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Wed 9/13, 2023, 6:00pm
Kathryn Cramer Brownell with Margaret O’Mara
Pathos and Politics in Modern Media
Headshots of Kathryn Cramer Brownell (with shoulder length blonde hair and glasses) and Margaret O'Mara (with long blonde hair and white dress shirt)

In today’s polarized political climate, the leanings of certain TV news outlets are common knowledge. But how did big name networks come to represent two sides of an extremely divided society?

Author and history professor Kathryn Cramer Brownell goes back in time to find out where it all started. Tracking TV history to the 1960s, she shows where it began to overtake the political landscape. Network broadcast companies, bolstered by powerful lobbying interests, dominated screens across the nation. Yet over the next three decades, the expansion of a different technology – cable TV – changed everything. Drawing from her book, 24/7 Politics: Cable Television & the Fragmenting of America From Watergate to Fox News, Brownell tells the story of how the cable industry worked with political leaders to create an entirely new approach to television.

Brownell describes how cable innovations — from C-SPAN coverage of congressional debates in the 1980s to MTV’s foray into presidential politics in the 1990s — gave rise to a more decentralized media world. She argues that cable became an unstoppable medium for political communication. This process, Brownell believes, opened the doors for seemingly unlikely political figures like Donald Trump by playing to narrow audiences and cultivating division instead of common ground. Rather than using television as a form of democratic empowerment, Brownell explains, cable news outlets have shaped the very divide we experience today.

Kathryn Cramer Brownell is an associate professor of history at Purdue University and the author of 24/7 Politics: Cable Television and the Fragmenting of America from Watergate to Fox News and Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life.

Margaret O’Mara is the Howard & Frances Keller Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington and is author of two acclaimed books about the modern American technology industry: The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America and Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search For The Next Silicon Valley.

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