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Inside the Presidential DebatesTheir Improbable Past and Promising Future$
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Newton N. Minow and Craig L. LaMay

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226530413

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226530390.001.0001

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“If You're Thirty-two Points Behind, What Else Are You Going to Do?”

“If You're Thirty-two Points Behind, What Else Are You Going to Do?”

(p.43) 3 “If You're Thirty-two Points Behind, What Else Are You Going to Do?”
Inside the Presidential Debates
University of Chicago Press

The 1960 temporary exemption to the Equal Time law provided by Congress marked the formal beginning of televised presidential debates in the United States. That they happened at all, however, owed largely to the fact that no incumbent president was a candidate in the 1960 election. Three presidential elections would pass before another fortuitous set of political circumstances made it possible for the televised debates to happen again. The 1976 election presented an ideal climate for change. While there was a Republican incumbent, President Gerald Ford, he faced great initial difficulties in the campaign because of the Watergate scandal and his unpopular pardon of Richard M. Nixon. He needed to debate to close the gap. His Democratic challenger, Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, was also eager to debate. However, the demands for equal time from the many minor-party candidates remained a problem. The Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Richard Wiley reviewed the legislative history behind both the 1959 amendments and the 1960 exemption and concluded that Congress had meant to exempt debates from the equal opportunity doctrine.

Keywords:   televised presidential debates, United States, Congress, Federal Communications Commission, equal time, Richard Wiley, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, equal opportunity doctrine, presidential elections

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