The 1st Televised Kennedy-Nixon Debate
On September 26, 1960 Democratic candidate Senator John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon participated in the first of four televised debates. Americans for the first time could tune in and watch presidential debates on television, or listen on the radio.
About 70 million people tuned in for the Kennedy/Nixon debates. When they turned on their television sets, they were actually able to see Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Nixon had refused makeup for the cameras, and hadn’t gained back his natural weight after a serious knee injury and two weeks in the hospital. Kennedy, on the other hand, had been campaigning in southern California and appeared on camera with a healthy tan.
The story has it that those Americans who tuned in over the radio believed the two candidates were evenly matched, but tended to think Nixon had won the debates. But those 70 million who watched the candidates on the television believed Kennedy was the clear victor.
While there aren’t any qualified statistics to back up this claim, what is certain is that Kennedy took a leap in the polls after the debate. Appearances, it seemed, suddenly mattered in Presidential races, far more than they ever had before. Kennedy himself said after the election that “it was TV more than anything else that turned the tide” toward his victory.
It’s curious to think who might have been elected if modern technology had been around throughout U.S. history. Washington wore dentures. Lincoln had a high-pitched voice. William Howard Taft weighed over 300 pounds. James Madison was 5′ 4″.
-from The National Archives’ Prologue: Pieces of History
What pre-television President would you most like to see speak?
Banned Books Week
Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury penned this telegram to President Kennedy urging him to take the Soviet Union’s actions related to nuclear weapons and Berlin before the UN. Since its publication, Fahrenheit 451 has been censored or banned by hundreds of school districts and parents nationwide.
-from the JFK Library
Monday, Sept. 25, 1967. Last night was one of those bleak nights when the shadows take over. We both woke up about 3:30 AM and talked and talked and talked about when and how to make the statement that Lyndon is not going to be a candidate again. — Lady Bird Johnson, A White House Diary, New York: Dell Books, 1971, pg 627. (via lbjlibrary)
Born on this Day — Barbara Walters
Barbara Walters sat down with President and Mrs. Ford in the White House residence for a retrospective interview on December 4, 1976. It would make up half of an hour-long special that aired on January 2, 1977.
Since the Ford administration was drawing to a close this farewell interview featured the Fords’ reflections on their White House years. Walters prompted President Ford to discuss what he considered to be his greatest achievement, improving the general atmosphere of the nation, and his greatest disappointment, not making enough progress towards economic recovery.
The interview also covered topics such as his reaction to losing the 1976 election, his meeting with President-elect Carter, and whether he planned to run for office again. Both President and Mrs. Ford answered questions about their post-Presidential plans and their upcoming move away from Washington, DC.
Earlier in the day the crew had filmed Mrs. Ford giving Walters a tour of the White House that made up the other half of the program. It provided a look into some of the rooms on the third floor, such as the President’s private office, for the first time on television.
Walters was pleased with final product, writing to President Ford shortly after taping, “As a matter of fact, after reading the transcript, I feel it is a definitive interview.”
-from the Ford Library
Integration Crisis at Little Rock Central High School
During the 1957 integration crisis at Little Rock’s Central High School, emotions were strong across the country. Some people were opposed to President Eisenhower sending Federal troops to make sure that the black students could attend class. Others, like Helen Armstrong of Lincoln Park, Michigan, wrote to say they supported his actions.
-from the Eisenhower Library