This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
[Saul Pett, in AP Log]: In the [AP Dallas] bureau, [Bob] Johnson was just returning to his desk. Executive Editor Felix McKnight called from the Times-Herald newsroom: “Bob, we hear the President has been shot, but we haven’t confirmed it.” Johnson raced for his typewriter. Staffer Ronnie Thompson told him: “Bell tried to call a minute ago but he was cut off.” Johnson wrote the dateline of a bulletin. He had just reached the dash that follows the AP logotype when the phone rang again. It was staffer James W. Altgens, a Wirephoto operator/photographer known to everyone as “Ike,” on duty as a photographer several blocks from the office .
“Bob, the President has been shot.”
“Ike, how do you know?”
“I saw it. There was blood on his face. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed him and cried, ‘Oh, no!’ The motorcade raced onto the freeway.”
“Ike, you saw that?”
“Yes. I was shooting pictures then and I saw it.”
With the phone cradled to his ear, Johnson’s fingers raced.
Robert Donovan, Los Angeles Times: We went to the Trade Mart, and the first thing we wanted to do was look for the President’s car, and we didn’t find it. But even then it didn’t raise any positive proof in my mind, because there were a number of entrances to this Trade Mart . Then it became obvious something had happened. We ran into this merchandise mart, which is an utter maze. We filed into the corridor of this hall, and the waiters were bringing out filet mignon to an utterly unsuspecting audience, and they told us, to make matters utterly worse in our haste, that the press room was on the fourth floor. So, of course, what were there but escalators? So up we go, and we ran into the press room and it was sort of like air currents. We were all going around in a pattern of least resistance.
Dugger: In the alarm and confusion, the reporters were full of doubt, and some were a little panicky. No one wanted to say what he was not sure of. Reporters had their editors on the phone and nothing definite to tell them.
Sid Davis, Westinghouse Broadcasting Company: I phoned to Washington saying, “Something has happened.”
Dugger: I went from reporters at telephones who did not know and asked me frantically what I knew—I went on a run to a group of four or five who were gathered around M. W. Stevenson, chief of the criminal investigation division of the Dallas police. “The President was hit, that’s our information at present.” He had been taken to Parkland. How badly hurt? “No, sir, I do not know.”
Wicker: At the Trade Mart, rumor was sweeping the hundreds of Texans eating their lunch. It was the only rumor I have ever seen; it was moving across that crowd like a wind over a wheatfield. A man eating a grapefruit seized my arm as I passed. “Has the President been shot?” he asked. “I don’t think so,” I said. “But something happened.”
Tom Kirkland, managing editor, Denton Record-Chronicle: The rumor started spreading here (at the Trade Mart) about 12:45 p.m., but nobody believed it. Everyone just stood around in disbelief. At about 1 p.m. [it was] announced that there had been a mishap during the parade. Everybody had finished eating. He told them that the mishap was not serious, but there would be a delay in the President’s address.
Wicker: With the other reporters—I suppose 35 of them—I went on through to the upstairs press room. We were hardly there when Marianne Means of Hearst Headline Service hung up a telephone, ran to a group of us and said, “The President’s been shot. He’s at Parkland Hospital.” One thing I learned that day; I suppose I already knew it, but that day made it plain. A reporter must trust his instinct. When Miss Means said those eight words—I never learned who told her—I knew absolutely they were true. Everyone did. We ran for the press buses.