Underlying these decisions was a concept still new to the television era, although it had characterized Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats on radio. For this speech, the camera would not be a journalistic instrument, looking in upon an event and conveying that story to the public. For the first time, a national television audience would participate directly in a living room to living room encounter.
It would be Nixon, alone, with the people. The reporters and the politicians -- his own staff and Eisenhower's -- would all watch on television. And none of them would know what he was going to say.
Nixon flew to Los Angles from Portland, Oregon, where his train tour had ended, on Monday morning, the day before the address. He isolated himself for the next 30 hours at the Ambassador Hotel, sleeping a mere four hours, and working through a fog of personal despair that was becoming a major concern of his associates.
Working from preliminary notes made on airplane postcards, piecing in new information as it was delivered to him, Nixon sketched out the speech on legal pads, finishing one outline, then starting a new one.
Several rhetorical elements had already been "audience tested" on the campaign trail (Pat's Republican "cloth coat" for example, had first appeared in whistle-stop remarks a week earlier, a veiled reference to the so-called "mink-coat scandals" of the Truman years). And the Checkers passage itself was prompted, as Nixon later acknowledged, by Franklin Roosevelt's effective references to his "little dog Fala."
Nixon decided against using a manuscript -- it would forfeit the "spark of spontaniety" he valued so highly. He intended to prepare a third draft outline, and then, remarkably, to speak from memory.
This plan was upset, however, by a bizarre development. Just as Nixon finished the fifth and final page of his second outline on Tuesday afternoon, Thomas Dewey phoned, relaying Eisenhower's request that Nixon end the speech by submitting his resignation for Eisenhower's consideration.
Devastated by the request, Nixon stood his ground. "Just tell them that I haven't the slightest idea what I am going to do," he responded when Dewey pressed him. "And if they want to find out they'd better listen to the broadcast."
There was no time now for a third outline, no time to memorize, nor even to reconsider his path. Grabbing his five pages of notes, he left for the El Capitan theater twenty minutes away in Hollywood. When Ted Rogers, his television advisor, asked how he would close, Nixon replied, "I don't know..." Three minutes before airtime, he told his wife, "I just don't think I can go through with this." "Of course you can," she responded, taking his hand and leading him to the set.
The last page of his hurriedly scribbled notes read: "The decision must be made by Nat'l Committee. I will abide by their decision. You help them -- let them know either way...." And he stayed with that formulation, though it meant defying Eisenhower's request.