Editor's introduction.

Author:Beasley, Vanessa B.
Position:SYMPOSIUM ON SCREENING THE PRESIDENCY - Column
 
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Over 25 years ago, Kathleen Hall Jamieson's book Eloquence in an Electronic Age: The Transformation of Political Speechmaking (1988) asked, among other things, how radio and television were changing the standards for evaluating both political argumentation and the presidents who (tried to) offer it. The book made a splash, to be sure. Grounded in historical detail as well as a close reading of both verbal and visual texts, Jamieson's study took seriously the increasing interdependence between rhetoric, politics, and technology in the United States. Jamieson made novel and prescient arguments about this interaction, in fact, to suggest that it could become ever more complex in ways that had the potential to harm public deliberation (Jamieson 1988, 254). And yet even though Jamieson was clearly troubled by the state of affairs in 1988--"Those unschooled in the past readily confuse elegance with eloquence, conviction with urgency," she wrote, "... [u]nable to recognize leadership when we see it" (Jamieson 1988, 241)--she did not give up on the idea that political rhetoric could be meaningful in the United States. Citizens could and should be taught, she claimed, to understand eloquence as part of leadership "when we see it," that is, as performed in public, especially by U.S. presidents.

This special issue revisits some of Jamieson's central questions as well as, perhaps, some of her concerns and her hopes. The articles here focus on the presidency and how it can be understood through mediated representation within a digital age, an era in which some of the patterns Jamieson associated with electronic media are still in play but are also complicated by additional factors and potentials, particularly those afforded by the Internet. The issue's title, "Screening the Presidency," is therefore meant to have at least three meanings.

First, each of the articles asks how contemporary viewers and/or voters--and the extent to which there may or may not be a difference between these two groups is itself a perennially important question for political communication researchers--are encouraged to view the presidency. At the most basic level, the collection of articles here reflects the fact that contemporary citizens are invited to view the presidency as both a real and a Active realm, as fact and fantasy and often a blending of the two, via depictions offered on multiple types of screens. Trevor Parry-Giles' article focuses on the television screen...

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