The Great Debates Revisited: Sander Vanocur
American life changed forever in 1960 when Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy ushered politics into the multimedia age with the first televised presidential debates.
To mark the 50th anniversary of this landmark moment in American political history, the Kansas City Public Library, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, and the Truman Library Institute present The Great Debates Revisited. This series of programs during September-October 2010 features weekly screenings of the four televised match-ups plus introductory commentary by expert speakers and follow-up Q&A sessions. The Great Debates Revisited also includes book discussion groups on Theodore H. White's The Making of the President 1960 led by former area mayors as well as Hollywood films examining the lives and legacies of Kennedy and Nixon.
Veteran journalist Sander Vanocur represented NBC News as a panelist during the first Great Debate. He pressed Nixon to offer examples of executive leadership experienced gained in the role of vice president and questioned Kennedy about whether he could get his ambitious domestic agenda through Congress.
Kennedy was the perceived winner of the first debate, a contention supported by opinion polls at the time. A savvy understanding of the television medium accounted for the Kennedy victory, though setbacks for Nixon played a role.
Perhaps the foremost problem for Nixon was the impression of poor health conveyed by his exceedingly pale pallor (caused by his aggravating a preexisting knee-injury just 30 minutes before the contest). "The candidate looked better suited for going to a funeral, perhaps his own, than to a debate," wrote David Halberstam in Esquire.