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As the Tet offensive wound down early in March 1968 with staggering losses dealt the North Vietnamese invaders, President Lyndon B. Johnson flicked on one of his White House television sets and heard CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite declare the Vietnam war to be "mired in stalemate." Johnson reportedly turned, visibly shaken, to an aide and said, "It's all over." By month's end, LBJ announced his decision not to seek reelection, in order, he said, to devote his energies to negotiating peace in Vietnam.

No single vignette more graphically symbolizes the power of the press-or at least that of its most popular anchorman-in modern America. From the early days of the republic, however, journalists' capacity to influence political events has been more commonly asserted than documented. Today it remains debatable how, and how much, news coverage shapes public opinion, but no one doubts that from the nation's beginning, American journalists have made their presence felt, especially during presidential election campaigns. [excerpt]

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Copyright by the American Library Association. Reprinted with permission from CHOICE.