In today’s media coverage, a presidential trip is followed in real-time through updates on social media, blogs and 24-hour news channels. Fifty-years ago it was a different story. Television was just beginning as a medium for news, social media didn’t exist and there were far fewer citizen journalists. President John F. Kennedy’s trip to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, was still followed closely, but what started as a normal day became anything but. It ended up forever changing the nation, and for five journalists it marked a watershed moment in their careers.
NBC News’ Robert MacNeil looks at the KRLD camera thinking it was the NBC camera, following the president’s assassination and ensuing media frenzy. Photo by The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
At the time of Mr. Kennedy’s trip to Dallas, Robert MacNeil was covering the presidential visit for NBC News. He may have been one of the first people to run into Lee Harvey Oswald after the shooting, but he didn’t realize it was Oswald at the time and still isn’t positive it was him. MacNeil recalled his possible encounter with Oswald for PBS station THIRTEEN earlier this year. MacNeil would later create The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, today known as the PBS NewsHour.
Newspaper reporter Jim Lehrer sits at his desk at the Dallas Times-Herald in 1966. Photo courtesy of Jim Lehrer
PBS NewsHour’s other founder Jim Lehrer was a reporter for the Dallas Times-Herald at the time of JFK’s assassination. Like MacNeil, he also had an encounter with Oswald. Lehrer was in the police station when Oswald was brought in. Later Lehrer would realize he had sat next to Oswald’s assassin Jack Ruby during a news conference.
Bob Schieffer is CBS’ chief Washington correspondent and host of the Sunday talk show “Face the Nation.” Photo by Master Sgt. Scott Wagers/U.S. Air Force
Longtime CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer was a police reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the time of the Kennedys’ trip to Dallas. He also had an encounter with an Oswald but not Lee Harvery. Schieffer drove Oswald’s mother Marguerite Oswald to the police station in Dallas. She had called the Fort Worth Star-Telegram looking for a ride.
Schieffer recounted the story for PBS NewsHour in 2003:
“I just answered a phone and a woman said, ‘Is there anybody there who can give me a ride to Dallas?’ And I said, ‘Lady, you know, the president has just been shot, and besides, we’re not a taxi service.’ And she said, ‘Yes, I heard it on the radio.’ She said, ‘I think the person they’ve arrested is my son.’ And it was Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother.”
Peter Jennings anchored ABC’s World News Tonight from 1983 until his death in 2005. He is seen here reporting for ABC in 1968. Photo by Creative Commons
Peter Jennings wasn’t in Texas at the time of Kennedy’s trip. He wasn’t even in the country. Jennings was co-anchor of the Canadian Television Network newscast at the time, but he quickly got on a plane and became the first Candian journalist in Dallas. Two years later he became America’s youngest TV news anchor at ABC. Jennings died on Aug. 7, 2005.
Dan Rather, seen here reporting from Afghanistan in 2011, was CBS’ top anchor for 24 years. He now has his own show AXS-TV. Photo by Senior Airman Kat Lynn Justen/Creative Commons
CBS Radio/Television was the first to report, unofficially at the time, that Mr. Kennedy had died. “We just have a report from our correspondent Dan Rather in Dallas that he has confirmed that President Kennedy is dead,” Water Cronkite said on air. Rather was Chief of CBS’s Southern bureau at the time and was in Dallas covering the event.