By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An anti-Nixon mole in the control booth?

Just because Richard Nixon was paranoid doesn’t mean they weren’t out to get him.

There is a surprising (to say the least) passage near the top of the New York Times’ obit of movie director Arthur Penn this morning:

Mr. Penn’s direction may have also changed American history. He advised Senator John F. Kennedy during his watershed television debates with Richard M. Nixon in 1960 (and directed the broadcast of the third debate). Mr. Penn’s instructions to Kennedy — to look directly into the camera and keep his responses brief and pithy — helped give Kennedy an aura of confidence and calm that created a vivid contrast to Nixon, his more experienced but less telegenic Republican rival.

George Will, eat your heart out.

I couldn’t find anything amplifying on the Times’ parenthetical aside. But it stands as yet another battle in the decades-long war between Nixon and the media.

Update: Steve Stein solves the mystery.

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  1. This isn’t really news. A young Don Hewett, creator of 60 Minutes, directed the first Nixon/Kennedy debate. He advised Nixon in the ways of television, including using make-up. As we all know, that advice didn’t take.

    Also, this Times obit doesn’t say Penn didn’t give the same advice to Nixon — I would guess that he did.

  2. This seems like a blatant rigging.

  3. Steve Stein

    Kennedy and Nixon were in 2 different locations for the third debate – Kennedy was in NYC, Nixon was in Hollywood (with the panelists). So if Penn was also in NYC, he would have been able to advise Kennedy but not Nixon (in person).


    • Dan Kennedy

      @Steve: I think you just won a free subscription to Media Nation.

  4. Steve Stein

    Well at least that’s something, seeing as how my Media Nation paychecks always seem to bounce. 🙂

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