History of Television Involvement in Presidential Debates
We should see debates for what they are, the only chance voters have to get a close-up look at those who might be President, unfiltered by the media or advertising agencies.
-- Political Commentator Edward J. Rollins ( 1988, p. 1)
Debates offer an imperfect but valuable chance for a mass audience to try to distinguish image from reality.
-- Political Commentator George J. Church ( 1984b, p. 31)
The role of the broadcasting industry in presidential debates has been vital to their initial development and institutionalization, ensuring that candidates have participated in them and making candidates accessible to voters through them. This role has changed substantially as debates have evolved, primarily through regulatory effects. The first broadcast debate occurred on radio on May 17, 1948, from Portland, Oregon, between Republicans Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen in connection with the state primary. This one-hour encounter featured 20-minute opening statements and 81/2-minute rebuttals from the candidates. It focused on a single issue, the question of outlawing communism in the United States, with Stassen taking the affirmative and Dewey the negative ( Ray, 1961). This nationally broadcast debate drew an audience estimated between forty and eighty million listeners ( Jamieson & Birdsell, 1988, p. 90).