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  Third Kennedy-Nixon Debate
TitleThird Kennedy-Nixon Debate
Start Date/TimeOctober 13, 1960 06:30pm
End Date/TimeOctober 13, 1960 07:30pm
Last ModifiedChronicler - July 06, 2008 07:51am
The second debate was widely viewed as a narrow Nixon win. Afterwards, JFK turned up the heat on the Quemoy-Matsu issue. He said on 10/10/1960 that Nixon's insistence on holding the two islands "may involve American boys in an unnecessary or futile war" [NYT 10/11/1960]. The following day, the Taiwanese defense minister said that the Chinese government would take every measure to defend the two islands from any Chinese Communist attack from the mainland [NYT 10/12/1960]. News reporters pressed many officials for information on the islands. The Chinese ambassador to the USA left the embassy to go fishing to get away from the telephone calls. The Defense Department released an official 1955 document that stated that the USA would only take military action to defend Taiwan and its neighboring island, Peacadore (Penghu), but not Quemoy and Matsu [NYT 10/13/1960].

While campaigning in the South, Kennedy also charged that Nixon supported civil rights when he spoke in the North but opposed them when he spoke in the South [NYT 10/11/1960].

As the third debate neared, the two candidates discussed changing the arrangements for later debates. JFK challenged RMN to a fifth debate. Nixon's campaign team urged him to decline, since scheduling the appearances had already been a challenge. Instead, RMN asked that the fourth debate be lengthened to two hours and that the candidates for Vice President be allowed to debate [NYT 10/12/1960]. On the day of the third debate, the campaigns made it clear that no changes would take place [NYT 10/13/1960].

Quick Facts
When: 7:30-8:30 p.m. (EST), 10/13/1960
Where: Nixon and the panelists were in two different Hollywood CA ABC affiliate stations; Kennedy appeared on a television monitor from the New York City ABC station (7 West 66th Street); carried by ABC, NBC, and CBS television and the radio networks ABC, CBS, MBS, and NBC
Moderator: Bill Shadel, ABC; panel: Frank McGee, NBC; Charles Van Fremd, CBS; Douglass Cater, Reporter magazine; Roscoe Drummond, New York Herald Tribune with Bob Fleming, ABC News
Number of viewers/listeners: 63,700,000
Topics: Foreign policy, US economy

Transcript: [Link]

Format: No opening or closing statements. Questions with 2.5 minute answers and a 1.5 minute response from the other candidate.

Setting: The debate was called at the time the "split-screen debate" because Nixon and Kennedy appeared in different news studios. NBC purchased two identical sets of studio furniture and had one set shipped to Los Angeles for Nixon and the panel. NBC had the feed sent to Chicago, where it mixed the Kennedy and Nixon footage for broadcast.

Just before the debate began, Nixon was watching the other monitor as Kennedy took some out some papers and read them over. Nixon was shocked that JFK would bring notes to the debate in violation of the agreed upon rules. It was not clear at the time what was on the pieces of paper [NYT 10/14/1960]. The short clip of JFK shuffling the papers was not included in the televised broadcast, which always showed the candidate who was speaking (no "reaction shots"). As in the second debate, neither JFK nor RMN smiled or changed their facial expressions.

The main topic of the debate was Quemoy and Matsu again. The candidates softened their stands of the second debate somewhat in light of news reporting on the standing agreements of the DDE administration. As a result, their positions became more a matter of degree than opposite sides of that particular issue.

The second topic was the US economy. JFK criticized the DDE agricultural programs, and he proposed a $2 billion cut in farm aid. He said that RMN's agricultural proposals would increase DDE's Dept. of Agriculture budget by an additional $1 billion. RMN retorted that JFK's proposals would lead to a 25% increase in food prices. As a means of reducing the federal deficit, JFK proposed a reduction in return on interest on federal bonds. He believed that he could achieve a savings of $3 billion a year by lowering the return and could restructure the federal program for medical care for the elderly to save an additional $2 billion annually. Both candidates agreed that it would not be wise to have reduced the 27.5% depletion allowance for petroleum producers.

In response to a question about a Ku Klux Klan leader saying that he was going to vote for RMN, JFK said that he did not believe that this indicated that RMN had any sympathies with the KKK. In his response, RMN said, "We can't settle for anything but the best. And that means, of course, the best man that this nation can produce. And that means that we can't have any test of religion. We can't have any test of race. It must be a test of the man... I obviously repudiate the Klan; I repudiate anyone who uses the religion issue. I will not tolerate it... I say to this great audience... if you believe in America, if you want America to set the right example to the world... we cannot have religious or racial prejudice."

The candidates also jousted on the issue of compulsory arbitration of labor disputes. In 1959, JFK's staff produced a press release listing compulsory arbitration in a proposed toolbox of resolving labor disputes. JFK maintained that he did not favor it at the time and had the press release withdrawn later the same day. RMN charged that JFK had once advocated government seizure of businesses closed for a strike. JFK said that "I always have difficulty recognizing my positions when they are stated by the Vice President," that he did not advocate compulsory arbitration but did favor seizure in certain circumstances.

The last question dealt with JFK's assertion that the USA had lost prestige around the world during the DDE administration. Roscoe Drummond asked how prestige should be measured. It was during JFK's response that he read from the papers he had brought to the debate. He used these quotations to show that the prestige of the USA "is not so high. No longer do we give the image of being on the rise. No longer do we give an image of vitality." Nixon disagreed that the USA was losing its worldwide influence and used his response to hit his major themes of defense of the Chinese islands and a strong foreign policy.

If the second debate had a slight edge for Nixon, the third debate was a definite Nixon victory. As soon as it ended, the Republican leadership began to criticize JFK for using his notes in violation of the rules. JFK said that he used a photostat of a page from a book by Gen. Matthew Ridgeway and had written brief quotes from President DDE and from SOS John F. Dulles in case he needed the exact language. In a message to the press, Nixon said that he was disappointed with JFK and that they needed to read through their debate agreements again before the fourth debate took place the following week. Republican leaders continued to hammer JFK on this for days, which helped to seal Nixon's win in the public mind [NYT 10/15/1960].

First Debate: 9/26/1960, produced by CBS [Link]

Second Debate: 10/7/1960, produced by NBC [Link]

Fourth Debate: 10/21/1960, produced by ABC [Link]

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