ABC gained some notice with its full-time coverage of 36 days (187 hours) of the controversial Army–McCarthy Senate hearings in the spring of 1954 (only the DuMont network also covered the hearings—CBS and NBC stayed with their lucrative daytime soap operas). News director Fritz Littlejohn, who had joined ABC in 1945 when it barely had a news operation, insisted on the “gavel to gavel” live coverage and his argument won the day given ABC’s weak daytime program lineup. In 1960, ABC won the right to televise the last two (of four) debates between presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
After Kennedy entered the White House, former President Dwight Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, became the head of ABC News. In various posts, he would stay for 15 years. Among his early hires was CBS newsman Howard K. Smith (1914–2002), who had fallen out with the leadership of his network. In 1962, Smith joined ABC and soon produced a documentary on “The Political Obituary of Richard Nixon,” which created considerable controversy (and turned out to be premature when Nixon was elected President six years later).
Smith would briefly serve as one of several anchors of the network’s evening newscast before moving on to commentary. Network chief Leonard Goldenson overruled his news division rarely but in 1962 he intervened so as to allow independent film producer David Wolper’s “The Making of the President 1960” documentary (based on a best-selling book) to air.