Theodore White, The Making of the President: 1960 (Atheneum, 1960)
Reissued in hardback by Buccaneer Books in 1999.
Theodore H. White's The Making of the President: 1960 set the bar for modern campaign reporting. White covers the presidential campaign from the first exploratory speeches to the climactic election results. The race becomes a heroic contest between strong-willed candidates, and White turns polling and politicking into poetry. His detailed reporting and suspenseful narrative technique won him the 1962 Pulitzer Prize – as well as a deal for three sequels – and remains the touchstone text for campaign reporting.
White endeavored to write a book that would portray history as story. He had a golden opportunity with the 1960 election; at the time it was the closest presidential race in American history, and it would be 40 years before another took that title. White also had the chance to document the first effects of television on a presidential race: the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates would change how candidates approached the medium, and, some would argue, changed our candidates. White turns the opaque intricacies of presidential politics (only baseball could boast more esoteric statistics) into literary gold; Kennedy's election day returns as compared to Eisenhower's 1956 race becomes page-turner material, and Nixon's strangely translucent skin becomes high tragedy.
Yet White has sometimes been faulted for pushing the narrative of his story too far. His clear bias towards the Democratic candidate, coupled with his sometimes unflattering portrait of Nixon, creates a narrative subtext that casts JFK as the triumphant hero in this grand contest. The portrayal of Nixon is particularly bizarre given White's abrupt change in attitude towards the candidate in the 1968 presidential race. White also ignores Kennedy's alleged vote-buying in the West Virginia primary. In his autobiography, In Search of History, White admits that he became captivated by John F. Kennedy, and even helped write speeches for him during the campaign. (White is credited and criticized for publicizing "Camelot" as a reference to the Kennedy presidency; the phrase comes from Mrs. Kennedy's recollections about JFK's favorite musical.)
Yet White's chief failing is not his love for the charismatic, doomed winner of the 1960 election. It is instead his willingness to believe in all winners. His book betrays the glimmers of an affection and naiveté towards the country's leaders that shows up increasingly in his later work. Yet The Making of the President: 1960 rises above this small flaw, and stands as a truly groundbreaking piece of journalism.
CNN’s Short List of Campaign Books
New York Review of Books on Making of the President:1964
The AP on White’s Famous Interview with Mrs. Kennedy
Louis Menand on Television and the 1960 Campaign
Joyce Hoffmann’s Biography of White
Newsweek Reporter Reminisces about White (no byline)
NYU’s Top 100 Works of Journalism, note #26