by Myra Saturen
November 22, 2013
Much as it unfolded on November 22, 1963, news came in while people were going about their lives: fifty years ago, people sat at school desks, worked at jobs, tended to housework. On November 22, 2013, students drank coffee, chatted, studied in Northampton Community College's Laub Lounge as announcements flashed upon a screen. This presentation of live news reporting on the day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination was meant to be shown in this fashion, simulating the way the world learned the traumatic news-piecemeal, incremental, layer upon layer, some of the information verified, some later discounted, some a mystery even now.
On this fiftieth anniversary, English Professor Dr. James Von Schilling showed video taken from moment-to-moment coverage by networks CBS, NBC and ABC.
On the CBS TV soap opera As the World Turns, a man in a white coat stands and talks to a seated, knitting woman wearing a shirt-sleeved dress and pearls. A commercial touting Niagra Instant Laundry Starch appears on the air.
A CBS special bulletin interrupts the program; then the man and woman return to the screen, picking up their conversation where it left off. The show pauses again, this time for a Nescafe coffee commercial, liquid steaming from a cup. Again, CBS's familiar eye-like logo and the message "news bulletin." The screen goes blank. After a few moments, news anchors relay the story as it comes to them, in fragments, sometimes contradictory, via dial phones held tightly to their ears--
Shots heard from a motorcade in Dallas carrying President John F. Kennedy, Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connelly, Mrs. Nellie Connelly...Mrs. Kennedy utters "oh, no"...the President has been seriously wounded...Connelly is also hit...Mrs. Kennedy is not injured...a man with a gun seen standing in a building's window...motorcade speeds up...the Presidential limousine rushes to Parkland Memorial Hospital...bystanders say they heard two shots, three, four...blood transfusions ordered to the hospital...the President is in very serious or critical condition...a young man is in police custody...Kennedy and Connolly are wounded in an assassination attempt...two Catholic priests arrive at the hospital, but this does not mean that the President's wounds are fatal...a man says he heard shots came from a nearby hill...Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson walks into the hospital, holding his arm...Lady Bird Johnson says that her husband is unhurt...Governor Connolly has been shot in the wrist and chest...Presidential brothers Edward Kennedy and Robert Kennedy are on their way to the hospital...a call has summoned a neurosurgeon to the hospital...the two priests emerge from the hospital saying that the president is dead...there is no official confirmation... a police officer, J.D. Tippett, has been shot...a suspect is in custody...Johnson, grim-faced, is driven away from the hospital by police...a casket is brought to the emergency ward...the vice-president will be given the oath of office...the president has been shot once in the head...a rifle has been found...a car has been stopped two miles from the scene... flags at the White House are lowered to half-mast...the capital is in shock...Evelyn Lincoln, secretary to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, arrives at Parkland...the President has been shot in the right temple...President John F. Kennedy is dead.
The film shown at Laub Lounge depicted the world as it learned of the assassination, but it also demonstrated how news was delivered in an era long before smartphones, cable TV and the Internet. Three news networks dominated; in addition to CBS's As the World Turns, other shows running simultaneously included Father Knows Best and Bachelor Father, Von Schilling pointed out. News anchors did not stand at the ready at all times; in 1963, networks had to scramble to gather them.
Despite technological changes in the way we view news, the reports from November 22, 1963 are as raw and shocking today as they were a half century ago.
On November 21, a showing of Oliver Stone's documentary film, "JFK: To the Brink," was shown at NCC and a discussion, moderated by Von Schilling, followed.
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