David Stokes

Kennedy’s man in the room, a former producer at that very station, Bill Wilson, rebuked Don Hewitt (later to produce 60 Minutes on CBS) that he “owed” the senator more “reaction shots.” Hewitt countered that he had actually cut away from Kennedy more than he had from Nixon. But what Kennedy’s man wanted was more cutaways to the vice president, because they highlighted Nixon as “haggard” and “the lines on his face seemed like gashes,” not to mention that he “gave a fearful look.”

In stark and stunning contrast, Jack Kennedy was consistently “attentive, alert, with a suggestion of a smile on his lips.” Sound familiar? That’s pretty much a description of every camera shot of Mitt Romney as he listened (and watched) Barack Obama.

As a footnote to what happened back in 1960, the television cameras at WBBM had been outfitted with new tubes just a day earlier. The result was a crisper picture, one that served to accent Nixon’s on-camera deficiencies that night: paleness, heavy beard, and an ill-chosen and loose fitting suit and shirt.

Of course, technology is now light-years ahead of those days, as evidenced by some readers scratching their heads and asking, “what’s a television tube?” Black and white has given way to high definition, but the human factor still trumps all. Mitt Romney played JFK to Barack Obama’s Richard Nixon in their first debate. One man was engaged and animated—the other seemed detached, annoyed, and aloof.

A couple of years after that 1960 debate and his soon-after loss to Kennedy in the election, Nixon wrote a bestseller called Six Crises. He revisited that evening that turned out to be a game changer for him and the country, “I had concentrated too much on substance and not enough on appearance. I should have remembered that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”

Indeed.


David Stokes

David R. Stokes is a best-selling author, pastor, columnist, and broadcaster. His latest book is a novel: CAPITOL LIMITED: A Story about John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Based on a true story, it's about a unique moment in 1947, when Kennedy and Nixon shared