The 1960s


The 1960s was marked by clashes of ideologies. In the South, blacks fought a stubborn white establishment for the rights they were owed under the Constitution.

Abroad, the United States fought a multi-front battle against the spread Communism. On college campuses across the country, a new generation of Americans rejected the post-WWII, conservative values of their parents.

And even within the Civil Rights movement, the non-violent activists under Martin Luther King, Jr., butted heads with the militant followers of Malcolm X. The result was a decade mired in turbulence -- but also one that brought important changes.

Journalists and media personalities

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite

In the 1950s, Cronkite helped invent the role of the anchorman. Over the course of the 1960s, he established himself as a pre-eminent figure in television journalism. His coverage of the assassination of president Kennedy in 1963 helped make him the most trusted journalist in America, and gave him credibility when he criticized the Vietnam War publicly as the decade wore on.

David Brinkley

David Brinkley

As part of a two-anchor team with Chet Huntley, Brinkley helped NBC put together a program that challenged CBS's grip on broadcast news. Brinkley's ability to write for television revolutionized broadcast style, and made him a fixture in the format. He would stay with NBC until the 1980s, when he moved over to ABC to host This Week, the first of the Sunday morning political roundup shows.

Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow

Murrow's illustrious career in the media came to an end in the early 1960s. In 1958, following the cancellation of See It Now, Murrow delivered a scathing speech to a meeting of radio and television executives, chastising them for the shallow and mundane nature of television programming. Murrow soon parted ways with William Paley and CBS, but not before one final news classic in 1960: Harvest of Shame, a documentary about the struggles of migrant workers in the United States. After CBS, Murrow took a position in the Kennedy administration as Director of the U.S. Information Agency. Following an ironic attempt to prevent the BBC from airing Harvest of Shame, Murrow would soon succumb to lung cancer.

Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters

Walters joined NBC's Today show in 1961 as a writer and researcher, before moving on camera as the "Today Girl". Starting with light assignments, Walters eventually wrote and edited her own stories, but received little respect from here male contemporaries. Frank McGee, the Today Show host, insisted on always asking the first question in joint interviews. Walters would not receive official recogniztion as co-anchor of the Today Show until after McGee's death in 1974.

David Halberstam

David Halberstam

Halberstam was among the first journalists to publicly criticize the United States for its involvement in Vietnam. His reporting for the New York Times on the conflict so displeased the president that JFK asked Halberstam's editor to move him to a different bureau. In the early 1970s, Halberstam would publish The Best and the Brightest, a rebuke of the Vietnam policies set forth by Kennedy and LBJ.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas

After a short stint as a cub reporter, Helen Thomas joined United Press International (UPI) in 1943. In 1960, she followed the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy and landed among the press corps in the White House. Thomas spent the next five decades, and nine presidents, sitting in the front row of every presidential press conference. She was the only female, print journalist to travel with Nixon to China in 1972. Known as the "Sitting Buddha," Thomas was known for saying "Thank you, Mr. President" at the end of every press conference.

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader

Nader took the activist identity he had built for himself at Princeton and Harvard Law to a national level in 1965 when he published Unsafe at Any Speed, a scathing critique of General Motors' safety record. The book caused a stir among the public, and eventually in Washington, where legislators grilled GM executives and passed new car safety laws. The success of his the book paved the way for a career of public activism, and later as a presidential candidate for the Green Party.

Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson

Carson took over the Tonight Show from Jack Paar in 1962, and quickly turned the already successful format into a ratings and advertising powerhouse. Carson's quick wit and easygoing manner helped bring in the big name celebrities – and the big-time dollars – that made the Tonight Show a late night institution. He would host the Tonight Show into the 1990s.

Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown

Following a successful stint with a prominant advertizing agency, Brown wrote the best selling book Sex and the Single Girl in 1962. In 1965, she became editor-in-chief of struggling magazine, Cosmopolitian, and remade it into an advocate for sexual freedom and empowerment for woman in the 1960s. Here leadership proved so successful, the term "Cosmo Girl" was coined to describe the new "liberated" woman the magazine targeted.

Jann Wenner

Jann Wenner

Wenner was only 21 when he published the first issue of Rolling Stone magazine in 1967. A Berkeley dropout, he was among the first magazine editors to access the untapped circulation potential of the youth market. Rolling Stone's focus on music and youth-culture issues made it an instant success, and a powerful political voice in a turbulent era.

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

Wolfe was among the first writers to embrace the techniques of a “new journalism” – one in which the narrator was largely involved with the story he told. Wolfe made a name for himself with the 1965 publication of the Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, an exploration of the culture of hot rod enthusiasts. However, his most famous work from the 1960s was the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a account of Ken Kesey's band of Merry Pranksters.

Political Scene

Social Climate

Media Moments

September 26, 1960 — the Kennedy-Nixon debate

Richard Nixon during the debate

For the first time in history, a presidential debate is televised on national television. Vice President Richared M. Nixon, a seasoned politician, underestimated the importance of his television appearance. While Kennedy appeared calm and confident, an ill Nixon seemed nervous and noticeably sweaty.

1960-1963 — The Kennedy Years

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy spent his short, three years as president using his skill as a speaker to deliver the precisely crafted words of his aids. The result was a body of oration and media performance that endures in popular culture.

1962 — Telstar launched

The Telstar satellite

On July 10, 1962, NASA launched this spherical satellite into space with much fanfare. Later in the day, live broadcasts were beamed for the first time between North America and Europe. Funded by both private firms and national postal services in the United States, Great Britain and France, the new technology would revolutionize numerous communication industries.

August 28, 1963 — "I have a dream"

Martin Luther King Jr.

August 28, 1963: From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the 200,000 civil-rights marchers who had descended on Washington, D.C. The "I Have a Dream" speech would become one of the most well-known in American history. King won the Nobel Peace Prize a year later.

November 1963 — Death of a president

John John salutes

Undoubtedly one of the most famous events of the 20th century, the assasination of President Kennedy in November 1963 brought the nation to a halt from the time it was reported on Friday afternoon, until the funeral procession on Monday. It marked a time when TV brought an entire nation together.

February 1964 — The British Invasion begins

The Beatles and Ed Sullivan

A nation still mourning the assassination of its president was ready for distraction in early 1964. The Beatles, four lads from Liverpool, England, provided that distraction, signaling the start of a musical British Invasion. The Beatles first performances in America were broadcast nationwide on the Ed Sullivan Show. When Ed Sullivan announced "Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!", no one could have predicted the impact they would have on Baby Boomer culture and entertainment media. Inspired by American rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues artists, the Beatles were one of the most influential bands of the 20th century.

September 7, 1964 — The "Daisy" commercial airs

A still from "Daisy"

Aired by the Johnson campaign only one time, the "Daisy" commercial became an infamous example of the power of television in presidential politics. Artistic and powerful in it's simplicity, the short advertisement never mentioned Barry Goldwater by name.

November 7, 1967— Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act

The original logo of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, creating the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to provide content for television, National Public Radio (NPR) to do the same for radio, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) for oversight. In final decades of the century, some conservative politicians and media pundits charged PBS and NPR with having a liberal bias, and attempted to end federal funding for the organization. While CPB budgets may have been reduced, public broadcasting continued to garner an audience that was the envy of many commercial media managers.

February 1, 1968 — Eddie Adams photographs execution

Eddie Adams famous photograph

AP photographer Eddie Adams captured the execution of a Viet Cong leader in a photograph that earned him the Pulitzer Prize, and fueled the public's growing dissatisfaction with the war in Vietnam.

June 4, 1968 — The Second Kennedy Assassination

Bobby Kennedy

Two months to the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assasinated in Memphis, Bobby Kennedy was in Los Angeles stumping for his recently-announced presidential candidacy. As he left the podium at the Ambassador Hotel, Sirhan Sirhan shot him in the head. Kennedy died later that afternoon.

July 20, 1969 — One Giant Leap

Neil Armstrong on the moon

NASA accomplished the goal set forth by President Kennedy when Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface in July 1969. The moon landing was the most watched event in history at that point in time.

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