Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover
In the 1960 presidential campaign, two nonincumbents -- John Kennedy and Richard Nixon -- agreed to debate the issues before a nationwide television audience because each felt, on balance, that the confrontation would be in his self-interest. Kennedy looked upon the debates as a means of demonstrating that at the age of forty-three he had the experience, qualifications, and bearing to be president. Nixon, against the advice of President Eisenhower and other Republican leaders, agreed out of a conviction that he could beat Kennedy, on foreign policy questions particularly, and that by declining to debate he would hand Kennedy an exploitable issue. When Congress passed a resolution suspending the Federal Communications Commission's equal time provision, Eisenhower signed it, clearing the way for the Kennedy- Nixon debates.
Of the two candidates, Kennedy grasped the importance of the debates much more fully than did Nixon, and he prepared much more carefully and intelligently. Kennedy arrived in Chicago the day before the first debate was to be held in a CBS studio there. He got a good night's sleep and spent the next morning going over likely questions with his aides. According to Earl Mazo, the former political reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune and a Nixon biographer, tapes of Nixon speeches were played for Kennedy "to help put him in a properly aggressive mood." Then, after making a short speech to a union convention, Kennedy took a nap, had another question-and- answer session with his aides, had a leisurely dinner, and went to the studio. Nixon, by contrast, arrived in Chicago late the night before the debate, was up early to address the same union group, returned to