November 4, 2003
In the new book by the Newseum, "President Kennedy Has Been Shot" (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, Nov. 12, 2003), authors Cathy Trost and Susan Bennett attempt to answer this question by taking a behind the scenes look at the media coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy. With more than 60 first hand accounts from journalists, photographers, editors and correspondents, the book illustrates the media's struggle to balance emotion and objectivity in the face of national tragedy. Through their own words, in minute-by-minute detail, these journalists bring a timeless intimacy to events that occurred some 40 years ago.
From the apprehension expressed by former CBS White House correspondent Robert Pierpoint while en route to Dallas to the tears of NBC's Robert McNeil as he stood, days later, upon the grassy knoll, the book's 10 chapters follow the news media from the assassination in Dallas to President Kennedy's burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Beginning with the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, the authors chronologically reconstruct the four days surrounding Kennedy's assassination by using journalistic accounts in conjunction with transcripts from Dallas Police radio dispatches, White House situation room tapes, UPI newswires and network broadcasts. "President Kennedy Has Been Shot" illuminates the constant struggle of numerous experienced journalists as they attempt to report the news while grieving for a fallen leader.
In one of the book's most powerful passages, Sid Davis, former White House Correspondent to Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., recalls his attempt to report the return of the President's casket to the White House on the morning after his assassination. Noting the eerie ambiance as the casket made its way up the drive, he admits to doing "something that broadcasters ought never to do." While closing the broadcast with Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in memory of Kennedy, he could not finish for the tears in his eyes. "I got about three words into this thing" he recounts "and I broke up, I mean badly; I couldn't finish."
Illustrated with more than 100 photographs from November 22-25, 1963, the book brings a poignancy and fresh perspective to the event that, for many of the journalists included, hasn't been fully expressed since the conclusion of story coverage some four decades ago.
"A journalist, when you get into a very emotionally volatile situation, you really tend to shut everything down," comments former Life Los Angeles Regional Editor Richard Stolley in the book's final chapter entitled, Reflections. "And when we did want to talk about it, did want to vent, nobody wanted to hear it. It was very peculiar."
To further enhance the sensory experience, the book includes an audio CD narrated by Dan Rather. Listeners will hear the first news broadcasts announcing Kennedy's assassination, and become privy to White House situation room tapes, and rare phone conversations between President Lyndon B. Johnson -- sworn in as President aboard Air Force One on Nov. 22 -- and government leaders, just to name a few. Through these historic vignettes, individuals become keenly aware of the urgency and anxiety experienced by those who are expected to remain steadfast in times of tragedy.
"In periods of emergency and unrest, the American audience expects the news industry to perform at a level of professionalism that requires a sterile response," remarks Newseum executive director and senior vice president, Joe Urschel. "'President Kennedy Has Been Shot' offers a rare insight into a news industry struggling to keep that professionalism and objectivity afloat while drowning in emotional turmoil."
Inspired by their desire to bring the seldom heard voices of journalists to the forefront, the book's authors, Cathy Trost, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and Susan Bennett, director of international exhibits at the Newseum, began initial research for the book late last year and started interviewing journalists in Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York in February.
"So many people have a 'where were you when' story to tell in relation to the assassination of JFK," Comments author Susan Bennett. "We realized that reporters who don't normally like to talk about themselves have great stories to tell. While thousand of journalists may have reported on the event, there has never before been a forum dedicated their personal experiences and emotions during those four days."
CNN will premiere "President Kennedy Has Been Shot!" on Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. (ET). The documentary, produced for CNN Productions by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Gerardine Wurzburg is based on the book President Kennedy Has Been Shot by the Newseum with Cathy Trost and Susan Bennett. Through rarely heard vintage audiotapes, archival film footage and the voices of journalists who were on the scene, the documentary chronicles four days -- from the president's assassination through the transfer of presidential power, the murder of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and the resulting funerals. Interspersed with news reports of the actual events and current interviews with journalists who were there, the documentary offers tense communications from Washington, D.C., from the streets of Dallas, from the somber newsrooms of New York and even from a newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson as he calls the Kennedy family to console them.
Note: The Newseum, the interactive
museum of news being planned for Washington, D.C., is funded
by the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free
press, free speech and free spirit for all people.
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