Skip to comments.THE JFK ASSASSINATION: TELEVISION NEWS IN 1963
Posted on 11/19/2013 5:30:02 AM PST by Nextrush
"Liberal in their political philosophies, they have rarely, if ever, shied away from expressing their views out loud".
"Television" Magazine describes the NBC anchor team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley in its January 1961 issue.
At the time of the Kennedy Assassination, the leading news operations in terms of audience were the three television networks. In fact, they were the only national television news operations at the time.
NBC's "Huntley-Brinkley Report" led the ratings with a lead they established in 1960.
At CBS, Walter Cronkite was brought in to replace Douglas Edwards in 1962. Cronkite's mission was to take the second place "CBS Evening News" and put it back in the lead.
ABC lagged behind the two larger networks in ratings and was trying to build its news operation with management and talent that had experience with the other networks.
NBC News was making waves with its attitude towards the race issue in America.
David Brinkley talked about the court ordered integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957:
"During the Little Rock business we used to get wild letters of complaint no matter what we said. I remember one night I happened to mention that Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas went to a service in a Baptist church that morning. The next day we got a crazy letter telling me to get off the air, keep my Yankee mouth shut and stop knocking the Baptists"-Television Magazine January 1961
Sometimes local stations in the South would put up technical difficulty slides when NBC broadcast news related to race.
In May 1961 "Today" host Dave Garroway was forced to apologize after suggesting that southern technicians were blocking a live report from Montgomery, Alabama on the Freedom Riders protest.
While NBC News seemed out in front in its coverage of the ever intensifying race issue and the controversy associated with it, CBS News was going through a different set of circumstances as it entered the 1960's.
CBS-TV "earned" its liberal stripes with the famed "See It Now" series from 1951-55 produced by Fred Friendly and hosted by Edward R. Murrow. The controversial topics and film editing to heighten the controversy with a liberal spin (a precursor to "60 Minutes") drew mountains of grassroots conservative criticism aimed at the network and the show's sponsor, Alcoa.
CBS Chairman William Paley stood behind Murrow in the hit piece he did on Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954 heck the Democrats and the Republican Establishment were already aligned against McCarthy. President Eisenhower gave Murrow a pat on the back shortly after the show aired.
But in the spring of 1955 a decision was made to cancel "See It Now". Murrow would spend the rest of his CBS days in stardom as a celebrity interviewer on the Top 10 rated TV series "Person to Person" along with documentary work and his nightly 745pm radio slot.
Meanwhile management at CBS, apparently in response to the critics, moved to institute a policy prohibiting news personnel from "editorializing".
The policy gathered steam in the late 1950's affecting radio commentary and news coverage. It culminated in a major blowup in 1961 when Murrow left CBS for the Kennedy Administration and asked Washington Bureau Chief Howard K. Smith to take over work on a television documentary.
The subject was racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama and when Smith wanted to comment about "good men doing nothing" in the face of evil CBS management called him on the carpet with Chairman Paley and other bosses having him for lunch literally and figuratively.
The Smith firing created a media firestorm with liberals enraged and Murrow helping Smith find a liberal sponsor (Nationwide Insurance) to put him on ABC with a weekly news and comment show.
There was plenty of firing and hiring at CBS News in the early 60's. A few months after the Kennedy Assassination CBS News would have a new president and when Chairman Paley became upset with Walter Cronkite's performance at the 1964 Republican convention, Cronkite was pulled from the anchor chair for the Democrat convention and replaced by Robert Trout and Roger Mudd (an attempt to create a CBS Huntley-Brinkley team).
You can get a sense of Cronkite's fight to keep his anchor chair going on during the coverage of the assassination with his switching in and out of the chair with weekend anchor Charles Collingwood during the afternoon.
By 1968 Cronkite was leading the ratings and firmly in his chair doing a 17-hour marathon until it was determined that Richard Nixon had been elected president of the United States.
Let's take this discussion in another direction. We had glossy magazines (Look, Life), we had TV news and documentaries, and we had tabloids.
I do not recall any features, programs, or articles about the McKinley assassination. I do not recall any glossy spreads with McKinley's wedding pictures, or stories about who cut his hair. I never heard the stories about the tragic deaths of his daughters. If I hadn't gone to a good public school, I'm quite sure I never would have heard of him at all.
The pathetic media attempt to revive a 50-year old story about a person who, during his short tenure, accomplished nothing of value is a measure of how far we have fallen.
Always thought that “Southern technical difficulties” bit was a joke.
On “Laugh-In” in 1968, James Garner said to the lovely (and black) Chelsea Brown, “Your place or mine?” She smiled, the two linked arms & they strolled off stage.
Wolfgang the German soldier: “Verrry interesting. But right now in Birmingham dey are showing a test pattern!”
We were a wonderful country then,not perfect,but it seems like heaven when comparing it to today.
WBAP radio in Dallas is going to run the programming from the day of the assassination.
Check their website for further information.
I remember I was in small high school World History class when the principal knocked on the door, opened it, and made the announcement. The teacher (his wife) like us students were stunned. The teacher told us that she waited for a ‘punch line’ but none came.
I recall getting home and turning on the TV. The news was being covered on the 3 available networks. My parents had been gone for the day were unaware until they saw the news on the TV.
I really enjoyed your article. I guess the older I ripen the more nostalgic I get.
I was 8 y/o in the third grade in a small town south of Nashville, TN when JFK was shot. Our principal knocked on the door and whispered something to the teacher. That usually happened when he wanted her to bring someone to his office to beat with his paddle. I squirmed in my seat although I knew I had done nothing wrong.
The teacher immediately rolled the 19” B/W TV out of the corner and turned on the news. She blurted out between sniffles the president had been shot. We watched at our tiny desk until his death was announced. The bullhorn speaker above the door crackled about 2 minutes later and the principal dismissed school for the remainder of the day.
My brothers and I walked back home about 1 mile (honest) and watched live coverage the remainder of the weekend, even watching Oswald shot on live TV. What a weekend.
Five years later, MLK was shot and that’s a whole different story.
I was in fifth grade. The little girl who sat across from me in our group seating arrangement burst into tears at the announcement that the president had been shot (blasted throughout the school over the intercom).
We were dismissed from school at mid-day (Califnornia).
I learned years later that the main stream media was convinced that conservative republicans were responsible for the assassination. (If Rush had been on the radio, I’m sure he and “hate”/talk-radio would be to blame, as it was condemned for the Murrah Building bombing years later). Things haven’t changed.
Turned out it was one of their own—Lee Harvey Oswald, a communist who renounced his US citizenship—who was the shooter. I had to listen to conspiracy nonsense, which exonerated Oswald, from my yellow-dog-democratic mother for three and a half decades. Some people just love conspiracy theories. Those who know little about terminal and in-flight ballistics come up with the craziest theories while minimizing or twisting the physical evidence. See Mortal Error by Bonar Menninger (and Howard Donahue) which documents an investigation that actually looks at the evidence.
Good night, Chet...
Good night, David...
There were some pretty nasty things said in the first few hours after the assassination with the media template for the Kennedy was visit based on something that happened a month before in Dallas.
It did happen on some occasions particularly in the 1950’s and early 60’s and especially in Jackson,MS at Channel 3.
Liberal groups went to the FCC on fairness grounds to change ownership of the station in the mid 1960’s.