JFK+50: Volume 5, No. 1725
JFK'S PERFORMANCE IN FIRST DEBATE CHANGED HISTORY
Mr. Nixon was the clear favorite going in to this debate. He had served two terms as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Vice-President during a relatively good economic period. The Vice-President had the additional advantage of a strong background in public debating. He had been a champion in college.
The pressure was on the young senator from Massachusetts to show that he could stand toe-to-toe with Nixon. As far as debating points, JFK did so although those who listened to the debate on radio gave the nod to Nixon. It was Senator Kennedy's image on television, however, that gave him the clear advantage.
On the 50th anniversary of the 1st debate, Kayla Webley of Time Magazine published an article titled: 'How the Nixon-Kennedy Debate Changed the World.'
Ms. Webley begins her article with these words...
"On the morning of September 26, 1960, John F. Kennedy was a relatively unknown senator from Massachusetts. He was young and Catholic....and facing off against an incumbent. But by the end of the evening, he was a star."
She goes on to tell us that the first debate "fundamentally altered" campaigns as well as television and the political history of the nation. She quotes Alan Schroeder, professor at Northeastern University...
"It's one of those unusual points on the timeline of history where you can say things changed very dramatically...in a single night."
Seventy-four million people tuned in to the first debate and most believed JFK was the clear winner. Ms. Webley also quotes Larry Sabato, author of 'The Kennedy Half-Century'....
"Before the television debates, most Americans didn't even see the candidates...they read about them (and) saw photos of them."
The first debate was televised from CBS Studios in Chicago, Illinois. It was broadcast live on the CBS, ABC and NBC television networks. Howard K. Smith (ABC) was the narrator. The panel of reporters included Bob Fleming (ABC), Stuart Novins (CBS), Sander Vanocur (NBC), and Charles Warren (Mutual).