’s John Tass-Parker and Elizabeth Plank, senior correspondent and host of Flip the Script at Mic.com.
In partnership with CNN, the Newseum in April 2016 opened “CNN Politics Campaign 2016: Like, Share, Elect,” a new interactive exhibit that tells the story of the 2016 presidential campaign in real time. On display through Jan. 22, 2017, the exhibit offered an immersive experience for visitors to explore the ways big data and social media have transformed how candidates campaign, how journalists cover elections and how the public participates in the political process.
On public display for the first time in the Newseum's “CNN Politics Campaign 2016: Like, Share, Elect” exhibit, CNN's famous "Magic Wall" gives visitors the chance to explore voter demographics in some of the key states and races at the heart of the campaign. Since 2008, CNN has used its Magic Wall to break down election results in real-time.
Campaigns change instantly based on news events, and the Zignal Labs Command Center at the Newseum displays up-to-the-second trending issues and events that influence campaigns and the journalists who cover them. Newseum visitors can select a candidate and see graphic visualizations of how social, print and digital news media are responding to his or her role in current events.
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, moderated a discussion about the 2016 “social election” with CNN’s top political team. The panel featured chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper, senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, senior digital correspondent Chris Moody and director of social publishing Ashley Codianni.
Humorists Mark Twain, Will Rogers and Bob Hope made gentle fun of politicians, but comedian Mort Sahl made the cover of Time magazine in 1960 for the edgy campaign humor that earned him the title “the godfather of political comedy.” Sahl paved the way for political humor to gain a foothold on late-night television, where “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson’s monologue became a barometer of American political attitudes for more than 30 years.
Newseum curator Maeve Scott on the impact of parody in presidential politics.
"SNL" cast member Amy Poehler performed a rap song spoofing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a moose-hunting “mama grizzly,” with Jason Sudeikis as Palin’s snowmobiling husband, Todd, in a “Weekend Update” sketch viewed by millions during the 2008 campaign. An actor wearing this moose costume was shot down by Poehler during her rap.
A behind-the-scenes look at the "SNL" moose suit with Newseum curator Maeve Scott.