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Sen. Edward Kennedy, Who Died Tuesday Night, Finally Mastered How to Be Very Effective on TV. But as the N.Y. Times Recalls, TV Was Kennedy’s Undoing When He Challenged Then Incumbent Jimmy Carter for the Democratic Presidential Nomination

Aug 26, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Here’ the verbatim account by John Corry, who at the time wrote about media for the New York Times. This appeared as part of a much larger article about style vs. content on TV in the Feb. 26, 1984 edition of the New York Times. Mr. Corry’s analysis was very much the consensus of most pundits at the time:

"Television’s most celebrated instance of utterly unintended disaster in a softball exchange is Roger Mudd’s question to Senator Edward M. Kennedy during a ”CBS Reports” on Oct. 12, 1979. [Mr. Mudd asked the Senator,] ”Why do you want to be President?”

Mr. Kennedy faltered, speaking in run-on sentences, while giving a clear impression that he had never considered his reasons before. His candidacy, which he formally announced three weeks later, seemed to die right there.

If Mr. Kennedy had made the same response to a print reporter, he would have escaped with no more than a story that said he had answered hesitantly or perhaps had appeared indecisive. The answer on television, however, did him in." 

–Chuck Ross

4 Comments

  1. Yes. That was incredible to see. The man stopped and was at a loss for words.

  2. The reason Kennedy was so hesitant was that the question was asked in an interview that was conducted several weeks prior to his announcement. If he had said he was running for president, Mudd would have put his statement on the network immediately. That would have triggered all kinds of legal issues relating to campaign contributions and legal filings that we were not prepared to deal with yet.
    The interview was aired several weeks later, on the eve of Kennedy’s announcement. By that time we had all the legal ducks in a row and were ready to go. But his stumbling answer from several weeks prior made it seem as if he didn’t know why he was running for president. In fact, he was trying to evade teh questin because he was not yet prepapred to formally announce his candidacy. In hindsight he should have ducked it entirely, saying that he would not comment until and unless he was a candidate. [Editor’s Note: Mr. Southwick was Sen. Edward Kennedy’s Press Secretary at the time.]

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