The face of TV and politics changed forever on this date in history. It was 50 years ago this evening that John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon held the first of their 4 debates. It was clearly the most remarkable of their debates–perhaps the most remarkable of all presidential debates.
Kennedy was seen as calm, cool and collected on TV. He was well tanned and healthy. Nixon was fighting illness, he refused a request for makeup and looked sweaty and worn out. Those who watched the broadcast of the first ever televised presidential debate declared Kennedy the winner, those who listened on the radio gave the nod to Nixon. Thus, the political world changed forever.
70 million people watched first of the Great Debates that night that was simulcast on each of the network. More than half of the voters who watched on TV said that the debates influenced their decision on who to vote for in 1960.
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Still, in spite of his performance, Kennedy won by only 112,000 votes and there were serious questions about voter fraud, especially in Illinois where under the Mayor Richard Daley the phrase was coined, “vote early and often.”
Investigations followed and Kennedy was declared the winner, Nixon returned to win in 1968 and 1972.
Some have speculated that Nixon used the fraud of 1960 to rationalize Watergate. Regardless, it was the first of the Great Debates on this date 50 years ago that changed the political landscape forever.
It’s been said that Lincoln could’ve never been elected because of his looks in this TV age. The press avoided publishing photographs of FDR in his wheelchair so that he could appear strong and win four elections. Currently, Secret Service agents have to work double-time to make sure Obama is not seen by cameras with a cigarette in his mouth.
For right or wrong, candidates still win or lose on TV, and now, in High Def.