Saturday, November 23, 2013

TV Changed Forever That Day

As far as I am concerned, the quality of the JFK assassination coverage--despite the usual factual mistakes and the somewhat primitive presentation--is the gold standard by which all broadcast journalism today should be judged.

Of course everything is instantaneous and 24/7 today, but even something as horrendous as 9/11 does not compare in news coverage quality with the JFK assassination. Today's broadcast journalists are simply not in the same league as those who worked for the networks in the early 1960s, many of whom became "legendary."

You were not told what to think in those days. The journalists did their jobs under total chaos, and you were not treated like an idiot.

Oh, how I miss them. I have been watching CBS's 1963 coverage of the assassination rather than NBC's because I think it was better done. How I miss those journalists who have now passed from the scene: Walter Cronkite, Charles Collingwood (my favorite one of all), Harry Reasoner, Mike Wallace, George Herman, Winston Burdett, Daniel Schorr, Nelson Benton, Robert Trout, Robert Pierpoint, and others whose names escape me at the moment. Those who are still alive are way up there in years including Marvin Kalb, Roger Mudd, Dan Rather, and Richard C Hottelet (the last of the original "Murrow's Boys" who is still alive at this writing at 96). We will never see that great a group again.

The coverage changed television forever:

The seminal event took place at the dawn of a brave new media world. Only two months before the assassination, television's three broadcast networks expanded their nightly newscasts from 15 to 30 minutes. Working with film rather than instant video, correspondents in Texas expected to cover Kennedy's visit via carefully prepared segments on their evening broadcasts.

Instead, they scrambled -- and often struggled -- to cover a heart-wrenching story as it unfolded.

Robert MacNeil, then the White House correspondent for NBC, was on the media bus with the presidential motorcade when shots were heard in Dealey Plaza. He yelled for the driver to stop and bolted outside.

"The air was filled with the most intense sound of collective screaming," he recalls. "It was like nothing I ever heard before."

MacNeil also believes he had a brush with the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, at the Texas School Book Depository.

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