The First Debate

October 15, 2020

As the Election of 1960 entered its final stage with the first presidential debate, who would benefit most-- Richard Nixon or John F. Kennedy? In this episode, we’ll tell you how that first debate changed the 1960 campaign and the many that followed.

Featuring interviews and archive audio from Barry Goldwater, Fredrik Logevall, Tim Naftali, and Dan Rather.

View the transcript for this episode.

From the JFK Library Archives

Television debates: Correspondence, 1960: 28 July-24 October. Correspondence, memoranda, and telegrams concerning the planning, formatting, and outcome of the televised debates between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon.

Debates, 19 January 1959-7 October 1960, undated. Briefing material, including state-by-state issues breakdowns, ideas for his 7-minute opening statement from Kennedy Writers Group, article comparing USSR and US economies, and memo about possible press questions surrounding domestic agricultural policy and suggested answers.

Kennedy-Nixon debates: Analysis of the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, 29 September 1960.

Television debates: Index, undated. Index of topics discussed by Senator John F. Kennedy during the four televised debates with Vice President Richard M. Nixon.

First presidential debate, 26 September 1960.

Transcript of the first debate, 26 September 1960.

Transcript of the second debate, 7 October 1960.

Transcript of the third debate, 13 October 1960.

Transcript of the fourth debate, 21 October 1960.

Additional Material

Roosevelt, Smith first women to appear on Face the Nation, 4 November 1956.


Photo of John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon courtesy of AP Images.

1960 debate excerpts courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

Clip from Face the Nation courtesy of CBS.

Clip from The Tonight Show with Jack Paar courtesy of NBC.

Hosts and producers: Matt Porter and Jamie Richardson

Co-producer: Rick King

Research assistants: Megan McKee and Cassie Marando

Special thanks to our Foundation colleagues, in particular Meaghan Hohl and Executive Director Rachel Flor.

We also thank all of our guests for lending their voices and expertise to this podcast.

None of this would be possible without the work by archivists and other staff at the JFK Library and Museum, who make much of the material discussed available to all online and to visiting researchers.

Logo: Brian Kang

Music: Blue.Sessions