Marshall McLuhan on the Stupidest Debate in the History of Debating (1976)

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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nor­man Mail­er & Mar­shall McLuhan Debate the Elec­tron­ic Age

The Vision­ary Thought of Mar­shall McLuhan, Intro­duced and Demys­ti­fied by Tom Wolfe

Mar­shall McLuhan’s 1969 Deck of Cards, Designed For Out-of-the-Box Think­ing

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