Star-Telegram making plans for Kennedy assassination observance

Posted Sunday, May. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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witt In six months, the nation will remember John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Dallas.

Editors at the Star-Telegram have been busy planning our coverage, which we hope our online and print readers will find compelling.

Although we don’t have anyone still working in the newsroom at the Star-Telegram who was here Nov. 22, 1963, we’re calling on two Texas journalism legends who were: Bob Schieffer of CBS News and retired Associated Press correspondent Mike Cochran.

Schieffer was a reporter at the Star-Telegram on that fateful day, before he went into TV journalism; Cochran was with the AP at the time and finished out his career a few years ago as a Star-Telegram writer.

Schieffer is now best known as the face of Face The Nation every Sunday on CBS, Cochran for his reporting on the saga of T. Cullen Davis.

Too bad we didn’t have reality TV channels in 1976. It would have been fascinating to watch Davis’ trials on TruTV or HLN. And if smartphones existed in 1963, there would have been 500 versions of the Zapruder film out there in high definition as Kennedy’s body lay in Parkland Hospital.

United Press International beat rival wire service AP with the report that a sniper was shooting at the Kennedy motorcade that day. There was only one “mobile phone” (actually a radio device) in the press car trailing the president, and Merriman Smith of UPI wrestled it away and got the scoop.

Today, social media would have broadcast the news around the world in seconds — but now you have to worry about fake tweets.

Schieffer and Cochran will write about their recollections from that day of destiny. Schieffer will tell how he wound up driving Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother to the Dallas jail to see her son; Cochran will write about being a pallbearer at Oswald’s funeral in Fort Worth.

The Star-Telegram got a break in telling our readers that Oswald was shot. We didn’t have a photographer in place on the Sunday after Kennedy was killed and police were transferring Oswald to another jail. Jack Ruby stepped in to shoot him on live TV.

But The Dallas Morning News did have a photographer there and quickly put a copyrighted photo on the news wires without the standard “Fort Worth out” warning that would have prevented us from using the picture in this market. So their “exclusive” in the DFW area vanished when the Star-Telegram put out an extra that afternoon with the photo on Page 1.

To make things doubly bad for the Morning News, the same picture shot milliseconds later by a photographer at the now-defunct Dallas Times-Herald wound up winning the Pulitzer Prize for photography that year. The Morning News’ photo showed Ruby pointing the gun at Oswald just before he pulled the trigger; the Times-Herald photo showed Oswald’s grimace as the bullet hit him.

I guess all of us who were alive in 1963 remember that day vividly. I was a fifth-grader at ParkView Elementary School in Roswell, N.M. I rode my bike home for lunch to find my mom and dad watching TV, which was out of the ordinary. Even stranger, they were big Huntley-Brinkley Report NBC News fans and yet Walter Cronkite of CBS was on the screen.

He confirmed the news that shortly after 1 p.m. Texas time (noon in New Mexico), Kennedy had died, and my mom burst into tears, which I also had never seen.

It was a long, sad weekend.

Jim Witt is executive editor of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7704 Twitter: @jimelvis

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