Quote Origin: Kennedy Didn’t Beat Nixon. Satire Beat Nixon
Chris Rock? Michael Cavna? Garry Trudeau? David Frost? Aaron McGruder? Anonymous?
Question for Quote Investigator: Satire can puncture pomposity and direct laughter at the powerful. The results of U.S. presidential elections have been swayed by satire. The 1960 contest between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was close. The barbs directed at Nixon were effective in delaying his ascension to the White House by eight years. One astute commentator said:
Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon. Satire beat Nixon.
The above remark has been attributed to comedian Chris Rock. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Reply from Quote Investigator: In 2008 journalist Michael Cavna published “Comedians Of Clout” in the “Washington Post”. Cavna gathered and presented comments about satire from contemporary comedians including Chris Rock:¹
. . . he acknowledges the potential power of electoral satire. The comic, speaking by phone, says he grew up hearing the lesson that back in 1960, “Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon. Satire beat Nixon.”
Thus, Chris Rock helped to popularize this expression, but he disclaimed credit. The originator remains unknown.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 2008 Michael Cavna also shared a quotation from U.S. cartoonist Garry Trudeau, the creator of the Doonesbury comic strip. Trudeau downplayed the effectiveness of satire:²
“I’ve never felt any of us had significant influence . . . For something to be funny, the audience has to be in a position to sense the truth of it. It has to be primed. Satire can crystallize what’s already in the air, but it can’t really put it there.”
In 2010 “The Guardian” newspaper of London published a piece by British television host David Frost who mentioned the quotation:³
The comedian Chris Rock remembers people saying that, back in 1960: “Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon, satire beat Nixon.”
In January 2015 Michael Cavna published “JE SUIS SATIRIST: 10 Memorable Quotes About the Power of Satire” on the website of the “Washington Post”. The following two items were included:⁴
“Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon. Satire beat Nixon.”
— CHRIS ROCK (“Top Five”), on what he says he grew up hearing about satire’s power
“Good satire goes beyond the specific point it’s trying to make and teaches you how to think critically. Even after your favorite cartoonist retires or [Stephen] Colbert wraps it up, you’re not left believing everything they’re telling you.”
— AARON McGRUDER (creator of “The Boondocks”)
In July 2015 “The Daily Beast” website posted an article about “The Death of Satire” by Ted Gioia which contained the following:⁵
“Kennedy didn’t beat Nixon. Satire beat Nixon,” Chris Rock reminds us. But in the current day, a satirist is more likely to target Upworthy or The National Enquirer. Instead of taking on people who make the news, satire increasingly finds easy laughs in mimicking those who report on the news — and usually the least sophisticated journalists are the target of these barbs.
In conclusion, Chris Rock did use this expression, and he facilitated its distribution, but he disclaimed credit. The remark encapsulated a lesson about the power of satire. The name of the creator remains unknown.
Image Notes: Picture of stickers stating “I Voted” from Element5 Digital at Unsplash. The image has been cropped.
Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Mardy Grothe whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Grothe operates the website “Great Opening Lines”.
 2008 June 12, The Washington Post, Comedians Of Clout; In a Funny Way, Satirical Takes Can Color Perceptions of the Presidential Contenders; Continuation title: Sharp-Tongued Political Satirists Are Having Their Say by Michael Cavna (Washington Post Staff Writer), Start Page C1, Quote Page C5, Column 1 and 2, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
 2008 June 12, The Washington Post, Comedians Of Clout; In a Funny Way, Satirical Takes Can Color Perceptions of the Presidential Contenders; Continuation title: Sharp-Tongued Political Satirists Are Having Their Say by Michael Cavna (Washington Post Staff Writer), Start Page C1, Quote Page C5, Column 2, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
 2010 June 14, The Guardian, Section: MediaGuardian, That was the satire that was by David Frost, As David Frost’s documentary airs this week, the master of satire offers a Q&A on his specialist subject, Quote Page 3, Column 2, London, England. (ProQuest)
 2015 January 16, Washington Post, Article: Weblog post: JE SUIS SATIRIST: 10 Memorable Quotes About the Power of Satire, Author: Michael Cavna, Unnumbered Page, Washington D.C. (ProQuest)
 2015 July 26, The Daily Beast, Article: The Death of Satire: Once the smartest form of comedy, satire has turned into fake news and dumbed-down clickbait. From Colbert to The Onion, the tide is going out, Author: Ted Gioia, Unnumbered Page, Daily Beast Company LLC. (ProQuest)