President's Day: Media in Presidential History

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WASHINGTON -- Author Jane Hampton Cook fell in love with the history of the U.S. presidency when she worked in the White House for former President George W. Bush.

She has turned that passion into literature with her latest children's book, What does the President Look Like?

The book, which is scheduled to be released on President's Day Monday, ties the evolution of image-capturing to how Americans have come to see their presidents.  Cook told CBN News she wants children to be fascinated with America's history and it's presidents.

She recently explained to a group of children at a church school in Vienna, Va. that it wasn't until the time of President Abraham Lincoln that Americans began to see real images of their presidents.

"Abe thought it was crucial to get out a photo of himself, because opponents had made him look like such a backwoods buffoon in cartoons," she said. 

"Matthew Brady took a photograph of him and that really dignified Lincoln's image," Cook explained. "He said to Brady at the inaugural ball, 'You helped elect me president.'" 

Cook also explained why it was ironic that President Calvin Coolidge got the nickname 'Silent Cal' during the 1920s era of film. 

"Back in the 1920s, there was no sound at the movies," she said. "You couldn't hear anything. You could only see the pictures.  And so it fit that the newsreels of Calvin Coolidge were silent and his nickname was Silent Cal." 

Cook noted with some humor that Franklin D Roosevelt was the first president to appear on TV.

"He was the first president to go on television, but there were only 200 television sets in the entire country, and I think they were all in New York," she explained. "So not very many people saw him.  It wasn't in widespread use.  It was a novelty."  

However, by the 1960 debate between presidential candidates John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, television had become an absolutely crucial factor in politics. 

"People who watched it on television thought Kennedy won, because his whole persona came across so much better on television," Cook said. "But people who heard the broadcast on radio and didn't see it thought that Nixon's answers were better.  So it really did make a big difference in that election."  
    
It just goes to show that for U.S. presidents - sometimes the image is as important as the reality. 

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/PaulStrandCBN.