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Incumbent Television: A Case of Indecent Exposure

Newton N. Minow and Lee M. Mitchell
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 425, Political Finance: Reform and Reality (May, 1976), pp. 74-87
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1040935
Page Count: 14
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Incumbent Television: A Case of Indecent Exposure
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Abstract

Throughout his term of office, an incumbent president of the United States has ready access to television time which allows him to reach millions of potential voters regularly, conveying both his views and "image" at little or no cost to himself or his political supporters. In contrast, the opposition party and those potential candidates who would challenge the incumbent's reelection have little similar access. An incumbent member of Congress, although not enjoying television access to the same extent as the president, also has a unique television advantage over potential challengers. While Congress prevents broadcast coverage of many of its activities, individual members are able to produce their own television programming to reach voters. This "incumbent television" can be a significant electoral advantage to the officeholder seeking reelection. Moreover, with incumbents dominating television, contrasting political viewpoints and personalities, instead of being presented in rational debate throughout an office term, appear too often only in political "spots" immediately preceding elections. Innovations such as televised National Debates, limited right of reply for the opposition party, government-sponsored broadcast time for presidential candidates, and television coverage of congressional proceedings, would counter this trend and help to fulfill television's potential as a medium for political debate.

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