JFK's Legacy of Personality, Politics and the Media

As president, John F. Kennedy used television to promote his image, and connect with the American public like no president before him.

AP Photo

Nov. 22, 2013

On the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, people across the county will reflect on his legacy, and the impact his policies had on the nation. As president, Kennedy also ushered in a new era of personality, politics and the media.

Although Kennedy was not the first president appear on television, he was the first president to use television to promote himself.

"His was a master at it. He comes to recognize really early on that he is really good at TV and it can be really crucial to him as a president," said Marc Selverstone Chair of the Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

When President Kennedy took office he was only 43-years-old. As a very young president with a charming family, he captivated the public, and television cameras gave Americans a glimpse into the Kennedy's storied lives.

"There's a lot of charisma attached to the man. He knew how to use the media very well to sell that image," Selverstone said.

During his campaign for president, Kennedy appeared in four televised debates, and while in office he was the first president to hold televised press conferences. He used the medium to connect with voters.

"Kennedy recognized the importance of reaching out to the people as much as he could," said Selverstone.

Television also played a role in Kennedy's death. An estimated 175 million people tuned into his funeral, making the 50th anniversary not only a political and culturally significant moment, but also an important moment in history of media.

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