When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963by Bob Huffaker, Bill Mercer, George Phenix, Wes Wise
The minutes, hours, and days after President John F. Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963, provided no ready answers about what was going on, what would happen next, or what any of it meant. For millions of Americans transfixed by the incomparable breaking news, television—for the first time—emerged as a way to keep informed. But the journalists who… See more details below
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The minutes, hours, and days after President John F. Kennedy was shot on November 22, 1963, provided no ready answers about what was going on, what would happen next, or what any of it meant. For millions of Americans transfixed by the incomparable breaking news, television—for the first time—emerged as a way to keep informed. But the journalists who brought the story to the television airwaves could only rely on their skill, their experience, and their stamina to make sense of what was, at the time, the biggest story of their lives.
President Kennedy’s assassination was the first time such big breaking news was covered spontaneously—this book tells the stories of four men who were at the epicenter of it all. Bob Huffaker, Bill Mercer, George Phenix, and Wes Wise were among those responsible for covering the assassination and its aftermath for Dallas’s KRLD. These reporters fed news and footage to Walter Cronkite and all of the other CBS affiliates around the country.
From the presidential motorcade to Parkland Hospital, from Lee Harvey Oswald’s shooting to the trial and lonesome death of Jack Ruby, these men were there, on the inside. The view they were afforded of these events was unparalleled; the tales they have to tell, one-of-a-kind. This 50th anniversary edition includes new photos, insights, and reflections on the state of news (and faux news) today from the four men who were active participants in television news' pivotal moment.
The first accounts of how the Kennedy assassination happened came from the local radio and TV reporters of Dallas. For the first time, some of the best of those reporters tell the gritty tale of how they did it. The story they tell is riveting, insightful, and full of new detail about that awful weekend that changed America.
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Meet the Author
Bob Huffaker, investigative reporter, broadcast the JFK motorcade, the Parkland Hospital vigil, and the Oswald shooting on CBS. He was an army officer, police officer, English professor, and editor for Texas Monthly and Studies in the Novel; he wrote John Fowles: Naturalist of Lyme Regis and is honored in the Texas State University Star Hall of Fame and the Dallas Press Club Living Legends of North Texas Journalism.
Bill Mercer, voice of the Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, and the Southwest Conference, was a professor at The University of North Texas. He wrote Play-by-Play: Tales from a Sportscasting Insider and a history of the Navy LCI, aboard which he served in the World War II Pacific. Mercer is honored in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, the Dallas Press Club Living Legends of North Texas Journalism, and baseball’s All-Pro Hall of Fame.
George Phenix, filmed Oswald’s murder, the Parkland and Love Field scenes, and the Ruby murder trial. He founded and published Texas Weekly, the state’s top legislative newsletter. Phenix also published several weekly newspapers and served as aide to Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Congressman Jake Pickle. He writes the popular Blog of Ages at www.blogofages.net.
Wes Wise, accosted by Jack Ruby the day after JFK’s assassination, before Ruby shot Oswald, was a witness in Ruby’s trial. A pioneer of play-by-play, Wise wrote for Sports Illustrated, Time, and Life. He served as Dallas mayor and president of the Texas Municipal League and is honored in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame and the Dallas Press Club Living Legends of North Texas Journalism. As Dallas mayor, he saved the Texas School Book Depository and other historic buildings from demolition, and he led the city in reclaiming its national reputation.
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Bob Huffaker, along with Bill Mercer, George Phenix and Wes Wise were reporters for KRLD in Dallas in November 1963 when JFK was assassinated in their city. The authors provide their recollections of the day and the aftermath of the assassination in a way that is forthright and telling. It is a first person account that needed to be told before their particular voices are lost to history. They take care to let us know what it meant to be a reporter in 1963 and you were more than just a talking head; you had to write and edit your own copy and any audio or video they shot. These men were reporters who literally had their hands in the entire news process from front to back. They tell the story of the JFK assassination almost literally through their microphones and the lens of their cameras; who was covering what and where. This is not a discussion of how the assassination was carried out; this is a tale of how the event was covered, whether from Love Field, Dealy Plaza, the Trade Plaza, Dallas PD or Parkland Hospital. Along the way, we see how the national and international media swooped in helped make that weekend the media circus that it was. (This reviewer shudders at the thought of such an unfortunate event of this magnitude in this era of 24/7 news cycles and the overwhelming rush to be "first" as opposed to "correct".) Along the way, we also get a look behind the scenes at how these men utilized their contacts within the Dallas PD to get background information on their stories and how they did it in a manner that respected their sources. By contrast, we also have evidence that the 21st century news media does not have a monopoly on crafting a narrative with which to frame a story. Dan Rather - the purveyor of the forged George H. Bush Air National Guard documents - went and ran with a story about the children of one Dallas elementary school cheering when JFK's assassination was announced. This was made to appear that Dallas was "a city of hate". It turns out, the cheers were because they were being let out of school early; a reason for which any school-age child would cheer. Similarly, noted CBS commentator Eric Sevareid is faulted for relying on his research staff who spoke with one of the authors several times about Oswald's murder, yet none of that information made it to Sevareid's commentary that day. A major weakness of the book is the authors' seeming bias against conservatives. The authors frequently use terms like "arch-conservative", "rabid right winger" and the like; yet no liberal is given similar terms. In their end commentaries on the media today, they make many sideways remarks about Fox News, either expressly or implied using their slogan "Fair and Balanced". In my opinion, this takes away from their objectivity and as such causes me to de-rate the book by one whole star. BOTTOM LINE: This is a wonderful book for those interested in reading about the JFK assassination from a different point of view; namely, those who covered it.