John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; WGBH Forum Network; 50th Anniversary of Kennedy/Nixon Debates
Theodore C. Sorensen served as President Kennedy's special counsel and was one of his most trusted colleagues. Our most frequent speaker here at the Kennedy Library, each time he graces us with his presence we are reminded by his recall and quick wit of why JFK kept him so close to his side. Sander Vanocur is one of the nation's preeminent print and broadcast journalists having worked for ABC and NBC News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Journalist, humorous, essayist, and biographer, Russell Baker is a two time Pulitzer Prize winner the first for his distinguished commentary as a nationally syndicated columnist for The New York Times and the second for his autobiography, Growing Up. Like John F. Kennedy, William Wilson understood before many others the dramatic role television would play in modern presidential campaigns. A pioneer in political broadcasting, he was the first person hired as a television adviser for a presidential campaign serving Adelaide Stevenson in 1956. Marty Nolan is a veteran journalist who became a reporter for The Boston Globe in 1961. In 1966, he
won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism and went on to become The Globe's Washington bureau chief and the editor of its editorial page. Whether it be baseball or political trivia no one is quicker with his recall of historical anecdotes and their larger meaning than our moderator who proves time and time again that an oliphant never forgets. In a 40 year career with The Globe as correspondent and Washington columnist Tom Oliphant earned a Pulitzer Prize as one of three editors on special assignment who managed the paper's coverage of the efforts to desegregate the city's schools. He is the moderator we turn to most often for his command of the facts and for the impish pleasure he takes in engaging all of you and our panelists. So please join me in welcoming him along with Ted Sorenson, Sandy Vanocur, Russell Baker, Bill Wilson, and Marty Nolan to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy/Nixon debate. Thank you very much, Tom Putman. For all you do here by the way. You know um if
some of you would like a special treat after this babbling is over this evening. You might want to go downstairs here to the exhibits area where with regard to the event we're discussing tonight, among other things, you can see this little primitive desk, the kind of thing that would have been in your room in high school maybe and it was the desk from which Howard K. Smith then at CBS moderated that first debate. And I always love to look at it because it reminds me how primitive that beginning was. And yet Tom used the number 70 million which you sometimes hear about the size of that audience. There are studies that were done by the networks themselves and they do know how to do this, that put the number of Americans who watched one or all of these
debates and over 100 million maybe as high as 125 million, which makes that series of events weekly beginning September 26, the event up to that time in the entire history of the world no event had been seen by as many people give you an idea of what it was. And so to perhaps introduce this enormously important historic sequence of evenings, I was going to ask each of my learned friends to tell me precisely where they were. When Howard K. Smith opened the first debate in Chicago in the studios of WBBN, the CBS affiliate. Tom where precisely in the building were you? Tom let me first say that conscious as I am that this is a tax-supported nonpartisan institution,
I feel I should make it clear that tonight I intend to be totally objective [laughter] about the debate between the sainted John F. Kennedy [laughter] and Richard Nixon [laughter], one whose enemies I had the honor to be. I was in the studio not on the sound stage where the debate took place, but I was in the studio watching. Did they have a little room where you and others seen your assistance to the president watched the debate. Who is it. Bill. Can you prove it. I thought you said you were in it. Yes I was. Indeed. After having spent the entire day virtually with the candidate (I did, going over last-minute things). So there was a little room for AIDS which there is to this day still. Bill. Good advance man. Indeed. And the Kennedy campaign even in 1960 and I shouldn't
I should say especially in 1960 was this was famous for the quality of its advance work. Bill if 1960 was 2010 and you had the kind of media culture then that you have today there would be people who would be surmising that it's because of Bill Wilson that Senator Kennedy was elected president. You worked with him, a real reach. But that's the nature of the modern media. It's a little more factual than those days. But you spent a lot of time with him personally in the hours leading up to the beginning of that. And tell us what you did and where you were. Well, there was a moment that I think had a lot to do with the success of the debate. My job basically was in all the pre-production activity with each of the networks that were running the debate. Richard Nixon had his man who was Ted
Rogers and JFK had me, and we would sit with the director, the stage manager, and the set designer and design each of these panels. And (uh) but the moment that is most important I think to the debate was we were in the room with Ted, Bob Kennedy, and JFK, and they were still grilling him a little bit getting him up to speed and there was a sense that this was a very big moment because the problems in '60 were in the experience and name recognition and Catholicism. Those were the issues. There weren't really any others in terms of the voters. There were in terms of the media. But at a particular point in the green room where we were holding
I said we've...I said to Kennedy that we had to go down and get makeup and we went but he said we'll find out if Nixon is going to get back. So I went down and there was Ted Rogers saying is your guy going to get made up. And I said not until your guy does. [laughter] And so it was a Mexican standoff. I reported back to Kennedy who said,"Well I'm not going to get made up". I said, "You've got to have something. You have a good tan, but you have to close the pores in that face because those lights in 1960 were huge broad lights which were going to be there for an hour, as Nixon found out. [laughter] So I had started my career at that television station 10 years before, less than 10, and I knew that there was a place around the corner. I ran across it, got some pancake, came back, and put it on him, which he didn't like at all. But I
said the pores! The pores! You gotta close the pores! Here was the significant moment in the debate as far as I was concerned. We made our way to the stage but we were outside the opening to the studio stage, and I had a checklist of all the things that should be done primarily, until he entered in and sat in that chair and I blew the checklist because I went out for that pancake makeup. And so as we hit the stage he said I have to go to the bathroom. It was on my checklist and I forgot it. And I took him to where he was supposed to go. I heard the stage manager doing ten, nine, eight. He made that stage on one. What it did was freeze the room because everybody there thought we were without one of the contestants.
And, too, it psyched Nixon out, because JFK walked in, sat down, crossed his legs like this, and didn't look at anybody. Now, part of the lore, Bill, is that when you came over to the studio what the Ambassador East in Chicago was the Kennedy Drake, The Drake. OK. That you took a look at him in the studio and he had a white shirt on and you thought, uh, uh, not for television. And he wore a blue shirt somehow, and a dark suit. That was very important because in those meetings I had him do a light beige background. If you have a dark suit on you pop right out. And of course Nixon had a grey suit and just melted back into the background. Sandy, the most important thing I was able to do, I've always believed, in terms of dealing with the look of the debate, was the single pole. And just the self on top of the notes because JFK was an
eloquent man and I've always said that you perceived someone by 50 percent body language, 25 percent attitude, and 25 percent what they say. Uh, oh. That's from my proposal. [laughter] That said, back to life. So what this means is that thanks to this guy 50 years later we have these ridiculous looking podiums. Oh come on. That's right. Thanks to you. Sandy, Depending on one's perspective, you either had the worst seat in the house or the best seat in the house. How did you come to occupy it. And what's the difference between being in a press room somewhere and having to be part of the event.
I was in the fourth seat on the orders of our Producer Director Don Hewitt. And I didn't see the debate. People say, You didn't see it? And I think about Groucho Marx's line, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" [laughter] Those of us who are the panelists did not see what the nation saw on television, and. the next morning I located Governor Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, the first governor to declare for Kennedy, and he had been driving the night before from Sacramento to San Francisco and I said, " What do you think?. You heard it on the radio." And he said "I think that Nixon won." I next call Larry ? Kenny O'Donnell who was in Painesville, Ohio, with the Senator and I said "What do you think?" He said, well at seven o'clock Frank Ploughshare ? who was the Senator,
a Democrat, who voted with Republicans, knocked on the door to congratulate Kennedy. I thought then Kennedy had probably... But ?it's the way? key thing is people say, "What'd you see?", and I said "We saw with our naked eyes." And that's different than what the nation saw or on radio what the nation heard. But, at the end of the debate, when the room cleared out on the start of ?Mackley?, there were no handlers there on either side to tell you what she'd seen or heard. Russ, that makes me observe that for a poor slob who has to actually cover this story and the three of us, we've all been in that position on presidential debate night. Um, today there are 750 television monitors surrounding you in a cavernous well-lubricated press room. There are, um, uh, people bombarding you with
opinions, uh, from one side or the other either through your computer, or in your ear, or in person. What was, what was, what were the circumstances like of your coverage that night? Where were you? I was in the building. I was in the, uh, private room off across the corridor from where the show was going on. We had set up a, ah, monitor so I could watch and listen, and I was typing simultaneously. Uh, we were, I was on deadline and, uh, I would type a couple of lines and, uh, give it to Western Union in those days...right... and they would do whatever they did with it. And I was busy, ?a person that,? you know, I was a one-armed, uh, uh -- it was a fierce job physically. Yeah. And I'm watching and I'm listening and I'm typing and I'm calling Western Union and I don't know what's going on [laughter], and the copy is flowing and then I managed to get it all out by the time the debate was over. But, eh,
it wasn't, not much of a story actually, [interviewer speaking over] I had. How many editions, excuse me, did you have to file for that night? Do you remember? I have no idea. ?It was issues? But it was... 3 or 4? You didn't, it didn't, make any difference. Y'know, one story held through the night and I'm listening to what's been said so far, I'm struck by how primitive it was. And y'know, we're talking about who won and who lost. And these things aren't won or lost any more, it's just what figure you cut on television. Well, it matters. As nobody was listening, I listened and my memory of it was that they talked about Quemoy and Matsu, two islands off the coast of Formosa, Taiwan. And, ah, I listened and there was arguing about the diplomacy of it and nobody -- I couldn't believe anybody cared in the country. And, ah, it made, I thought, a very thin story. Kennedy was
impressive because he came out, I guess, well-equipped by Ted with statistics. I was really impressed by Kennedy's spew of statistics that came out. I ?was?, "wow, this guy really knows a lot." He cut that figure. But I didn't see what the nation was seeing and that while not listening. Which was this figure, this dynamic, elegant young figure. -- If I could gently contradict you just a touch from your own story that night which I studied a couple of times. Further down in it, after the, the basics of the story have been reported, you made an observation that I think is, was extraordinarily prescient -- and I wanna get Marty to talk about this in a second -- that the differences between Kennedy and Nixon that night were, on the one hand not particularly sharp in your observation, and secondly
you wrote that they were not particularly sharply expressed. And that as a result, you said, it appeared that the event was most important to them in terms of how it influenced public perceptions of them as potential presidents as opposed to what they said. I wrote that? [laughter] You did! And...and the desk didn't change it, and it appears to have been printed. In, in other words, that back in 1960 there is evidence that at least some people in the press, particularly editors, were very interested in having you tell the country what these people said. [laughter] [inaudible] a strange notion -- that's why I say it seems primitive today -- that's right -- that people, uh, somebody was interested in content. That's right. You know, I, eh, it's, nowadays you don't listen and people don't listen to television. They look at television.
And, ah, they were looking. And I was listening and, ah, the Kennedy people I think are very shrewd. They knew that all along. Kennedy was really up for that. They'd-he came in looking tanned, rested, firm. Everything. It was a great performance. And you were aware of that. Somebody was aware of it deep down. But the deba-, this old fashioned notion that we're debating...I've watched a lot of presidential debates and nobody even pretends to debate anymore. Marty, can you see -- first of all, tell, tell us where you were. So what if you were younger. [laughter] Yeah, but John.[laughter] Don't hold it against me. He was pretty good-looking in his day.[Laughter] ?inaudible? I was in the newsroom of the great, uh, student newspaper at Boston College Heights and it was closing night, and, for a weekly and I said, "Lads, let's get this, ah, hockey team story [laughter] ?play's good? we got get, there is a television set." We ah, well, we knew pubs that had them and so we did the American thing and went to a pub. And
of course everything is black and white television there. And I remember my first impression, and I was fairly precocious a political television watcher, that I can recall watching the Kefauver Crimes Commission hearings and certainly the fund speech, which is what Richard Nixon called the Checkers speech, and the Army McCarthy hearings with the Boston attorney Joseph. N. Welch, a very famous man. So when I looked at this -- really, I knew it was historic because it was, it had never happened in presidential politics before. I mean, Lincoln and Douglas debated for the Senate in 1858. And I remember looking at Nixon and feeling automatically sorry for him because he looked so ghastly. He had a gray suit on against gray background and he looked sallow, and he, I guess Kennedy was, looked great. And of course we were all for Kennedy but I, I first notion of Nixon, and then of course I was so entranced with it that, uh, years later when the government, the GPO, the Government Printing Office, actually printed the transcript of all the
speeches of each candidate in 1960 and then also the, um, joint appearances. And I had that book -- green, and, uh, the cover on it and a good intellectual exercise some day would be to go through it and in certain paragraphs say, "which candidate said this?" I just looked at it recently and I said, "Oh I see, well, Kennedy was for single payer" because that's where Walter Reuther and all the union guys wanted on health care. And guess what? Nixon was advocating what we now call Obamacare [laughter]. So you just, you had that, that Nixon Nixon Nixon would not pass muster at the Tea Party rally today. No, So the substance of it, which was in the newspapers, certainly the New York Times -- and ?its ace? correspondent there? -- ah, ah, y'know, still overwhelmed what everybody thought: Did you see the debate? Very few people said, "Did you hear the debate?" Because, you know, it was an event. And of course it profoundly
changed politics. And you, um, I can do this briefly because it introduces one more elephant in the in the narrative. I was about to graduate from high school, and my-- in Southern California -- and my best friend and I constituted the entire field organization for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in northern San Diego County [laughter] where, where it was -- which was so right wing that the John Birch Society were the moderates [laughter]. And, uh, we had orders from headquarters to go up to a little, ah, town just south of Oceanside of where we were gonna canvass, ah, in a Democratic neighborhood after the debate. And uh, my friend's father drove us up and we heard the debate on the radio. Nervous, not knowing what to think. And then saw it and were thrilled. And we went out and canvassed in Encinitas, California, until 11:00 p.m. and raised 200 dollars, which was a lot of money in those days. Ted, I wanted to ask:
There's been a lot of anti-substance rhetoric here on the panel so far. ?inaudible? [laughter] And I wanted to ask you about your work with Senator Kennedy on the opening statement. As some of you may know, that all of you should be reminded, this is the beginning of the use of the word "debate" to describe something that doesn't quite fit the definition of what you think of as a debate. In this first one in Chicago, both the Senator and the Vice President made opening statements that lasted almost 9 minutes apiece and they were also each given closing statements that exceeded 4 minutes apiece. Now do the math. It's an hour of television. There were 10 questions asked and answered during that first exchange. So that meant that in terms of the political impact not only how they look but what they said in those first 5 and then 9, first 9 minutes of exposure was critical.
And I remember at the time and ever since being stunned at the way Senator Kennedy began. It was a debate about domestic issues and the first words out of his mouth were about the Cold War and how we couldn't win if we didn't move forward at home. And all the things, eh, Russ was talking about that he's dissatisfied with about the pace of progress. Mike, what were you trying to achieve in that opening statement? 'Cause it set the tone for that evening. Kennedy's theme from the very beginning was, he was not satisfied. We've got to do better, we've got to get this country moving again because the Soviet Union is surpassing us and we have to be strong. And that means a strong economy. And he segued from strength to overtake the Soviet Union and to build in our economic strength at home where too much is
going wrong. Yes, it's true that agreement had been reached. And Bill and I were part of the Kennedy, ah, team that met with the Nixon team and the network representatives. We agreed on the 8- minute openings, we agreed on the 4-minute closings. We agreed there would be only 4, ah, debates and, um, that is enough. The Nixon people -- remember this, Bill? -- the Nixon people did not want that. They didn't want their candidate sitting near Kennedy on the plane; that would make them seem equal and Kennedy would win just by showing up. They wanted the candidates sitting further apart. That's why debate number 3. The first 2 had gone so badly -- 3000 miles apart! [laughter] -- Exactly, exactly. He was in
L.A. for the, the New York debate. Anyway, I think there was plenty of substance in that opening about, We've got to get this country and deploring what was happening particularly at the bottom of the economic ladder. He even mentioned civil rights, to his, uh, credit, in that opening statement and the discrimination against Black Americans. And he had some pretty good way, uh, statistics as Marty pointed out. Nixon was full of statistics but in typical debased fashion he was answering Kennedy while Kennedy was addressing the nation. Right. If I... and his statistics were all boring statistics [laughter] on how Eisenhower had done better than Truman.
Nobody is debating that as far as I know. But that's what Nixon focused on. And may I say one word about the myth, which,uh, others repeated here, that Nixon won on the radio. That, all due respect to, ah, Abe Ribicoff, there's no such thing as Nixon winning on radio. Sure, he sounded more like debate. And it's true they couldn't see that ghastly look, ah, [laughter] that was, ah... I mentioned, ah, the makeup ?inaudible background speaker? in person perspiration and his very nervous, shifty eyes [laughter] back and forth. But the people on radio could still hear Nixon's weak answers when hard-faced [laughter] ?inaudible? after. At the very beginning
Kennedy answered the first question with why we had to stay ahead of and Nixon, who had received a phone call at the last minute, from his running mate, a Massachusetts man known as Henry Cabot Lodge, saying don't be the assassin. Get over that old Nixon image. Be a nice guy. So, when Howard K. Smith said, "Mr. Vice President, what is your comment on Senator Kennedy's statement?" he said, "I have no comment." He had no comment. And later on he would say "I agree with Senator Kennedy on this. I agree on this." I mean, the right-wing Republicans were furious with him. Can I?... and the people on radio heard that and they also heard Nixon go back to form and the Tea Party today would agree. When Nixon said, "What Senator Kennedy is proposing, $1.25 an hour minimum wage, is too extreme." I want to ask help from Russ and Sandy to understand what Nixon
was trying to do on that stage. Ted has mentioned that when they got to the Q and A, it really is true that after Senator Kennedy took the question and Howard K. Smith turned to Nixon to ask for a comment, Nixon really did say "I have no comment." But I'm also interested in the beginning of Nixon's prepared statement, which followed Senator Kennedy's. And here is the catchy opening line: "The things that Senator Kennedy has said, many of us can agree with. The disagreement that we have is over the means to reach the goals that we share." Now that thought and that phrase is just almost literally by my count was repeated 6 different times during the debate. Can you help me understand from your knowledge of the state of the campaign as of that night, what was Nixon trying to
accomplish with his demeanor -- forget his appearance for a second 'cause we'll get back to Bill in a minute. I think Nixon was trying to minimize the combative aspect of the campaign. He thought he had, uh, he's coming out of the great triumph, the glory days of the Eisenhower administration and all he had to do was ride Eisenhower's coattails. They'd been victorious at everything they did. The country was at peace. Uh, things were going well. There's no need to argue about the point. I think, I remember I was covering Nixon on a daily basis at that time and that was his speech he gave 5 or 6 times a day, that everything was fine. Why, why should we disagree. ?inaudible? me along with it. Sandy, to get you in here: at that moment as of that night, right?, the, to the extent there were polls in those days, had perhaps Nixon ever so slightly ahead but
certainly not by anything approaching a comfortable margin. Did you have the sense, sitting there, that the Vice President was trying to play it safe and sit on a lead? Or what did you think he was up to? Exactly right. He was sitting. But what Kennedy was capitalizing on was, I think, Sputnik in 1958. And, uh, I remember flying into International Airport on the Caroline after the primaries,and he threw something over and said, "This is unacceptable." The Wall Street Journal article was simply that for the first time the Soviet Union had exceeded the United States in the production of machine tools, which is the gauge of, uh, a country's prowess. And Kennedy said, "This is unacceptable." I think that Kennedy was on the attack and Nixon was on the defense, and I don't think
he was helped very much by Eisenhower. I think that's very important to the proceedings. We're gonna get to that one because we have video on that. But Marty, who probably knows more about Nixon than anybody alive or dead [laughter] -- or both. Um, here's this dichotomy again, isn't it, ?unintelligible? Nice guy. Awful guy...yeah... Like me. I don't like you. Is this familiar, even 50 years ago? Oh, this is, don't forget, for Richard Nixon to get to this point, to get the nomination, he had to take on the Rockefeller fortunes and Nixon, I always see of him as a Dickensian waif, His nose, his significant nose, pressed against the glass looking at all the sugar plums inside that he can't get and he has said as much. I mean he's a very good writer. I commend his writing his, uh, six crises
has a, for Nixon has a ring of honesty. I mean, a lot of his gripes filtered through there. It's, it's -- H.L. Mencken once reviewed Calvin Coolidge's autobiography, say well, whatever it is it's, it's accurate. And even if it's not true it's accurate. [laughter] And Nixon, so Nixon had this, I mean, uh, this: he just nourished his resentments. His resentments were a flowering garden of [laughter], of envy, and a disdain for those rich people, the Rockefellers and the Kennedys. And I'm not one of them. I had to, I had to work on my dad's farm and all. And so it's -- and he was born, he was born in a log cabin like anyone else. He was born in a house his father built from the Sears Roebuck catalog and it's still there and you're ?unintelligible? right there. And, ah, so he he did have that terrible burden. And to go against Nelson Rockefeller who was a pretty glamorous fellow, an intelligent fellow. And and
then to survive that and then to go up. He much would've preferred Lyndon Johnson or Stuart Symington, I think -- conventional candidates Russ, did you have any sense that night or covering him on a daily basis of what kind of national leader he wanted to be in a 1960 -- yeah, context? Again, to help us understand his demeanor that night. No, I don't think he had any idea. I mean, I think what, Nixon was one of those politicians who loved the game. You know, it was victory or it was defeat. And, uh, he just loved the game. I don't really think he had much vision. I did, would like to make a point that hasn't been touched on yet, and that is, Nixon was sick that night. I'd started with him on the campaign. Uh, at the opening of the campaign he decided he was gonna fly across the country on one day and make 4 stops. But before we took off he did something extraordinary.
He had a reception for the press, just the press that was going with him, and, uh, we were invited down to the Mayflower or wherever. And, uh, bring your wife along. I took my wife -- it's a chance to meet this man. And Nixon came in and he, he looked ghastly. Physically. He'd lost weight. He had been in the hospital for a long period with an infection. He'd banged his knee somehow. And he hadn't, still hadn't recovered. And I was shocked to see him. I hadn't seen him for several weeks. He'd been in the hospital, came out, and there he was that night. And he looked sick. You know, he's frail. And he hadn't gotten over that. I think the debates came two weeks after that, in Chicago. Bill, you know something about this because you were right at the place where the cars came in -- I happened to go out the studio -- and when the limousine came into the studio -- and he hit it, he did it again, didn't he? And he got out and he hit his knee again and everybody grabbed for him.
It was the knee that he was in the hospital for. [Umm hmm] No, he, he, he did look just right. [laughter] Well, Bill... Now on the other hand, [laughter] ?unintelligible second speaker? at the time the lore was that Nixon had not worn any makeup that night and as near as I can tell that's not true. Right? Bill there was a product in those days -- really test your memory -- for people who develop what came to be known as 5 o'clock shadow. I think Mennen made it...right... and it was called "Lazy Shave." That's right. Right? And you put it on and it was, it sorta lightened up. Sorry Ted Rogers couldn't run to the corner and get a pancake makeup -- the way you could. He used it, which just intensified any kind of sweat that would come down. And it also intensified the absence of contrast ...right...between the way he presented and this very light background behind him. Now, also
Ted Rogers who was Nixon's guy...wonderful guy, by the way...Yeah. And had had produced the Checkers speech in 1952. So, very experienced in this new medium. I think he was the guy who rode with Nixon or talked to him just before the debate and we've heard a little bit about the advice from, of all people, that experienced national politician Henry Cabot Lodge to be a nice guy and, and get rid of the assassin image. But what I've always been told is that the media people said, don't let him get away with anything. Uh, uh, reply to every charge, be vigorous and aggressive. And something went wrong. Um, here's a guy he trusted obviously and didn't listen to. Exactly. When it, when a candidate becomes the presidential candidate a very tight group gets around him. And even if you had a long- term relationship -- which ?inaudible? Ted did, having done the Checkers speech -- Uh, he had a
lot of trouble being where he should be. Sandy, um, we have a little video that's illustrative, um, of several things, actually. If you think about modern debates and the questions that get asked in them, you can see uh, an early example of it...hope that starts [laughter] ...I do too. Or I'm dead, I'm dead. But let's for a second look at a rather good-looking young network correspondent -- Ah, he looks the same, he looks the same, Tom. Well, [laughter] there were other features then -- asking a perfectly understandable but actually unusual question of, ah, of Nixon and one that had been, had come up a couple of times before that night and you'll tell us the story after we see, I hope, the clip.
Good evening. The television and radio stations of the United States and their affiliated stations are proud to provide facilities for discussion of issues and the current political campaign by the two major candidates for the presidency. The candidates need no introduction. The Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and the Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy. And now for the first opening statement by Senator John F. Kennedy. ...Oh, they're not gonna run the whole thing on you.[laughter] ?inaudible? Nixon. In the election of 1860 Abraham Lincoln said the question was whether this nation could exist half slave or half free. In the election of 1960 and with the world around us, the question is whether the world will exist half slave or half free, whether it will move in the direction of freedom, in the direction of the road that we are taking, or whether it will move in the direction of slavery. The question now is, can freedom be maintained under the most severe attack it has ever known. I think it
can be and I think in the final analysis it depends upon what we do here. I think it's time America started moving again. [applause] And now the opening statement by Vice President Richard M. Nixon. The things that Senator Kennedy has said many of us can agree with. There is no question but that we cannot discuss our internal affairs in the United States without recognizing that they have a tremendous bearing on our international position. There is no question but that this nation cannot stand still. Let's put it in terms all of us can understand. We often hear gross national product discussed and in that respect, may I say that when we compare the growth in this administration with that of the previous administration, that then there was a total growth of 11 percent over 7 years and this administration there has been a total growth of 19 percent. It isn't enough to compare what might have been done 8 years ago or 10 years ago or 15 years ago or 20 years
ago. I want to compare what we are doing with what our adversaries are doing, so that by the year 1970 the United States is ahead in education, in health, in building, in homes, in economic strength. I think it shows the difference between the two parties. One party is ready to move in these programs, the other party gives them lip service. The next question to Senator Kennedy from Mr. Nolan. You call for expanding some of the welfare programs for schools, for teacher salaries, medical care and so forth, but you also call for reducing the federal debt. And I'm wondering how you, if you're president in January, would go about paying the bill for all this. There's ?inaudible?. I did not advocate, I did not advocate reducing the federal debt because I don't believe that you're going to be able to reduce the federal debt very much in 1961, 2 or 3. And if you have heavy obligations which affect our security which we're going to have to meet, and therefore I've never suggested we should, ah, be able to retire the debt substantially or even at all in 1961 or 2. Senator, I believe in one of your speeches you suggested that reducing the interest rate would help toward... No, no, not reducing
interest. Reducing the interest rate, in my judgment, the hard money, tight money policy, fiscal policy of this administration has contributed to the slowdown in our economy. It is essential that a man who is president of this country certainly stand for every program that will mean for growth. And I stand for programs that will mean growth and progress. But it is also essential that he not allow a dollar spent that could be better spent by the people themselves. Mr. Nixon comes out of the Republican Party. He was nominated by it. And it is a fact that through most of these last 25 years the Republican leadership has opposed federal aid for education, medical care for the aged, development of the Tennessee Valley, development of our natural resources. I think Mr. Nixon is an effective leader of his party. I hope he would grant me the same. The question before us is, which point of view and which party do we want to lead the United States. Mr. Nixon, would you like to comment on that statement? I have no comment. The next question. Now, Republican campaign slogans: You'll see them on signs around
the country, as you did last week, say it's experience that counts. That's over a picture of yourself, sir, implying that you've had more governmental executive decision-making experience than your opponent. Now, in his news conference on August 24, President Eisenhower was asked to give one example of a major idea of yours that he adopted. His reply was, and I'm quoting, "If you give me a week I might think of one. I don't remember." I can only say that my experience is there for the people to consider. Senator Kennedy's is there for the people to consider. As he pointed out, we came to the Congress in the same year. His experience has been different from mine. Mine has been in the Executive branch, his has been in the Legislative branch. I would say that the people now have the opportunity to evaluate his as against mine. And I think both he and I are going to abide by whatever the people decide. If you feel that everything that is being done now is satisfactory, that the relative power and prestige and strength of the United States is increasing in relation to that of
the Communists, that we are gaining more security, that we are achieving everything as a nation that we should achieve, that we're achieving a better life for our citizens and greater strength, then I agree. I think you should vote for Mr. Nixon. Only you can decide what you want, what you want this country to be, what you want to do with the future. I think we're ready to move. And it is that great task, if we're successful, that we will address ourselves. Thank you very much, gentlemen. This hour has gone by all too quickly. Other debates in this series will be announced later and will be on different subjects. This is Howard K. Smith. Good night from Chicago. I apologize for the back view of Sandy ?inaudible? [laughter]. If, if Bill Wilson had been in charge of his image that night, that, that never would have happened. Um, Sandy, as you know better than I, Nixon hated that question, so much so that he even wrote about it
in the book he wrote the following year partially dissecting his defeat. Why did you ask it? I asked it because it was standing out there waiting to be asked. It grew out of a question put to him by a very able reporter for The New York Times, Charles Mohr, m-o-h-r, who along with David Halberstam just gave the New York Times wonderful coverage from Vietnam because the Republicans had been making that an issue in the campaign. It's experience that counts. And I think President Eisenhower never liked Richard Nixon very much and I think he was dismissive of him in that answer. It was a careless and reckless. And Stuart Novins whom you just saw asked part of the question before and it never got finished. So it was hanging there waiting to be finished. Russ, uh, in the part of Nixon's answer that wasn't shown on the screen
he first tried to smile and suggest that President Eisenhower was joking, that he wasn't serious. Again, as somebody who had to deal with him every day, what do you remember about the exchange? About the exchange... in the debate... Oh, I thought you were talking about Eisenhower saying he'd think, might think...well, that too.[laughter] That was an extraordinary moment in that campaign. Ah, well, Nixon was, you know, he, ah, as I said, Nixon liked the fight, he liked the game. He treated government as a game. He's always set on winning and when the game went against him he took it very hard. You know, he'd weep and cry and make a scene. He's, ah, in his whole campaign he said that, all he said throughout, was that they were, they'd done a wonderful job and he was going to continue it. That didn't make much of a, ah...there's not much to argue about there.
Did he ever come to grips with how he felt about Eisenhower or how Eisenhower felt about him? Well, as he would say, I'm glad you asked that question.[laughter] And he, Nixon, he was Vice President for 8 years but he was a vice president for a commander-in-chief who looked upon the Vice Presidency as a job for a young staff guy. Oh boy. And, and if you looked at the list of Eisenhower's possible nominees, they were all young. And the Vice Presidency is not a job for a young man. It's ah, the last happy Vice President we had was Alben Barkley of Kentucky, who was older than Harry Truman. And maybe Joe Biden who is older. I hope he's read, I think Joe Biden should read Alben Barkley's memoirs. 1968. December of 1968. I'm covering the Johnson White House and it is the event, you'd think it's a big event. The
President-elect and Mrs. Nixon show up at the White House and the President and Lady Bird both come out onto the driveway, which is a nice touch of, you know, protocol. And the White House press corps is about a dozen people at this time, you know, it's not a big, big story. And so we wait around and Nixon comes out -- and I had covered his whole campaign and his congressional campaigns and he had gone through the humiliation of losing the California governorship and then being all this, Eisenhower's vice president -- and he looked absolutely seraphic, beatific. He never looked happier. He said, "Oh, I want to thank President and Mrs. Johnson so much. Pat and I have seen parts of the White House. We've never seen before." [laughter] Whoa baby! And we're just ,we're all, y'know, and I'm looking over at Bryce Harlow who had worked for Ike and he's like, don't look at me. [laughter] And it was just telling, touching, y'know.
More, more monuments to his resent... pile of resentments. ?inaudible? I had a sense of, ah, Eisenhower. They'd asked me to cover Eisenhower's final speech. So I could observe in terms when President-elect Kennedy gave his ?inaudible? speech... That was the "industrial complex" speech... It was. ?inaudible? And I hung out with Haggerty and Robert Montgomery, who was ...Eisenhower's press secretary James Haggerty. Yeah, and Robert Montgomery, who was a movie star and advisor to the President. I walked into their office that day, that evening, and I looked very young and both their mouths just dropped to the floor. Then I went to the studio and observed the, ah, speech that he gave. There was only one other civilian in there. And when he came to the "industrial military complex" point, we both looked at each other just like that. It was a startling moment.
After the speech Jim Haggerty said, "Bill, would you like to meet the president?" And I said, "Certainly." And he introduced me to Eisenhower. Who looked at me, then looked over his shoulder at Robert Montgomery and said, "Bob, have you met your replacement?" [laughter] There it is. I am going to ask Ted's help on an aspect of this in a second. But first I wanted to tell you all that we're getting close to that moment in a Kennedy Library evening when you get to go to the microphones and, with some allowance for brevity, ask anything you want. And if there's something on your mind, you might want to think about slowly going toward the microphones. We're going to talk about one other element, aspect of the debates, rather, and that is the sharpest conflict that was raised during them. But first -- so, feel free, but in about 10 minutes we'll, we'll start taking questions. Ted, the experience question
had loomed so large up until that night in Chicago. Do you think the issue changed after that night or after the debates, and did it change Senator Kennedy? The next day in Ohio, as one of the other panelists mentioned, not only did Frank Lausche join the motorcade but the turnout for the motorcade was larger than it had ever been before, including -- d'you remember? -- the leapers, the young women who somehow levitated themselves [laughter] to see over the people standing in front of them. We had never seen them but they were great numbers the next day in Ohio. And that was only one sign of what was to come. Indeed. Now, um, before we get...could I just while I ...yes, of course, of course. Because there was much made earlier about Nixon's hospitalization. And it reminds me of one of JFK's greatest, or two of his great
lines combined in one. He said, "When Mr. Nixon was in the hospital I said as a matter of fairness, equity, I would not mention him unless I could speak of him favorably. And you notice I haven't spoken of him." [laughter] There it is. Thank you. Now. [laughter] We have, uh, we have highlighted Sandy's question and Nixon's answer because it seemed to go to the heart of part of what was before the country that, that year. But there was one other thing in these four debates that really did rise to the level of a campaign issue. It popped up in a question almost at the end of the second debate. It was present in the third and the fourth, and you can always tell in a presidential campaign when
something important has happened in a debate if both sides talk about it for several days thereafter. And it involved two tiny little islands off the coast, barely off the coast, of what was then called communist China. Ah, and the issue was whether the United States either was obligated to go to war to defend them if attacked by the Chinese Communists -- or Chicomms if you were in the CIA at the time -- or not. Um, the, the issue came up in a question by one of the panelists that night whom we all remember, Edward P. Morgan of ABC. "Senator Kennedy, Saturday on television you said you had always thought that Quemoy and Matsu were unwise places to draw our defense line in the Far East. Would you comment further on that, and also comment on whether a pullback would constitute appeasement?"
-- a very dirty word in, in 1960. The result was a back and forth on this question of these two tiny little islands. Sandy, was it an argument about nothing? Or what were the stakes for each campaign in this argument? I think most people in the country thought it was a Chinese song and dance act. [laughter] Nobody knew where the hell these were. Who really cared where they were? And I don't think it was an issue except if it reminded people of the phrase, who lost China? But I don't think that resonated. I swear I think it is, I want to get the country moving again. And it was the Catholic issue, which I think was very, very tough with Kennedy. He didn't win by much, you know. And I think the Catholic issue resonated throughout the whole campaign. Without a doubt. When you, Russ, when you first heard it, how did
Quemoy and Matsu strike you? Was it a good part? Did it bring the story alive a little bit? [laughter] Well, I was writing for The Times.[laughter] And that's an audience that might be interested in Quemoy and Matsu. If I'd been writing for the, uh, San Francisco Chronicle [laughter], it might not have got to it. Is that another way of saying that in your judgment you agree with Sandy that for all of the sharpness of the exchanges, that went on, after all, for two weeks, that this was something that just didn't interest the country very much? I think Quemoy and... I think Sandy put his finger on it. It raises the old question: the Republicans for years had feast-, feasted off the Democrats who lost China, and they thought this could be, this might work once more, once more. We might run it around the mill once more. But it didn't work. It, did, nobody care-, Quemoy and Matsu were, they were two tiny islands within 10 miles of the mainland, eh, whatever. And we were committed to defending
Taiwan with a set of fleets. I believe there was a firm commitment on that. We called it Formosa then. Yes. And should they, should these two tiny islands be brought into that defense. And yet, Marty, 12 years later this guy goes to China. Yeah. Um, did he lack the conviction of those nights in 1960 or... Well, it was, he, ah. This is, this is why getting into Nixon's head is a labyrinthine journey from which, ?that borne?, from which no traveler returns.[laughter] He in his written notes -- which are totally different from his speeches, press conferences, and especially the tapes -- it was the good Nixon, the things he wanted to do. And Kissinger said that's ambition, megalomania -- whatever you wanna
call it. And detente was a great idea. Let us, y'know, let us do something about the situation. And, and he knew that it was a brilliant election ploy. Hoh, I think we were in New Hampshire covering the Ed Muskie- George McGovern showdown and it couldn't get on page 17. I mean Nixon's in China and with every major newspaper in the country except the Boston Globe if you're ?unintelligible? [laughter] Did Senator Kennedy worry about Quemoy and Matsu? When this happened and when it kept happening, day in and day out on the campaign trail and in two more of the debates, how did you see it as a potential threat? I'm not sure we saw it... or did you? I think we saw it more as a potential opportunity instead of a threat. Richard Nixon, consistent with his lifelong anti-communism, wanted to show that he was ready to go to war even against communist China.
And Senator Kennedy wanted to show that he was not. I still remember I was in my hotel room in New York before the third debate and I received over the transom some unknown supporter but he documented it, a quotation from a very distinguished general: "Those two islands are not worth the blood of a single American." ?inaudible? And that's striking gold for a speechwriter. You know, a propos, Marty's comment earlier that you sometimes can't tell in 1960 terms who the candidate is saying what, one of the things that Senator Kennedy did as Quemoy and Matsu was festering was turn Cuba around ?inaudible background speaker? on Nixon. And here's Kennedy advocating getting in tight with the exiles. You can almost guess at what's coming, um, not very many months in the future. And Nixon is arguing in public against doing precisely
that. So maybe in some ways... Do you think Nixon, Nixon already knew about the Bay of Pigs. Right? Right. ?inaudible background speaker? He did because Ken Keating, I think he knew. Senator Kennedy know? Definitely not... Did he know we were preparing ... definitely not, he hadn't even been briefed on that nor had his foreign policy representative. But Nixon's attack on Kennedy was more attacking him for releasing secret information. Right. That's right. There it is. Give me one second and I'll tell a final story about this suggesting that Sandy may be right. Every politician in America during this period was being asked what he thought about Quemoy and Matsu. And one of them was Ross Barnett, the governor of Mississippi, who gave off only about 15 watts of intellectual [laughter] fire power. And he was asked one day at a news conference, "What's your position on Quemoy and Matsu, Governor?" And he looked helplessly at an assistant and
said, "Jim, them those two fellers I put on the Fishing and Game Commission?" [laughter] ?unintelligible? [laughter] ?unintelligible? But remember, remember this though. The two leading publications in this country, Time and Reader's Digest, were both run by sons of Chinese missionaries. Dewitt Wallace the Reader's Digest and Henry Luce. And it's not possible to underestimate the torture we suffered from the question, who lost China. Good point. You have been very, very patient. Please feel free [applause] to go to the, uh, microphones and when I'm gonna do as best I can is to try to direct the questions to one person up here, in the interests of time and allowing as many as possible. Please go right ahead. I actually have 2 but you can choose. Uh, first, it seems unfortunate -- it's fun to talk about the debate but it seems unfortunate that so much would turn on whether Nixon
was sweating or had the right color suit on. That sounds very contemporary. And I'd be interested in a comment on that. The other question was, does anyone want to venture what they think would have happened had Nixon won the election. We'll discard the latter, go with the former. And it really goes to the heart of what Bill Wilson does. You don't think it's about nothing, do you Bill? Oh boy. You, you had two people to compare for the first time. And I, Ted Rogers and I went out for a drink after the debate and toasted the fact we helped produce a television program that reached 90 million people. But it, it's that comparison of who do you like and who don't you like that comes in that format. I think it's contained in one thing and I think Hemingway answered the question. I don't know who asked it: The rich are different from you and me.
Hemingway said, yes they have more money. Kennedy had more money; Nixon didn't. We, we're, a lot of people are murmuring, it's Fitzgerald and it's Gatsby. But we don't care. [laughter] You have been very [laughter]... that's what I said, it's not Honey Fitz.... It's true but it's not accurate. [laughter] You have also been very patient. Thank you very much. I could listen all night. And, ah, you have to forgive me, I have a couple of comments, not a question. First of all I remember the debate, the first one. I was 20, 21 at the time and, ah, ?unintelligible? back to, I don't think, I went to college, but I had just graduated. I don't think I knew what those were. And the next day people were saying -- I'm not sure it was so much in the papers -- but people that had listened to the radio were saying that Nixon did better. Because I was so biased I only heard what Kennedy said anyway.
But I want to say, first of all I came here tonight not only for the subject but the distinguished panel. but specifically to see Sander Vanocur who was a star at the time...absolutely... and he was, ah, witty, he has a ...It never happened, you mean [laughter]. He still is. That whole drama and, ah, glamour. And also this debate because I bought his book to my book club to read. And I loved the autobiography. And I loved you on "Masterpiece." I don't know why you aren't still there. But the other comment was, I was 21 during the election and it was my first vote ever. And as an Irish Catholic Democrat from Boston I thought I was created to cast this first vote. [laughter] I, eh, it's just, it's wonderful to see everybody here. Mr. Sorenson, of course, I've seen here
before and very proud and read his book. And I just really happy you did this.[applause] Thank you. And thank you. Go right ahead. Several of you have commented on the fact that over these last 50 years there's been a definite trend to having more style than substance in debates. My question is sort of threefold: Have we made progress? Is this good for democracy? And does this make the electorate more easily manipulative-- easy to be manipulated.Yeah. Marty is gonna take that and I hope Ted will comment on his answer. Well, consider the alternative. We went to, from 1960 to 1976 with no debates because Lyndon Johnson and, um, Richard Nixon said "no way." Lyndon Johnson saw what happened to Nixon. Nixon saw what happened to Nixon.[laughter] And they gave him the old Heisman trophy to that, you know. And, but one gift Nixon gave the republic was to
resign so that Gerald Ford could not afford not to debate. And even, ah, y'know, he could have been ahead in the polls and all that but he had to debate because he was not an elected president. So, so that was Nixon's gift. And in the first Carter-Ford debate was in Philadelphia and that was when the famous 17 -- 19 -- 19th, thank you. I think of the 18 1/2 minute gap ?unintelligible? Right. But, um, and, and they just stood there like toy soldiers, y'know, and not, and this is the beginning of "spin alley," which is a wretched institution with 600 out-of-work political consultants trying to get airtime. [laughter] And but, but in the, in the crowd in Philadelphia that time was Eugene McCarthy, who would run for president, kept on running all the time. And one of the reporters asked him, he said, "What did you think of the 19-minute gap?" He said, "Gap? I really didn't notice." [laughter] Ted,
I'm interested in your comments but I also wanted to ask you whether that night or in that period you and/or the senator had any sense that national politics was never gonna be the same because of what was happening. So many things I wanted to say. I'll try to say them very quickly. I wanted to answer the second question that didn't get answered from the first questioner. If Nixon, had won the election and was president in October 1962 when the Soviet Union put nuclear missiles into Cuba, he would have accepted the advice of the Joint Chiefs and none of us would be here right now. Number 2, style? No it's true that presidents as a rule don't make decisions sitting by themselves in cells without advisers, without being allowed notes and they have 2 1/2 minutes to decide and a 4-minute
closing. No, that's not, that's not really a great test. The real debate between Lincoln and Douglas, I think, tested the judgment of the two candidates a lot more. Nevertheless, style is what Kennedy used to rally the country and rally the world behind us, even get some congressional support for his program from a Congress then dominated by a GOP Dixiecrat coalition. So let's not rule out style. Thank you and thank you. I guess this would be for Tom and Marty. Uh, in 1958 then-Senator Kennedy came through Holbrook, which is a small town right next to Brockton. Also ?unintelligible? too. And, uh, y'know, my father was one of President Kennedy's campaign secretaries when he was running for re-election to the Senate.
And, you know, I remember meeting the President that day and then 2 years later, y'know, I sat with my family and watched the, y'know, watched the convention and then the deba-, and then the debate. And, ah, y'know, after the debate my father was, like, really excited. Y'know, I guess I was more excited 'cause I saw someone on TV that I had met in my town. But you know, you know he got me excited. And I, y'know, I remember watching it with my parents. And I was just wondering if both of you, y'know if you felt really energized even more after that, because, ah, y'know, I'm wondering if they sent you maybe a couple more people in California to help you out there. And, ah The perk that we got as, as -- maybe Ted remembers this, maybe Russ and Sandy do -- but there was, the Democratic, uh, system in those days actually depended on ordinary citizens for money. In the Democratic Party there
was a program that lasted through 1960 that was called "dollars for Democrats." And if you went canvassing you went with a bucket. Ah, in addition to writing down who was a strong supporter and, and needed help getting to the polls, or whatever. And the perk from that work in northern San Diego County at the time of the Los Angeles debate, which was the third if I'm not mistaken, I was to go down to San Diego and meet Bob Kennedy. And that made it all worthwhile. You know, 17 years old. And no, it wouldn't have made any difference. Nixon was gonna to win California, not by much. But I think I got a chance to see the energy that Ted was talking about that was released because of his performance. I'll give you some numbers on this in a little bit. But the impact on people as measured after the election was actually very substantial and very much like what you're talking about.
Yes, Ted? Were you...? No, I was just saying that California election night, or I should say the next night, we thought Kennedy had won and thereby won the election. But the write-in vote, the people who are rich enough to be away on ?inaudible? occasion... was always the problem... changed it to Nixon. Almost. Sir -- and then, uh, we'll try to discuss the impact of all this, uh, and put it, put it to bed as best we can. Please go ahead. Sander, I loved your book on your counseling to President Kennedy. I wish we could see more of your writing, more on the current state of this crazy world of ours and this political situation we're living with today. I'd like you to put on your hat in the future. Let's say the presidential debate of 2012. We have President Obama and Tea Party Governor Palin debating. [laughter] What advice would you give Obama for that particular
debate? [laughter] Well, first of all, I have to comment in terms of those who say, well, Kennedy must have been nervous because Nixon, as pointed out here, out-debated Khrushchev in a Kremlin so-called kitchen debate. Nixon had more experience but the best comment was the one Kennedy made in the fall campaign after the debates were finally over, when he said in Minnesota, of course: "It's easier to play Harvard after you played Ohio State. [laughter] And Nixon, Nixon, ah, he just debated Krushchev. I had to debate Hubert Humphrey in Wisconsin." So I, as far as Palin. Bear in mind what Gail Collins wrote in The New York Times not long ago:
If you're out there in public life, try to remember that 5 percent of the population is certifiably insane. [laughter] Go ahead. Sandy. You're up. As H.L. Mencken said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." But because of your unique perspective, um, someone who became a wry observer of the human scene after having had to cover it, um, did you -- I wanted to get you on the record tonight in terms of whether those evenings in the fall of 1960, you sensed that the game was changing forever, and whether on balance it occurred to you that this was a good thing or not. I didn't even make judgments like that. [laughter] I was, uh,
in 1961 I was 35 years old, 36. I was a kid having a ball. I was like Nixon; Nixon was having a ball. I'm sorry to keep stressing this about Nixon that he enjoyed, what he liked was the game. A friend of mine working for Governor Rockefeller tells of Rockefeller taking Nixon around in his helicopter one day to, uh, show him the scene on Long Island, the growth of population. And, uh, he said Nixon was absolutely bored, uh had no interest at all. He's worried about what he can do to get a headline again. Why did he go to China? It makes no sense at all, Nixon in China. Somebody wrote an opera about it. It's that absurd. Good one, I hear. Marty -- and then I'm gonna have the last question at Bill before I wrap up. But go back to
that night in the heights. Yes. D.C. You hadn't even started yet. No. But did you see this game as being different than the one you had gone to high school and college studying? I think so because we were coming out of the very boring Eisenhower years. I mean, it was a sleepy time, the "silent generation," as as college students were called then. And it's, um. But I just sense that, I don't think even if there weren't a debate, this was a momentous occasion. And what, what Senator Kennedy said in the very first words of the debates were, you know, this is gonna decide whether the world is gonna be half slave and half free. I think I believed it. And I think everybody did. And I even, you know, Nixon didn't do badly but he did not have what it took. He did not know how to get the country moving again. So, so I think we knew it was gonna be a momentous election and it was a momentous debate
which ?unintelligible?. Which as, if I could do the moderator's prerogative and take us back to Bill. What hath you wrought? In other words, you had this night or this, ?inaudible background speaker? that campaign, another one ?unintelligible?. But what changed because of what you saw? The media strategy for that campaign was that I had 2 video trucks, one in the West and one in the East, and we covered countless rallies and would buy time in regional television. It was the basis of our television advertising campaign. And we didn't make commercials because they cost too much to put on the networks. And we were getting a bigger bang for our buck, if he spoke in Illinois, buying television stations in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Indiana. And we did, I would say 5 of these a month.
And then we had OK crowds, just OK. After the debates those crowds went crazy. The numbers were nuts. Then we really had a television show in terms of what we were doing, which was doing 3 or 4 rallies on regional television all over the United States. Believe it or not, as we conclude there are some numbers based on research done after the election that support what's been said up here. One of them, believe it or not in 1960, if you've been watching "Mad Men" you know this, there were focus groups back then. And there was an outfit in New York, I believe called ?Schweron? -- right? -- who, who used to gather people from the New York metropolitan area in groups sometimes as large as 300. They had people together for all 4 of the presidential debates and it turns out that the Kennedy-Nixon margin in terms
of the perceptions of those people was approximately 2-to-1 for the whole series of 4 debates. Even more interestingly, perhaps, Elmo Roper, a, a giant in the polling industry, did the research for CBS after the election was over and he found almost half his very large sample saying that the debates had played a role in their decision about who to vote for. And of that half there was a noticeable plurality for Senator Kennedy. But there was one little sliver of his sample, 6 percent, roughly 4 million people, who said the debates were everything. This was what they based their vote on. And in that group Kennedy was ahead by 4-to-1. If you do the math, he won by 112,000 popular votes. There's the margin. ?Inaudible? said that the debate and the Houston ministers conference were the two giant pillars that allowed the election. Can I just,
just tell your story about the Houston Ministerial Association? It was September 12th, he had to face the Catholic issue. Goes to Houston, he's getting dressed, puts on his blue suit, can't find his black shoes. He says to Dave Powers, his aide, "Where are my black shoes?" He said, Senator, I think I forgot them, We were at the Cuyahoga County ox roast yesterday." So Kennedy puts on his brown shoes, goes down, berates Dave Powers. Thing's over, he comes out, great performance, gets by the elevator, goes after Dave Powers. Dave, finally exasperated, says, "Senator I'm sorry, it'll never happen again. But I gotta tell you: that was a brown shoe crowd if ever I saw one." [laughter] And I guess part of the lesson tonight is that Bill Wilson also knew that. And it had something to do with the event. You know, one of the things I hate about this job is, it comes on me to, to try to
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- Kennedy Advisors Ted Sorensen and William Wilson, along with veteran journalists Russell Baker, Marty Nolan, and Sandy Vanocur, who covered the televised presidential debate, reflect on that historic event and how presidential debates have changed over time. Tom Oliphant, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former Boston Globe reporter, moderates.
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- APA: John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; WGBH Forum Network; 50th Anniversary of Kennedy/Nixon Debates. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-nc5s756t96