How Canadian viewers watched American presidential-election coverage in the age before livestreams.
It’s election day south of the border, which means many Torontonians will spend tonight glued to televisions or to social media, awaiting the results of an endless campaign. Among tonight’s options for analysis is CBC, which provided plenty of coverage during a three-way presidential race 44 years ago—even if most of it came from another broadcaster.
Viewers settling in for the evening on November 5, 1968 witnessed the final chapter of a tense race. Democrat Hubert Humphrey’s campaign hadn’t made anyone forget the battles between police and antiwar protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Republican Richard Nixon had vowed to the media that they didn’t “have Nixon to kick around anymore” after his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial contest. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace, whose pro-segregation platform emphasized law and order, had mounted a strong third-party challenge. When the ballots were counted, Nixon carried 32 states, Humphrey 13, Wallace 5.
In Toronto, CBC television carried NBC’s election feed. To fill the peacock’s commercial breaks, the public broadcaster offered analysis from Washington correspondents Knowlton Nash and Gordon Donaldson. While the Globe and Mail praised Nash’s solid commentary, the paper felt that NBC anchors David Brinkley and Chet Huntley lacked the “person to person strength” of CBS’s Walter Cronkite.
Star TV critic Patrick Scott preferred ABC’s coverage, citing the concise analysis of anchor Howard K. Smith and the reunion of the “incomparable comedy team” of guest commentators William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal following their combative performance during the Republican National Convention. “If you are going to go with NBC anyway,” Scott observed, “you might as well go with it all the way and spare yourself the tortures of the CBC’s guest commentator, a sort of pauper’s combination of Buckley and Vidal called Tony Howard, whom I can only assume Knowlton Nash found on his doorstep on Hallowe’en.”
Additional material from the November 6, 1968 editions of the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.
This post originally stated that Humphrey carried 15 states, when in fact he carried 13. We regret the error.