John F. Kennedy's Legacy as Communicator-in-Chief
Remembering JFK's Masterful Dealings with the Media
On this 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, there will inevitably be a lot of reflection as well as a fair amount of curiosity. I suspect that those under 35 years old were more influenced by the Oliver Stone movie than by family stories and recollections, as I was.
Having grown up in the late 60s and 70s in a politically active house full of democrats in western Connecticut, I remember stories about my mom having a chance to shake JFK's hand as well as discussions about JFK's uncanny ability to manage the media and his public image. We had the Vaughn Meader album, "The First Family," which lampooned JFK's press dealings and my older brother had it memorized.
Of course, at the time, President Kennedy's uncanny ability was seen in stark contrast to Richard Nixon's just plain awful public image and his awkward dealings with the media.
One of the things I remember most from my parents' stories about Kennedy was that he was a master communicator, able to use charm and a sense of humor to add levity and disarm what could otherwise be a sticky situation. He used these skills to his great advantage. According to Gallup's Presidential Approval Ratings Historical Statistics and Trends, JFK's average job approval rating during his Presidency was a mind boggling 70.1% -- higher than any other President before or since.
To a large degree, it was Kennedy's awareness of the power of television and his ability to use television to bolster his image as a likeable and competent leader that contributed to his approval. The following television special examining Kennedy's use of TV is a fitting tribute. In the 50 years after his death, no American President has used the medium as effectively. And now that traditional television viewing has given way to on-demand entertainment, it is unlikely that any President will again have the opportunity to use a single communications tool to reach virtually everyone at once.