An Irish Soundbite

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Many critics say we are living in a soundbite culture, and they blame everything from the 24-hour news cycle to the cavalcade of emails we receive daily to Google. But any student of Marshall McLuhan knows that the medium has been shaping the message for over a century.

In 1908, the phonograph brought political debate to the masses, but also limited political discourse to two minutes. The 1908 race between Democrat William Jennings Bryan, who his critics called 'the human talking machine,' and William Howard Taft, who was Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt, was brought to the masses courtesy of Thomas Edison's recent invention, the phonograph. In total, Taft recorded 12 tracks (cylinders) while Bryan laid down 10, outlining the candidates' policies, world views, and philosophies.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, WNYC presents Taft's homage to the Irish sense of humor.

Special thanks to Archeophone Records.

A full album of Taft and Bryan's phonograph debates can be heard here.


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