Presidential election cycles and major political activities often utilize new technologies and techniques. Sometimes the technologies themselves can figure significantly into the political picture.
Campaign modes have often been related to or influenced by technological developments that have opened new communication channels.
Almost a century ago, radio came into use and opened the way for communicating with large audiences. The 1930s brought the sounds of candidates and officeholders as well as some notable demagogues. Even as late as the early 1950s radio played a key role in some campaigns, including the 1952 Arkansas gubernatorial race when Francis Cherry used radio "talkathons" to help build recognition and set himself apart from others in a crowded field.
Radio retains a role as a source of information and commentary, but television was the real game-changer -- as was apparent by the 1960s, the landmark events being the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960. Television remains at the center of our politics, although it is political advertising, often of the negative variety, that has become a focal point and has led to massive increases in fundraising, with much of those funds going for TV ads.
More recently we moved into the cyber era, with digital and online implements and all their offshoots. There's no doubt our current political combatants are utilizing the panoply of platforms and devices -- smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. -- to reach and communicate with audiences via email, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, live streaming, podcasts and many other social networks.
And, in a somewhat ironic twist, emails are a major issue in the presidential campaign. These would, of course, be emails sent and received by Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state, using a private home server for government business. Even if this didn't result in a security breach, it was a serious blunder. She long ago acknowledged that using the private server was a mistake.
It is interesting to note that this would have been unlikely in the pre-cyber era. Nor does this controversy really address the issue of over-classification, with far too much information within government being labeled secret. Nonetheless, last week's recommendation by the FBI director that no criminal charges be brought against Clinton noted that she and her staff had been "extremely careless." This issue has dogged her for months and while that recommendation may have lifted a legal cloud, it didn't diminish the political furor.
Donald Trump fired off one of his trademark tweets, which seem to be his preferred method of communicating. In response to the FBI director's decision, Trump said "the system is rigged."
Trump's tweets have generated their own controversy. Among them was what is referred to as the Star of David tweet, widely viewed as anti-Semitic. It showed a six-pointed star, a pile of cash and Clinton. The star was borrowed from an earlier and dubious tweeter. Trump has frequently re-tweeted inaccurate information from questionable sources. He has attacked the news media for being "dishonest" in reporting on controversies about his Twitter posts.
While Trump has relied heavily on tweets and campaign rallies, thus far he has spent little on TV ads, although he has received ample "free media" in news coverage.
Long before television, or even radio, President Teddy Roosevelt spoke of the presidency as a "bully pulpit," referring to the power to use the high visibility of the office to build support. (He used bully as an adjective meaning "superb"). Presidential aspirant Trump uses the political stage in a different way, actually trying to bully his opponents and critics.
The "new media" role isn't confined to presidential politics. A potentially significant example occurred recently in the U.S. House of Representatives when a group of Democratic legislators, led by Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of civil rights sit-ins, conducted an unprecedented 26-hour sit-in protest in the House chamber. They were protesting the failure of House leaders to allow a vote on limitations on certain firearms, although there had been several earlier votes. Normally, House sessions are carried on C-SPAN television. However, in this case the cameras were off because the House leadership controls them. So some of the protesting legislators used cellphones and the Periscope live-streaming app to transmit images from the chamber, which in turn were carried by C-SPAN and cable networks and lit up social media.
It's a reminder of the omnipresence of the new media today, including the use of cellphone and security cameras to provide video of a variety of events, including the epidemic of police-involved shootings and terrorism incidents.
This all comes against a background of ever-evolving technology as well as actions and controversies on such issues as net neutrality, more international control of the Internet, the future of cable boxes, and Facebook handling of news articles in its "trending" lists.
Considering the dizzying pace of change we have experienced, we can expect more innovation by the time of the next presidential election cycle, which, the way things are going, will probably begin soon after the current one.
Commentary on 07/13/2016
Print Headline: Emails, tweets help drive presidential politics