Did JFK Really Win the Famous TV Debate? Today in Irish History

September 26: TODAY in Irish History:

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Snippets of Irish History by Conor Cunneen IrishmanSpeaks 

Conor is a Chicago based Motivational Humorous Business Speaker, Author and History buff.

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1960: Did Kennedy Really win the First Debate against Nixon?

Two Irish Americans square off in the first major televised presidential debate. While Kennedy’s Irish heritage is well known, Nixon had also strong Irish heritage although this is not something we Irish tend to broadcast too much!

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presidential_debate 1960 Kennedy Nixon
Kennedy and Nixon prior to the debate 1960

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Nixon discovered the power of television earlier than Kennedy. While campaigning with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, his famous “Checkers” address saved his political career.

Kennedy though ultimately benefited more from the power of television more than Nixon. And despite all the kudos JFK got for his performance in debate one, much of it was down to good fortune and good luck and a lot of the debate commentary appears to be retrospective poppycock!

It is accepted presidential history that those who watched on TV thought Kennedy had won, while those who listened on the radio thought Nixon won.

There is very little conclusive evidence about radio listenership. It seems only one survey – conducted by Sindlinger Research asked about radio listenership. The small number of radio listeners polled preferred Nixon by more than two to one. Television viewers polled believed that Kennedy won the debate although not by a wide margin.

Newspaper reports following the debate were not at all emphatic about winners and losers. Variety reported “1st ‘Great Debate’ Historic Dud as Nixon & Kennedy ‘Play It Safe.”

The Washington Post reported: “Of the two performances Mr. Nixon’s probably was the smoother. He is an accomplished debater with a professional polish, and he managed to convey a slightly patronizing air of a master instructing a pupil.

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READ: Kennedy Nixon Debate Myth Debunked

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Richard Nixon - Kennedy Debate 1960
Nixon sweatin’

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Elements / Good Luck supporting the “Kennedy whipped him” theory.

  • Kennedy was naturally better looking than Nixon
  • Kennedy had been rehearsing / vacationing in Florida and developed a good color
  • Nixon was in substantial pain due to a knee injury which may have increased his tendency to sweat under the lights.
  • Nixon refused make up. So did Kennedy. The lack of it had just possibly had more impact on the more stubble-faced Nixon
  • By design or luck, Kennedy’s dark suit provided better contrast than the gray looking, ill-fitting suit Nixon was wearing. Nixon had lost substantial weight due to his knee injury in the weeks prior to the debate.

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In his book Counselor, Kennedy speech writer Theodore Sorensen believes that his man won, whether it was on TV or radio. The wonderful wordsmith Sorensen always wore rose-tinted glasses when viewing his candidate, but he recalls that immediately after the debate, Kennedy phoned his father Joe Kennedy for reviews. The old man was ecstatic about how his son had done. On finishing the telephone conversation, Kennedy said to Sorensen, “I still don’t know how I’ve done. If I’d slipped and fallen flat on the floor, my dad would have said, ‘The way you picked yourself up was terrific!'”

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WATCH: A Short History of Ireland

Want to learn more about Ireland? See these images and more in the acclaimed For the Love of Being Irish

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This history is written by Irish author, business keynote speaker and award winning humorist IrishmanSpeaks – Conor Cunneen. If you spot any inaccuracies or wish to make a comment, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the comment button.

Visit Conor’s YouTube channel IrishmanSpeaks to Laugh and Learn.

Tags: Best Irish Gift, Creative Irish Gift, Unique Irish Gifts, Irish Books, Irish Authors, Today in Irish History TODAY IN IRISH HISTORY (published by IrishmanSpeaks)

   

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