5 Myths of JFK-Nixon Debate

Fifty years ago, the first televised presidential debate
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2010 1:04 PM CDT

(Newser) – Fifty years ago today, John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off in the first televised presidential debate in US history. The upstart Kennedy came off as cool and collected, while the vice president sweated under glaring TV lights—a result that many say eventually won Kennedy the hard-fought contest. Now, JFK speechwriter and confidante Ted Sorensen debunks six myths from that debate in today's New York Times:

  • Kennedy was nervous: "Kennedy—who had no debate coach and almost never rehearsed—arrived in Chicago the day before the debate and, after a long morning reviewing potential questions and issues in the sunlight on his hotel roof, was sufficiently relaxed to nap. (Nixon, by contrast, had holed up for the weekend in a hotel suite with a debate coach.)

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  • Nixon 'won' on the radio: Even without the visuals of Nixon sweating, listeners in the second debate could still hear the veep's "surprising reluctance to disagree with or even answer Kennedy on many points."
  • Kennedy won on delivery and looks. "There was far more substance and nuance in that first debate than in what now passes for political debate in our increasingly commercialized, sound-bite Twitter-fied culture, in which extremist rhetoric requires presidents to respond to outrageous claims."
For the rest of Sorensen's list, including whether the debates swung the election to Kennedy, click here.

(Read more John F. Kennedy stories.)

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