At the dawn of television in the early 1950s, a broad range of powerful groups and individuals--from prominent liberal intellectuals to massive corporations--saw in TV a unique capacity to influence the American masses, shaping (in the words of the American philosopher Mortimer Adler) "the ideas that should be in every citizen's mind."
Formed in the shadow of the Cold War--amid the stirrings of the early civil rights movement--the potential of television as a form of unofficial government inspired corporate executives, foundation officers, and other influential leaders to approach TV sponsorship as a powerful new avenue for shaping the course of American democracy. In this compelling political history of television's formative years, media historian Anna McCarthy goes behind the scenes to bring back into view an entire era of civic-minded programming and the ideas about democratic agency from which it sprang.
Based on pathbreaking archival work, The Citizen Machine poses entirely new questions about the political significance of television. At a time when TV broadcasting is in a state of crisis, and new media reform movements have entered political culture, here is an original and thought-provoking history of the assumptions that have profoundly shaped not only television but our understanding of American citizenship itself.