President John F. Kennedy said that without the televised debates he would not have been elected president in 1960. Going into the campaign, Kennedy was not nearly as well known as Richard M. Nixon, who had been vice president for eight years. Today almost no one remembers the issues the two men discussed, but for better and worse, the Kennedy-Nixon debates changed presidential elections forever, propelling them into the age of television. Three short years after those first televised encounters between Nixon and Kennedy, the latter would be assassinated, and with him went the nascent “tradition” of televised presidential debates. In 1975, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revised its interpretation of the equal time law to make debates possible. With the change in the law, as in 1960, the opportunity for debates in 1976 was fortuitous. This book tells the story of how the televised presidential debates evolved in the United States. It argues that the American system of free expression, and the American system of broadcasting, is unique.
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