Inside the Presidential DebatesTheir Improbable Past and Promising Future

Inside the Presidential DebatesTheir Improbable Past and Promising Future

Newton N. Minow and Craig L. LaMay

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226530413

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Newton Minow's long engagement with the world of television began nearly fifty years ago when President John F. Kennedy appointed him chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. As its head, Minow would famously dub TV a “vast wasteland,” thus inaugurating a career dedicated to reforming television to better serve the public interest. Since then, he has been chairman of PBS and on the board of CBS and elsewhere, but his most lasting contribution remains his leadership on televised presidential debates. He was assistant counsel to Illinois governor Adlai E. Stevenson when Stevenson first proposed the idea of the debates in 1960; he served as cochair of the presidential debates in 1976 and 1980; and he helped create and is currently vice chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has organized the debates for the last two decades. This book offers a genuinely inside look into the origins of the presidential debates and the many battles—both legal and personal—that have determined who has been allowed to debate and under what circumstances. The book does not dismiss the criticism of the presidential debates in recent years but does come down solidly in favor of them, arguing that they are one of the great accomplishments of modern American electoral politics. As they remind us, the debates were once unique in the democratic world and are now emulated across the globe.