In September 1976, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford squared off in a presidential debate, and the following day, the legendary communication theorist Marshall McLuhan appeared on the TODAY show, then hosted by Tom Brokaw, to offer some almost real-time analysis of the debate. The first televised presidential debate was famously held in 1960, and it pitted John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon. Sixteen years later, pundits and citizens were still trying to make sense of the format. Was the televised debate a new and vital part of American democracy? Or was it a carefully controlled act of political performance? For McLuhan, there was still some idealistic sense that televised debates could enhance our democracy, assuming the message was suited to the medium. But McLuhan came away disillusioned, calling the Carter/Ford spectacle “the most stupid arrangement of any debate in the history of debating” and chalking up technical difficulties (watch them here) to the medium raging against the message.
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