This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Dallas: November 22, 1963. It’s a dateline that needs little introduction. But for reporters on the scene for President Kennedy’s swing through Texas, the day seemed likely to be like many others on the road. Tom Wicker, a writer for The New York Times, hadn’t brought his notebook; it would be the least of his problems as he and dozens of other reporters scrambled to confirm that Kennedy had, first, been shot, and second, in fact killed. CJR’s Winter 1964 issue created a moving, detailed history by collecting the words of journalists, the traveling press secretary, and contemporary publications to show how news of the assassination was gathered and then, at great difficulty, relayed back to the East Coast. It also shows journalists struggling, and not always succeeding, to keep their emotions from getting in the way of their work. The below paragraph ran above the original piece.
On these pages the Review reproduces the words of men who were in the Presidential party in Dallas on November 22. The words are offered in a connected narrative as a case study in the reflexes and conscious actions of professional journalists under the heaviest kind of pressure and emotional stress. Several of these narratives have been widely distributed, but they have not been previously collated. They emphasize again how little there was for reporters to see and how much, after the first phases, they depended on each other to complete their information.
Merriman Smith, United Press International: I was riding in the so-called White House press “pool” car, a telephone company vehicle equipped with a mobile radio telephone. I was in the front seat between a driver from the telephone company and Malcolm Kilduff, acting White House press secretary for the President’s Texas tour. Three other pool reporters were wedged in the back seat.
Kilduff: I had just finished saying to the representative of UPI, “Would you mind telling me what in the name of heaven the Texas School Book Repository is? I never heard of a school book ‘repository.’” With that we heard the first report.
Jack Bell, The Associated Press: There was a loud bang as though a giant firecracker had exploded in the cavern between the tall buildings we were just leaving behind us.
Robert E. Baskin, Dallas Morning News: “What the hell was that?” someone in our car asked. Then there were two more shots, measured carefully.
Bob Jackson, photographer, Dallas Times-Herald: First, somebody joked about it being a firecracker. Then, since I was facing the building where the shots were coming from, I just glanced up and saw two colored men in a window straining to look at a window up above them. As I looked up to the window above, I saw a rifle being pulled back in the window. It might have been resting on the window sill. I didn’t see a man.
Bell: The man in front of me screamed, “My God, they’re shooting at the President!”
Ronnie Dugger, The Texas Observer: “What happened?” a reporter called out inside the bus ahead of me. Through the windows we saw people breaking and running down Elm Street in the direction of the underpass, and running to the railing of the arch at the foot of the downtown section and leaping out of our sight onto the grass beyond and below We speculated someone might have dropped something onto the motorcade from the overpass. I saw an airplane above the area and wondered if it might have been dropping something.
Jerry terHorst, Detroit News: There was a great clamor in the bus, “Open the doors. Let us out,” but the bus speeded up, and it was impossible. The doors were not opening, and obviously the driver was staying with the police escort.