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May 29th, 2014
06:27 PM ET

Ben Stein: The 1960s were 'a lot of sex, a lot of drugs'

CNN's original series "The Sixties" starts tonight at 9 p.m. Get a sneak peek at the 10-part series here.

(CNN) – Actor, writer, and President Richard Nixon campaign staffer Ben Stein described what the 1960s meant to him without hesitation, and with that infamous deadpan delivery.

"A lot of sex, a lot of drugs," Stein said.

"When the '60s started, you were lucky to get a good night kiss from a girl if you went on a date with her. When the '60s ended, it was very rare not to have sex. When the '60s began, none of us knew what marijuana looked like. When the '60s ended, we were all high at the time," said Stein.

But a sobering fear loomed over the decade that shaped America.

"It was a lot of fun unless you were being sent to Vietnam and getting killed. Then it was horrible," Stein said in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

The first episode of CNN's original series "The Sixties" explores the age of television, a medium that reformed and reflected the culture at the time.

There were two kinds of television programming back then: entertainment and news, says Stein.

Entertainment television predominantly broadcast "negative images of business men, the government, military, small towns," he said.

News media, says Stein, showed "a universal negative theme about the war in Vietnam, about Nixon, about business."

"The news media went to town as a partisan force in the '60s, way beyond anything that has been dreamt up before," said Stein.

Reporters taking a side in the Civil Rights battles were also, as Stein admits, reflecting the moral side of things. And he also agrees with the stance the media took against Vietnam.

"But they stopped any pretense of impartiality or neutrality in the '60s, and became an extremely partisan force, as I say: anti-Republican, anti-war in Vietnam, anti-business. And it has stayed that way with one obvious notable exception since then," said Stein.

The famous first televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960 had, as Stein puts it, a "huge, huge impact" on the role of politics in television for the rest of the decade.

"For those of us who were listening on the radio, it sure seemed as though Nixon won. But Nixon looked so much worse than Kennedy. That made a huge impression," he said.

"The visual really took over as opposed to the audio, and Kennedy looked so great and sounded so cool, and Nixon sounded so worried and didn't look like a person you'd want to be president," said Stein.

Stein was very close with Nixon, there is video of him tearing up during the president's resignation. The subject still makes him emotional.

"He was the greatest peacemaker this country has ever known. I think he took a country that was at war with itself, and at war overseas, and he brought us peace, set up a structure of peace to last a generation," said Stein.

"He's very much missed and no matter what people say about him, I will never turn my back on a peacemaker. Never."

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