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Slate: Will HDTV Do to McCain What TV Did to Nixon?

Slate: Will HDTV Do to McCain What TV Did to Nixon?

The relationship between the media and the Executive Branch of the government is something I studied in great detail (in school). I even created a video project that will never ever see the light of day again (no, really) utilizing news and film clips to illustrate my points. So, this essay in Slate certainly struck a chord with me. Most adults have heard the story about how Richard Nixon was doing well in the 1960 election until he appeared old, sweaty, and unkempt during the televised debate with photogenic John F. Kennedy. And, the rest is history.

Timothy Noah at Slate poses the same possibility, except this time it is the very elderly John McCain and the very advanced technology of HDTV. Will it have the same detrimental effect on his appearance and, thus, his campaign? And, ironically, McCain was one of the biggest advocates for the widespread HDTV standards. From Timothy Noah’s piece:

This past weekend, I watched Saturday Night Live with my kids. McCain appeared in close-up in a mildly amusing skit whose purpose (at least from McCain’s perspective) was to remove the age issue from voters’ minds by turning it into a joke. It worked for Ronald Reagan in 1984; why shouldn’t it work for McCain in 2008? With me, though, it had the exact opposite effect. As someone who’d pooh-poohed the age issue, I found myself gasping at McCain’s mug as transmitted in glorious HDTV.

Wrinkles, blotches, liver spots, scarry tissue—none of these were hidden by McCain’s makeup. As McCain cracked wise (“What do we want in our next president? Certainly someone who is very, very, very old.”), I found myself thinking, Jeez, he doesn’t look like a guy who’ll turn 72 this August. He looks like a guy who’ll turn 82… But TV is unfair, as Richard Nixon learned when his perspiration and five o’clock shadow helped give John F. Kennedy the edge in the first-ever televised presidential debates. Had HDTV been available eight years later, I’m not sure Nixon could have won the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency.

I’m not the only person who’s noticed HDTV’s cruel effect on McCain’s puss. Atlantic blogger Matthew Yglesias speculated on March 2 that “more pixels-per-inch isn’t going to serve McCain’s cause very well.” On April 11, Switched.com observed that while HDTV brought out Hillary Clinton’s wrinkles and McCain’s melanoma scars, all it did to Barack Obama was accentuate the veins on his forehead. About a week later, Politico’s Michael Calderone had more or less the same thought while watching McCain in high-def on This Week With George Stephanopoulos. (Memo to the McCain campaign: CBS’s Face the Nation and NBC’s Meet the Press won’t upgrade to high-def this year, and therefore might be safer venues through November.)

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