A Brief History Of: Presidential Debates

TV: Getty; Screen: Paul Schutzer / Time-Life Pictures / Getty

"He looked wonderful on my TV set," Nixon's wife Patricia told reporters.

When network executives began organizing the nation's first-ever televised presidential debate in 1960, a pre-debate debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy began almost immediately. The candidates haggled over format, location, even dressing rooms, but in the end, the medium trumped the message. Sick with the flu and hobbled by a knee injury, Nixon looked pale and sweaty--an image that stuck with viewers far longer than his words did.

Nixon's successors couldn't forget either; it took nearly two decades for another incumbent to agree to a televised debate. In 1976, Gerald Ford sparred with Jimmy Carter to prove himself to...

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