DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Changes in the Aftermath of Assassination

Since the beginning of journalism, news reporters have had to bury personal feelings while covering a story. Later, however, in the quiet after the filing of their stories, the feelings often surface with extreme intensity. Such was the case for Robert MacNeil, who as a young NBC correspondent, covered the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"It had a tremendous emotional impact on me. I fell into a real depression and I'm not a depressive person," MacNeil says. "When I heard the sound of the bagpipes (at the funeral) I just began crying. The salt in my tears actually hurt."

MacNeil even questioned his decision to leave Canada with his family to become an American TV reporter. "I thought - have I brought my children to a country that's not good for them?"

MacNeil appeared at the Newseum recently to discuss the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath. He was joined by his long-time PBS News Hour co-anchor Jim Lehrer, who also covered the killing 50 years ago as a reporter for a local Dallas newspaper.

Lehrer said his most vivid memory of the funeral was the extraordinary silence in the Dallas newsroom as reporters joined the rest of America to view the ceremony on television. "Everything went absolutely quiet. Everybody just sat there," Lehrer said.

Of course, since they reported the story on the scene, both said they are often asked the question - so who really killed President Kennedy? Both said they agreed with the Warren Commission Report that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only one who fired the 3 fatal shots.

"I spent 6 months covering every angle of the story," Lehrer said. "I knew there were no Pulitzer Prizes to be won proving that Oswald acted alone." However, he turned up no credible evidence that there were other shooters.

Both reporters said that the impact of the tragedy has kept the issue alive for 5 decades. In fact, a recent survey showed that 81% of all Americans believe in a Kennedy killing conspiracy.

"Large majorities believe in a conspiracy and it's easy to understand why. It was inconceivable to me that Kennedy had been shot until I found out he had. People find it hard to believe that one man could do that alone," MacNeil said.

Lehrer was asked what he believed was the motive behind the killing. "My theory is no more valid that anyone else's," he said. "I think he (Oswald) was about 2/3 crazy. Who else but a nutty person driven by a bizarre reason would take a rifle and shoot the president? He was just hell bent on doing something terrible."

Both veteran newsmen agreed that the assassination changed the American outlook. "My view is very simple," Lehrer said. "Now everyone knew we lived in a threatening world. Every day since, when I've gone to work, I've always been prepared for something to happen. Even while we're sitting here talking in the Newseum, we all know something awful could be happening."

Tales,Tidbits, and Tips
This is the 2nd post dealing with the MacNeil/Lehrer Newseum appearance. To read a riveting account of what both reporters remember about the assassination and their coverage, read the previous post entitled "The Day The President (And Our Innocence) Died."

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