Richard Nixon reflects in his memoirs on the televised debates in 1960:
“An entirely new factor entered American political campaigning in 1960 with the first televised debates between the two presidential challengers. An incumbent seldom agrees willingly to debate his challenger, and I knew the debates would benefit Kennedy more than me by giving his views national exposure, which he needed more than I did… But there was no way I could refuse to debate without having Kennedy and the media turn my refusal into a central campaign issue…
Post-debate polls of the television audience gave the edge to Kennedy. Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution, who supported Kennedy, observed that those listening to the debate on radio reported that I had the better of it. This was small comfort, since the television audience had been five to six times larger than the radio audience.
It is a devastating commentary on the nature of television as a political medium that what hurt me most in the first debate was not the substance of the encounter between Kennedy and me, but the disadvantageous contrast in our physical appearances. After the program ended, callers, including my mother, wanted to know if anything was wrong, because I did not look well.”
Don Hewitt, producer of the first debate in Chicago for CBS, recalls preparations in the television studio:
“I said to both of them, ‘Do you want some makeup?’ Kennedy, who didn’t need any, said no. Nixon heard him say no and decided, ‘I can’t have makeup because it will look like I got made up and he didn’t.’ He went off in another room and got made up with something called Lazy Shave, and looked like death warmed over… Four years later, I’m sitting in a makeup room in San Francisco [at the Republican Convention]. Richard Nixon is being made up to go out on the rostrum to introduce the [Republican presidential] nominee, Barry Goldwater. And I said, ‘You know, Mr. Nixon, if you’d let Franny here make you up four years ago, Barry Goldwater would be going out there now to introduce you.’ He looked in the mirror. And then he turned very slowly to me and he said, ‘You know, you’re probably right.’”
Martin Amis, who followed Ronald Reagan on the 1980 presidential campaign trail, later observed of his success: