The press corps loves its old tales: Brian Williams will be in action tonight, killing time before and after the ballyhooed Kaine-Pence match.
We were struck by something Brian said to Michael Beschloss after last Monday's debate. We thought the corps had stopped telling this treasured old story.
As it turned out, we were wrong:
WILLIAMS (9/26/16): And Michael, what about the conversation Rachel and I were having at the top of the evening? We were talking about Nixon-Kennedy, and all kinds of aspects of Nixon-Kennedy, Nixon's sweatiness for television viewers, but radio listeners believing that he had won on substance.Nixon won on the radio! It's one of the press corps' favorite old tales. It almost defines the start of the modern era, in which so much of what we hear has simply been made up by the children who pose as our press corps.
Alleged historian Michael Beschloss let Brian's famous old story pass. That said, the notion that Nixon won on the radio has been on the junk heap for years.
On the fiftieth anniversary of that famous first Kennedy-Nixon debate, historian David Greenberg discussed the topic at Slate. Citing the academic research, he shot down the tale, as others had done before him.
Here's a chunk of what he said. Cover the eyes of the children:
GREENBERG (9/24/10): [T]here's almost no evidence to support the claim that it was Kennedy's looks—as opposed to his overall performance—that gave him the edge. For decades, it has become part of the folklore of the debate to say that in contrast to those who watched the debate on TV, radio listeners judged Nixon the winner...it turns out there's no good reason to believe that assertion is true, either.Can David Greenberg say things like that? Not on MSNBC when there are hours to kill!
Virtually all of the evidence for Nixon's alleged superiority on radio is strictly anecdotal—and there isn't even much of it.
Large amounts of what journalists tell us are, to use Greenberg's term, "folklore." That's routinely true about policy matters. It's gigantically true when these giants start spouting off with their favorite campaign/debate tales.
(Remind us to tell you about the way John Dickerson handles the dangerous claim that Muskie wept in his new play-for-pay, please-like-me book, Whistlestop.)
Nixon won on the radio! When Brian and Rachel are forced to kill time, the famous old story's still true, though he wasn't shot down in Iraq.
A few other favorites: George Bush 41 looked at his watch! Dukakis should have punched Bernie Shaw!
Bush was fooled by that scanner machine! The tears were streaming down Muskie's face! Dean screamed, Gore endlessly sighed!