This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.

Dugger: The details were given to us by a pool reporter, Sid Davis…. I shall not soon forget the picture in my mind, that man standing on the trunk of a white car, his figure etched against the blue, blue Texas sky, all of us massed around him at his knees as he told us what had happened in that crowded compartment in Air Force One…

Wicker: He and Roberts—true to his promise—had put together a magnificent “pool” report on the swearing-in. Davis read it off, answered questions, and gave a picture that so far as I know was complete, accurate and has not yet been added to.

The Reporter: [In Washington], reporters at a loss to “cover” the event, hung around the White House pressroom and concentrated partly by habit and partly by duty on trivial details. Lyndon Johnson, they were informed by a briefer in Pierre Salinger’s office, had left Dallas at 2:47 Central Standard Time. Was that 2:47? Yes, 2:47. He had been sworn in to office aboard the plane by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes. Could the briefer spell that? Yes, Sarah had an “h.” In midafternoon Senator Hubert Humphrey stopped in at the White House and consented to an informal chat with newsmen. There was almost nothing to ask him. Did he see any significance in the fact that it had happened in Dallas? came one idiotic try. Humphrey was taken aback. He shook his head abruptly and he left. Those White House aides familiar to reporters were too stricken to be questioned, even if there had been questions to ask. “I’m sorry,” was the most anyone could say. Everywhere there was silent unease at the inability to locate the source of government, to know even where government was. It was reflected in the compulsive scuttling of reporters from one place to another where they could only observe arrivals and departures.

Wicker: Kiker and I ran a half-mile to the terminal, cutting through a baggage-handling room to get there. I went immediately to a phone booth and dictated my 500-word lead, correcting it as I read, embellishing it too. Before I hung up I got [Harrison] Salisbury and asked him to cut into my story whatever the wires were filing on the assassin. There was no time left to chase down the Dallas police and find out those details on my own. Dallas Love Field has a mezzanine running around its main waiting room; it is equipped with writing desks for travelers. I took one and went to work. My recollection is that it was then about 5 p.m. New York time.

Smith: It was dark when Air Force One began to skim over the lights of the Washington area, lining up for a landing at Andrews Air Force Base. The plane touched down at 5:59 p.m. EST. I thanked the stewards for rigging up the typewriter for me, pulled on my raincoat and started down the forward ramp. Roberts and I stood under a wing and watched the casket being lowered… [we] were given seats on another ‘copter bound for the White House lawn.

The Reporter: It was not quite relief but at last a sense of location, of reality, that came on the South Lawn of the White House later in that strangely balmy evening. With terrific noise and lots of wind, resembling a monstrous wasp, the brown army helicopter bearing President Johnson bore down on the White House, hovered a moment, and then came to rest on the floodlit lawn…. almost at once the exchange of gossipy desperate questions among reporters was altered. The known, manageable Washington seemed to return with Johnson. Where was he going? reporters now demanded. Who was he seeing? What was the President going to do?


The sources

The accounts in the preceding narrative were drawn from the following sources:

MERRIMAN SMITH: “The Murder of the Young President,” eyewitness story published November 23 and distributed as a pamphlet by United Press International.

MALCOLM KILDUFF: round table broadcast by station WINS, New York, and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, published as “The Murder of a President,” in the New York Post, December 30 - January 3.

The Editors