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Title: Propaganda and the presidency : an analysis of Lyndon B. Johnson's media relations, 1963-1968
Author: Quail, Benjamin J. W.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7972 2531
Awarding Body: University of Strathclyde
Current Institution: University of Strathclyde
Date of Award: 2017
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Lyndon Johnson's presidency saw a great shift in the balance of domestic politics in the United States. While there was great merit to many of his domestic aspirations the erosion of his own credibility damaged the standing of the Democratic Party and ensured that the Republicans swept back into office in 1968. The Democrats saw only one president - Jimmy Carter - elected between 1968 and 1992 following Johnson's presidency and four of the subsequent five presidents were Republicans; Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. The failure of the Great Society and subsequent inflation crisis caused in part by spending on domestic concerns and Vietnam were influential on a general upswing in conservatism, and although it should not be argued that the Johnson administration was wholly responsible for this, there is at least some evidence to suggest that a grassroots rise in conservatism happened under Johnson's watch. The legacy of the administration was to usher in an era of suspicion and mistrust of the presidency, which would ultimately culminate in the Watergate Scandal under his successor Nixon. Robert Dallek perhaps best summed up the Johnson presidency when he said, 'Whatever impulse future historians may have to pigeonhole Johnson as a near great, average, or failed President, I am confident that a close review of his time in office will leave them reluctant to put a single stamp on his term.' This is certainly true. Johnson is incredibly difficult to categorise as a president, with possibly the best description of his immediate legacy coming from Newsweek columnist Charles Roberts, following his death in 1973: He leaves office a man whose epitaph will some day defy the confines of even a Texas-size tombstone: the most militant civil-rights advocate ever to occupy the White House, reviled by negro militants; a Southerner scorned by Southerners as a turncoat; a liberal despised by liberals despite the fact he achieved most of what they sought for thirty years; a friend of education rejected by intellectuals; a compromiser who could not compromise a war ten thousand miles away; a consensus-seeker who in the clutch abandoned his consensus rather than his convictions; a power hungry partisan politician who, in the end, shunned power and partisanship to achieve national unity. There is no question that Lyndon Johnson is an important president, and his achievements with Medicare, civil rights legislation and anti-poverty acts were monumental. His influence on the presidency and politics in the years following his time in office should not be underestimated. What he was not however, was a man who could use the press to his advantage. Johnson presided over an era of changing attitudes and a more open and technologically advanced press than had existed in America prior to the 1960s. As we have seen, he consistently showed a short-term, reactive strategy toward dealing with press coverage and sliding approval ratings, and with each reaction and each ill-thought-out response to political problems, he created further issues for himself as his presidency went on. This was evident in his planning for the 1964 election, when he positioned himself as the anti-war candidate against Barry Goldwater's hard-line views, even while he knew that escalation in Vietnam was assured. It was apparent in 1965, when James Greenfield criticised the administration for only meeting the crisis of the moment and not looking further ahead. It was clear in 1966, when the press openly reported on the credibility gap between Johnson and the people. By the time the administration took note and conducted what might be termed as a public relations offensive in late 1967, it was too late. In their assessments of how well the country was doing, they failed to look forward and see what reports already told them; the Tet Offensive of January 1968 was already being foreshadowed by enemy actions. Tet shattered the goodwill that Johnson earned with his most pro-active strategy, and permanently ruined his credibility with the American people. While there is undoubtedly an argument to be made that external circumstances and the political volatility of the 1960s had an effect on how pro-active the president could be in his press dealings, the administration failed to effectively organise a strategy to propagandise the policies of the presidency and ultimately that failure lay chiefly with Lyndon B Johnson, himself.
Supervisor: Ellis, Mark ; Williams, Manuela Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral