(Almost) everything you know about television and politics is wrong

Most of us think we know where televised debates fit into a campaign for elected office. They can remake a failing campaign or break a glass house. They provide iconic moments by which history remembers the participants. They show us just how shallow our political process has become. Right? Wrong.

Or, at least, largely wrong, according to Bruce Carlson’s podcast My History Can Beat Up Your Politics.

After watching Friday’s debate between U.S. presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, I listened to an episode of the fascinating My History podcast covering the impact of television, including televised debates, on the American political process. According to Carlson, TV hasn’t cheapened modern politics, in part because earlier media accomplished that task already. And as for debates making or breaking candidates? Seldom true, Carlson says. All in all, it’s a fascinating listen that may help put the next few weeks of the presidential campaign in a historical context

Click here for the MHCBUYP episode on television, politics and debates.

Click here to go to My History Can Beat Up Your Politics on iTunes.

I should say that I’m not really clear on who Carlson is, exactly — or what makes him an expert in either history or politics. Below is how Carlson replied when I asked him about how he knows the things he says he does. His podcast and opinions undoubtedly are fascinating, and I listen to his podcast regularly, but make up your own mind about how reliable you think his facts are.

“I work outside of politics and history, and my college degree was in literature. I have no training but a lifetime of spending bizzare amounts of time in the public libraries reading old books on history and politics. I suppose. My observations then, must stand on their own.”

— Bruce Carlson


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