As the country gears up for another presidential election, there will be televised debates from all presidential candidates. It’s hard to believe there was a time that this wasn’t the norm in an election, but it’s been almost 60 years since the first televised debate between presidential candidates.
On September 26th, 1960, a debate between two major-party presidential candidates was televised for the first time in U.S. history. Presidential hopefuls John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon met in Chicago to discuss U.S. domestic affairs.
Despite the aesthetics of television, Nixon refused to wear makeup. He came off nervous, pale, and unhealthy to many who watched on television. He had been recently hospitalized with a knee injury and was battling a bout with the flu. Many believe that Kennedy won the debate because of his appearance and charisma on the TV screen.
The producer and director of the debate was Don Hewitt, the founder of 60 Minutes. Hewitt says that to those who listened on the radio, Nixon won, and to those who watched on television, Kennedy won.
“Don said that in the end, Kennedy triumphed due to appearances: Kennedy, ‘looking tan and fit…this guy was a matinee idol,’ vs. Nixon looking ‘like death warmed over,’ sweating and in pain, and pale from a recent hospitalization,” says CBS.
Weeks after the debate, Kennedy won the popular vote by one of the narrowest margins in U.S. presidential election history. Televised presidential debates have been conducted for every campaign since 1976.