By Christopher B. Daly
With the approach of the 50th anniversary of that fateful day in Dallas, I thought it might be worth re-visiting my account of the assassination. Here is an excerpt from Covering America that looks at the media response to the shooting:
During the Kennedy presidency, television news became more powerful than ever. In the years since the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, television executives had been atoning by lavishing resources on their news divisions. Television sets were in the vast majority of homes by 1960, and the audience for the TV networks dwarfed that of any newspaper and even the readership of the entire Time-Life empire. The media president, Jack Kennedy, also introduced live television coverage of presidential news conferences and proceeded to thrive in the new forum. Television carried more news than ever, to more people.
On November 22, 1963, television was the medium by which many Americans first got the news about the shooting. There it was, right on TV. The president and his wife were in a motorcade with Governor John Connally and his wife. Shots rang out, and the president was rushed to the hospital. No word on the shooter’s identity. It may not have been apparent to viewers, but television executives were scrambling to keep up. The networks did not have the equipment and staff needed to “go live” and put news on the air as it was unfolding. Just off camera it was pandemonium, as executives met to decide how to cover a presidential shooting in the new medium. Eventually they reached a consensus: they would stay with the story, without interruptions and without ads, for the duration. So it was that for three or four days the American people did something they had never done before: they stayed home and attended a funeral via television. If they were watching CBS, they saw Walter Cronkite dab at his eye when he announced the bulletin confirming Kennedy’s death. No matter what network they watched, viewers saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald; they saw the flag-draped caisson and the riderless horse; and they saw the salute given by the president’s young son. For the first time (and almost the last, as it happened), nearly the entire country had nearly the same experience at the same time.
CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite struggles to keep his composure on-camera as he announces the news of the death of President
John F. Kennedy live on the air on November 22, 1963.
In the New York Times, on Monday, November 25, 1963, the front page featured a banner headline across the entire page, stacked three decks deep:
PRESIDENT’S ASSASSIN SHOT TO DEATH
IN JAIL CORRIDOR BY A DALLAS CITIZEN;
GRIEVING THRONGS VIEW KENNEDY BIER
The funeral was planned for later that day. Below the big headline was a photo (from the AP) of Jackie Kennedy and Caroline kneeling next to the president’s flag-draped casket. Underneath was a little single-column story headlined:
AIMS IN VIETNAM
Then, this ominous subhead:
Retains Kennedy’s Policy
of Aiding War on Reds
[To read my book, order Covering America from Amazon.]
In the next month, much will be said and written about John F. Kennedy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his assassination. To prepare for this season of remembrance, here is a good place to start: the landmark essay/profile that ran in Esquire magazine in November 1960. Written by the novelist/playwright/journalist Norman Mailer, it was titled “Superman Comes to the Supermarket” and it remains must-reading.
A hat tip to Esquire for posting the whole thing on its site.
[Hint: if you hit the “print” button on the Esquire page, you can get the whole piece in one big file, minus most of the ads. But then again, if you are not being bombarded about sex and whiskey, are you really getting the full Esquire experience?]
By Christopher B. Daly
It was disappointing to see the vote in the House on a measure to rein in the NSA fall a bit short on Thursday. It was particularly disappointing to see my own Rep., the rookie Joe Kennedy, vote on the wrong side. (Was he taking one for Obama? Not worth it. Here’s a tip, Joe: Never vote with Michelle Bachmann.) Interesting to note that many of the Democrats in favor were members with tremendous seniority — they have seen presidents come and go, they are not afraid to buck the party’s floor leadership, and they have been lied to so many times by the surveillance state that they have just had it.
On the plus side, this rather hurried attempt to rein in the surveillance state came darn near passing. Getting 205 votes in the House is not nothing, and it certainly sends a powerful signal around Washington and the world.
Here’s coverage in today’s Times, Post and the Atlantic.
A look ahead, from the Times (quoting Rep. Jerry Nadler):
At the very least, the section of the Patriot Act in question will be allowed to expire in 2015, he said. “It’s going to end — now or later,” Mr. Nadler said. “The only question is when and on what terms.”
Secret stuff. You probably shouldn’t even be looking at this.
By Christopher B. Daly
The folks at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston have announced the completion of the task of transcribing and releasing the secret recordings that Kennedy made in the Oval Office while president. (Kennedy, not Nixon, first came up with the idea of secretly taping his conversations — no doubt with the intention of writing his memoir someday.)
Can we really be sure that the keepers of the flame in these presidential libraries really divulge everything? I don’t know.
But for the time being, here is a tidbit from the Library’s newsletter featuring some of the fruits of what was probably one of JFK’s last discussions of Vietnam:
During a meeting on September 10, 1963 regarding the civil
war in Vietnam, President Kennedy expressed frustration
with the conflicting reports provided to him by his military
and diplomatic advisors. General Victor Krulak and State
Department Advisor Joseph Mendenhall were reporting to
the President on their four-day fact-finding mission to South
Vietnam. Krulak’s view, based on his visits with military
leaders, was generally optimistic, while Mendenhall, a
Foreign Service Officer, shared his impressions of widespread
military and social discontent.
These vastly different viewpoints caused President
Kennedy to pause and then comment: “You both went to
the same country?”
After nervous laughter, the President continued, “I mean
how is it that you get such different—this is not a new thing,
this is what we’ve been dealing with for three weeks. On the
one hand you get the military saying the war is going better
and on the other hand you get the political (opinion) with its
deterioration is affecting the military…What is the reason
for the difference—I’d like to have an explanation what the
reason is for the difference.”
Hard to say definitively, but this sounds like a man with serious doubts. Even all these years later, I think a lot of people would like “an explanation what the reason is for the difference” between the military advice and the political advice. If any president asks any military figure, Can we do X? The answer will certainly be, Yes, Sir! Is that really advice?