The rise of television news


Television journalism comes of age in the 1960s. As the decade begins, the FCC suspends its equal-time requirement for presidential and vice presidential candidates (following the suggestion of CBS President Frank Stanton), paving the way for the four "Great Debates" between Vice President Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy.

The first debate, from Chicago on Sept. 26, is seen by 75 million viewers, a record at the time. It changes the course of political campaigning and likely the course of the election. In 1961, the newly elected President Kennedy, recognizing the influence of the medium, allows TV to cover his press conferences.

In 1963, the networks expand their evening newscasts from 15 minutes to a half-hour. Television news comes of age with its coverage of President Kennedy's assassination. For four days following, the networks suspend normal programming and commercials. The network coverage costs an unprecedented $32 million, and CBS research shows that 93% of U.S. homes watched coverage of JFK's burial.

Americans are transfixed by coverage of the space race, beginning with Alan Shepard's suborbital flight in 1961 and culminating in live pictures of the moon landing in 1969. Americans are also presented with almost nightly images of the civil-rights movement and the Vietnam war (the networks establish news bureaus in Saigon in 1965).

The decade ends on two disappointing notes for broadcasters. Shortly after the election of Nixon in 1968, Vice President Spiro Agnew begins a series of speeches accusing the media of bias. And in 1969, the Supreme Court's decision in the Red Lion
case upholds the FCC's fairness doctrine and personal-attack rules.