DALLAS Nov 21 Six seconds in Dallas 50 years
ago changed the way media worked for decades to come.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22,
1963, was a transformative live, global TV news event. It swept
an industry without a playbook for covering a breaking story of
such magnitude and utterly changed how people receive their
For four days, starting with gunfire in Dallas and ending
with Kennedy's funeral procession in Washington, major U.S. TV
networks went live with wall-to-wall coverage, suspending
Other live TV news events followed, and the next time
networks devoted as much time to commercial-free news broadcasts
came with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
"The Kennedy assassination became the template for
coverage," said Bob Schieffer, who 50 years ago covered the
event for the Fort Worth Star Telegram and is now a veteran
broadcaster with CBS.
"We were working in one of the worst moments of the nation's
life back then and we didn't know what to make of it, much like
what happened on 9/11," he told Reuters.
The technology was primitive in 1963, but the idea was born
of broadcasting live from the scene, having an anchor for the
coverage and letting the images do the talking when possible.
Some of the tasks were daunting, such as moving studio TV
cameras that weighed hundreds of pounds into places such as
Dallas police headquarters and stringing heavy cables up a wall
and through the police chief's office.
By the time the White House confirmed Kennedy's death just
after 1:30 that Friday, 45.4 percent of U.S. homes with a
television had their sets in use, according to ratings agency
On Monday, soon after the caisson carrying Kennedy's coffin
arrived at Arlington National Cemetery, 81 percent of U.S. homes
with a television had their sets in use, one of the highest TV
ratings in U.S. history, Nielsen said.
Mourning and a sense of loss were visceral, with a survey at
the time saying about two-thirds of Americans watching the
events fell ill or felt emotional distress.
Newspapers and radio were the main sources of news the day
before the assassination, but the pendulum had swung.
"This is when America became a TV nation," said Patty Rhule,
a senior manager of exhibits at the Newseum, a museum for the
news industry in Washington.
In 1950 only 9 percent of U.S. households had television. By
1960 it was 90 percent, and the telegenic Kennedy family was
part of the draw.
The look of TV changed as well as the technology. At the
time of the assassination, NBC and ABC anchors broadcast from
studios that slightly resembled living rooms.
Yet the enduring video image is of Walter Cronkite reporting
on Kennedy's death for CBS, which moved its camera to the
newsroom - a decision that seemed to increase the authority of
its broadcasts and which others would follow.
Instant replay, a technology CBS planned to roll out a few
weeks later for the Army-Navy college football game, made its
national debut when Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot
suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald dead in the basement of the
Dallas police building.
Japan's first satellite TV broadcast carried news of the JFK
assassination. The initial plan was to receive a prerecorded
message from Kennedy. Instead, Japanese learned of his death.
CYNICISM IN A SMALLER WORLD
"The fact that the tragedy was brought live into people's
houses made for compelling viewing, no matter where you were,"
said Gary Mack, curator of The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas,
housed in the former Texas School Book Depository from which
Oswald shot Kennedy.
"TV networks realized it was so much easier to connect to
people and also that they now had to be prepared to cover
everything," said Mack, whose museum is the main holder of
documents and artifacts surrounding the assassination.
Reporters were given far more access than is imaginable
today, walking up to the body of the president at Parkland
Hospital, where he was taken.
They camped out with police, demanding Oswald be paraded
before them. Much was caught on camera, surprising many viewers
with the rawness of how news was put together.
After Ruby shot Oswald, the first murder broadcast
nationally on U.S. television, Dallas police mostly ended the
"perp walk" for cameras.
American officials generally started to keep the media at a
greater distance, with many other governments following suit.
Cynicism also grew in the public, with many asking if the
official version of Oswald acting alone were true.
The Vietnam War, race riots in U.S. cities as well as the
assassinations of JFK's brother and civil rights leader Martin
Luther King further disillusioned many Americans in the 1960s.
"From that weekend, we began to question everything in the
country," said Schieffer, "even things that we had taken for
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and