The televised joint appearances (like most people, we shall call them "debates" in this book1) of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960 and of Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford in 1976 played critical roles in the two campaigns. They were watched and heard by far more Americans than any other campaign event in history: some 107 million adults watched or listened to at least one debate in 1960,2 and in 1976 the number rose to 122 million.3 Both debate series had major impacts on the election's outcomes, and some analysts say they were decisive. Both series were widely hailed, here and abroad, as American democracy operating at its best. And both were widely criticized as travesties of reasoned discussion, disservices to the American people, and electoral disasters for some of the participants.
The 1960 and 1976 debates shared other traits as well. As Chapters 1 and 2 detail, setting them up involved a number of legal and constitutional complications stemming from Section 315(a) of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 -- the so-called equal time rule.____________________