Walter Cronkite, of the CBS Evening News, was known as the most trusted man in America through the 1960s and 70s, and tens of millions of Americans tuned in at 6pm every evening to learn the day’s events from Cronkite.This was many years before the invention of household computers, cellphones and social media. He believed facts were all that made up the news and took great pride in reporting them as accurately as possible, without his opinion.

Today, Sean Hannity is one of the most watched men on TV, averaging 4.7 million viewers in August 2020. Fox News, which broadcasts Hannity’s show, started in 1996, when Rupert Murdoch, an arch conservative business mogul, hired Republican operative Roger Ailes to create the channel. Ailes created a TV format based on opinionated and controversial pundits, which was a break from traditional news values and anchors like Cronkite, but garnered immense ratings.

In 1966, after Charles Whitman opened fire from the top of the University of Texas tower, Neal Spelce went on air for KTBC to report on the day’s tragic events. In a measured, professional tone, Spelce reported on the 16 dead, the weapons used by Whitman, and the police action that took the shooter’s life, ending the attack. Almost fifty years later, when a gunman killed 26 people—including 20 young children—at the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, conspiracy theorist and internet personality Alex Jones went online to deny the attack ever happened. His claims of a “false flag” attack staged by “globalists” led to a campaign of harassment against families of victims, and ultimately, a $100,000 defamation settlement against Jones.

In 1960, Presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy participated in the fourth general election debate, which was broadcast on television and radio. The two outlined policy positions and defended against criticism, making their case to American voters. In 2020, the televised debate between President Trump and Joe Biden was reduced to an ugly TV spectacle that broke from any norms of substantive political debate. The President incessantly interrupted his opponent and made numerous false claims, while Biden spent more time defending himself from Trump’s attacks than outlining a plan for America’s future.

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