Death of JFK
THE NEWS THAT DIDN’T WANT TO BE BROKEN
It’s the 22nd of November, 1963, the clock shows it’s 12.40 p.m. and Walter Cronkite (CBS) informs America that John F. Kennedy has been attacked. CBS is faster than the rival NCB by less than a minute.
On that Friday, Walter Cronkite was preparing another broadcast of his evening news while the soap opera “As the World Turns” was on air. Information about the shootings catches the team by surprise. The first announcement is made by reading a news bulletin and showing a picture of a CBS New placard.
The broadcast returns to its normal programming. But the CBS newsroom is on fire. Information keeps arriving and the soap opera is interrupted for more special news bulletins that inform the viewers of the latest developments.
After multiple bulletins, the news is finally accompanied by footage. Instead of using the customary studios, which look like a living room, Cronkite presents the show directly from the newsroom. It’s from there that he informs the American people of the death of their President.
An hour after the shooting, 68 per cent of the national population had already heard the news. Two hours after, it’s 92 per cent. Half of them find out on the television or radio. In spite of the early technology of 1963, journalists sense the need to broadcast live from the scene. The broadcasters send journalists to cover the event and let the footage speak for itself.
A COUNTRY IN TURMOIL
The Media coverage wasn’t exclusively from the crime scene. In Washington, reporters await the arrival of Kennedy’s body and the presidential delegation. Air Force One, which had flown Kennedy to Dallas, is now taking a different President back to Washington. A few hours after Kennedy’s death, on board of Air Force Once, Lyndon B. Johnson is officialised as the 36th President of the United States. Next to him, still in her blood-stained clothes, the widow Jacqueline Kennedy.
THE RIVALRY BETWEEN JFK AND LYNDON B. JOHNSON
The relationship between the two democrats wasn’t always peaceful. They both run in the Primary elections, which define the presidential candidate for the 1960 elections. In spite of his experience, Johnson loses to JFK, who is the candidate nominated by the party.
The possible tension between the politicians is hidden by the apparent cordiality, and Johnson is invited to be vice-President. With Kennedy’s death, he’s the new leader of the country.
Upon his arrival do Washington, Lyndon B. Johnson makes his first declarations as the President of the United States.
“This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep, personal tragedy.”
In Dallas, the crime already has a face. Lee Harvey Oswald, 24, is arrested for the alleged murder of a cop and evidence is found that connects him to Kennedy’s murder. By late afternoon, the viewers can watch Oswald being taken, handcuffed, to the Dallas police station. Still that night, he was formally accused of the murder of the President of the US.
The suspect is permanently shown to the journalists, who questioned him directly. However, he always denied shooting Kennedy.
The Media circle is so tight that the TV becomes a court room, with its perpetrators, victims and accusers.
THE UNIVERSAL HEADLINE
On Saturday, the day after the murder, the news becomes global. Newspapers put the President’s death, the latest investigation developments and the reactions of world leaders and authorities on the front cover. Portugal isn’t exception. Kennedy’s death is on the cover of the national newspapers, after the mandatory approval of the censorship services.
It’s estimated that, in 1960, 88 to 90% of the American homes has a TV, but newspapers and radio are still the main news sources. That’s about to change. TV takes tragedy to the homes of the American people. It was with Kennedy’s murder that the US truly became a TV nation. During that weekend in November, the eyes of the nation are glued to the screen, where the coverage was centered on the memorial service.
THE ASSASSINATION OF THE ALLEGED MURDERED
On Sunday, NBC is about to finish a two-minute report from Massachusetts, Kennedy’s homeland, when Tom Pettit, from Dallas police station shouts “Give me air! Give me air!”. NBC’s cameras fly to Dallas, where the alleged murderer Lee Oswald is taken to a van in the garage of the station. From the right corner of the TV screen, a man jumps on Oswald. A gunshot is heard. Oswald falls. Tom Pettit’s voice can be heard over the chaos.
Oswald’s murder is broadcast live to the entire country. His version of events is lost forever. Jack Ruby is the mysterious man who shot Oswald. Arrested and accused of murder, Ruby is convicted to death penalty, but dies of cancer while he awaits another trial. Not before stating his version of events, in an interview with his lawyer and his brother.
THE MEDIA COVERAGE OF JFK’S FUNERAL
On the three days following the murder, JFK’s memorial services are followed closely. America watched, incredulously, the last developments, while the world mourned the death of the President.
On Monday, the 25th of November, the funeral is covered extensively and is watched by one of the largest audiences ever registered in the US.
From the moment of the shooting until the funeral in Washington, the main American news channels suspend their normal programming, preferring to broadcast live. CBS has a total of 55 hours of broadcast. ABC reaches 60 hours. NBC has a total of 71.
A week after Kennedy’s death, the Warren Commission is installed in order to investigate the events. The final report is presented in September 1964. Oswald is considered guilty for Kennedy’s death and both him and Ruby allegedly acted alone.
The results of the investigation brought the subject to the Media again. However, the conclusions have been questioned over the years.
KENNEDY, A MEDIA PHENOMENON
The intensity of the Media coverage of Kennedy’s death was unprecedented in American History. After all JFK was, himself, a product of the Media.
In 1960, the iconic debate between the then senator Kennedy and Richard Nixon is the first one to be broadcast on television. Nixon, recovering from a recent hospitalization, looked pale and frail. Kennedy, in contrast, seemed confident and calm.
At this stage of Kennedy’s political career, the border between politician and star TV is blurred. Along with his wife, Jacqueline, Kennedy conquered America’s votes by conquering their TV screens. The creation of a mythical personality, which didn’t fade after his death.
A week after the murder, journalist Theodore White receives a call from Jacqueline Kennedy. The former First Lady picks White, Pulitzer Prize award, to take her words to the world. White calls the editors to let them know about the exclusive, the edition of Life was about to be closed. Waiting for the article would cost 30 thousand dollars per hour. The interview happens. Jacqueline Kennedy’s goal? “That Jack isn’t forgotten by History.”
By the end of the interview, the former First Lady mentions the soundtrack of the musical about Camelot, which she used to listen to with JFK. “Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.", she says. “There'll be great Presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot again”. The words echo around the country.
THE FIRST LADY
This is not the first time Jacqueline Kennedy takes a lead role. The First Lady has an important place in JFK’s political career.
Throughout the campaign for the 1960 presidential elections, Jacqueline Kennedy gives interviews, shoots adverts and contributes to strengthen JFK’s image and reputation. During her pregnancy, due to medical advice, she can no longer join her husband on his trips. Fearing the effect her absence could have on the campaign, Jacqueline is advised to write a daily column that appealed to female vote. “Campaign Wife” is born, being published all over the country.
A popularity phenomenon that left a mark in the world of Politics and Communication.