Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cat Out of the Bag, September 23, 1952

Much had changed in television since the 1948 Presidential election. Uncle Miltie, Lucy, Mama, and a multitude of news programming had changed the way families received entertainment and information. Politicians were just testing the waters, and Eisenhower's gentle "I Like Ike" television campaign was politic's first success. Ike's running mate, Richard Nixon, was on the verge of destroying their bid for the White House, however, and would have to make an immediate exit from the Republican ticket.

Nixon had been accused of receiving $18,000 in illegal campaign funds. In a last ditch effort to save his political career, Richard Nixon took to the television airwaves in the first significant television speech in the history of politics. Looking directly into the camera at the viewing home audience, a nervous politician attempted to defend his honor. The speech was unrehearsed, and Nixon had to ad lib most of it. The official documents from accounting firm Price Waterhouse regarding Nixon's finances did not make it to the studio. When the camera's rolled, Nixon was on his own. After a long diatribe about reimbursements, personal account information, even life insurance, Nixon ad libbed a comment about his dog Checkers, claiming the cockerspaniel may be an issue, but "the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it."

The speech was broadcast live on all three networks. Due to the impromptu, rushed nature of the broadcast, Nixon actually ran over the alloted time, and was cut off the air before he was finished. Nixon believed the telecast was a disaster. He was so flustered once finished that he tripped over a camera and lost his balance.

The public response, however, was overwhelmingly in favor of Nixon's speech, and the Eisenhower/Nixon team rebounded. Eisenhower, realizing that Nixon's television speech had struck a chord with Americans, simply responded afterward, "we're keeping the dog."

Politics and television were officially introduced on Tuesday, Septembr 23, 1952, thanks to a heart-warming family tale about a dog named Checkers.

Sidenote: The speech was produced by Ted Rogers (The Stu Erwin Show) and directed by John Claar, a liberal democrat!

Read the full speech: Nixon's Checker Speech

The Box, Jeff Kisseloff

View the kinescope below:

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