Teacher's Guide: Activities
A presidential "whodunit." As the film notes, many people do not accept the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed President Kennedy. As a class, review the transcript of the film and list on the board all the persons and organizations that have been suggested as possible members of a conspiracy to kill the president. Then divide the class into groups and assign each group to investigate one of these possible conspirators: Do you think this person or group would have both a motive to kill President Kennedy and the capability to carry out a plot? What evidence is there of such a conspiracy? Based on what you know about the assassination, do you find this evidence believable?
Have groups report their findings to the class. After each group's report, have the class vote on whether students think there is a reasonable chance that the person or group in question could have participated in a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. After all groups have made their reports, take a class vote on whether students think Oswald alone was the assassin.
Kennedy, Oswald, and the Cold War.
The tense Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union shaped not only the lives of John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald, but also the American public's reaction to the Kennedy assassination. To help understand those linkages, work together as a class to create a wall-sized timeline of Cold War events between 1946 and 1968, such as the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War, the U-2 Incident, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Then, using information from this site's timeline and other sources, insert key events in Kennedy's life above the timeline, and key events in Oswald's life below the timeline.Review the timelines as a class and then discuss the following questions:
- How do you think the Cold War affected Oswald's life and Kennedy's presidency? For example, how might Kennedy's policies in areas such as Vietnam and civil rights have been different if the Cold War had not been going on?
- How do you think the Cold War atmosphere affected Americans' reaction to Kennedy's assassination? For example, how might it have affected claims that Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy?
The media's role -- and responsibilities.
As media expert Barbie Zelizer suggests, shocking events like the Kennedy assassination or the 9/11 terrorist attacks place special responsibilities on the news media, and "after 9/11 we expected the media to become more critical, to become more sensitive to some of the aspects of realities elsewhere in the world that hadn't been covered."
As a class, explore the question of whether the news media gives the American people enough information about events in other countries. Begin by having students guess what share of the typical newspaper, TV news broadcast, or news magazine is devoted to world events, compared to the amount that is devoted to events within the United States. Then test your answers by dividing the class into groups and having groups examine several examples of each (newspapers, news broadcasts, news magazines) to determine what share was devoted to world events. Report your findings to the class: Do world events make up a larger or smaller share than you expected?
Next, perform a similar experiment by guessing what share of the magazines available at your local newsstand focus on world events and then testing your answer by visiting the newsstand and counting them. Report your findings to the class: Are magazines that focus on world events more or less common than you expected?
Finally, using the results of your two experiments, hold a class discussion on whether print and broadcast media should provide Americans with more information about world events, and whether Americans would be interested in this extra information if it were available. Are there specific questions about world events that you would like the media to help you answer?
Turning to the "wise men."
Just as President Johnson established the Warren Commission to investigate President Kennedy's assassination, Congress and President George W. Bush established the 9-11 Commission (formally called the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States) to investigate the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Working with a partner, compare the Warren Commission and the 9-11 Commission in some specific area, such as: how the commission members were chosen, their backgrounds (professional, political, racial/ethnic, etc.), the commission's mandate, how it operated (for example, were its hearings open to the public?), the form of its final report, and the degree to which the commission's conclusions were accepted by the news media and the general public.
Next, using your findings, hold a class discussion on the following questions: What were the similarities and differences between the two commissions and the impact they had? Do the differences reflect changes in the United States over the past four decades, and if so, how?