Nixon still won on the radio!


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 turns out there's no good reason to believe that assertion is true, either.

Virtually all of the evidence for Nixon's alleged superiority on radio is strictly anecdotal—and there isn't even much of it.
Can David Greenberg say things like that? Not on MSNBC when there are hours to kill!

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!


  1. For years I've been muttering aloud in all-night burger joints about how, if Nixon won on the radio, it was because of that FM voice of his. By comparison, sans drug-enhanced good looks, Kennedy's disembodied voice sounded like the latest characterization by Mel Blanc. "Ehhh! What's up, Dick?"

    Does "Whistlestop" (previously titled "Trainwreck" before the movie came out, or was it the other way around?) clear up the age-old rumor that JFK screwed Dickerson's famous mother? A real journalist would tackle the story, letting the hips fall where they may.

  2. Brokaw is brain dead on most other matters. MSNBC is dying a slow death.

    1. Brokaw is not mentioned. You are brain dead on this matter.

  3. Well I'm on your side, Bob, but Bush 41 DID look at his watch. Not sure what videotape you're watching or not watching that leads you to conclude this is some kind of myth.

  4. As a Kennedy supporter, I thought Nixon won the debate. He had more specifics. Kennedy had more grand promises. IMHO Nixon came across as far more knowledgable, but evidently the public didn't care. That may be why Trump isn't losing by a bigger margin. Hillary knows far more specifics, but much of the public doesn't care.

    1. Surprise!

      The broken-record troll once again weighs in on the Kennedy-Nixon TV debate with virtually the same shit and ignores the rubbish value of anecdotal evidence as well as the substantive value of factual evidence.

    2. Many people are saying David used anecdotal evidence in his actuarial work.

    3. David, don't let these people stop you from posting. You are a good counter point on this site, whether people want to hear it or not. And I happen to think you are right that most of the public really doesn't care about policy details, they like the bluster and the quick one liners and the stuff that's easy to understand and pick a one wants to hear the gray nuance of touch policy questions. I also agree with you that Hilary knows far more specifics, which is why she has my vote.

    4. Awww, how cute - the troll has a puppy.

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