Covering ChaosAll Exhibits
Peter Jennings, Canadian Television Network
Peter Jennings was in the Toronto airport on November 22, 1963, when he heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot. He immediately looked at the departure board and saw that there was a flight to Dallas leaving in a matter of minutes. Jennings ran to a payphone and called his news director at the Canadian Television Network, asking to go to Dallas. Although his request was refused, Jennings jumped on the plane to Dallas to cover the story anyway. Before Jennings landed he had become a hero at the news station, with camera teams and producers on the way not far behind him.
Bob Schieffer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
When Bob Schieffer answered the phone at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday, November 22, he received a strange request. A woman was asking for a ride to the Dallas police station. "Madam, this is not a taxi service, and besides, the president has been shot," Schieffer told her. She responded, "Yes, I know. … I think my son is the one they’ve arrested." It was Lee Harvey Oswald's mother. Schieffer quickly made arrangements to pick her up. Wearing a snap-brim hat to blend in with the detectives, Schieffer stayed with Marguerite Oswald at the police station until he was kicked out hours later—all the while listening to her complain that no one would feel sorry for her or help her out financially.
Jim Lehrer, Dallas Times Herald
Jim Lehrer began his coverage of President Kennedy's visit to Dallas at Love Field, as a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald. He was to file a report on the president's arrival and departure from the airport. Lehrer watched as the president broke protocol and went to the fence to shake hands with the excited crowd. "Everything about it struck me as extraordinary," he recalled. In less than an hour his assignment changed. Instead of a report on Love Field, Lehrer wrote a front-page story on the valiant efforts of the Secret Service. Later, he went to the police station where he remained all night. "I was there when they brought in Lee Harvey Oswald. I was there when they brought him into this news conference in the middle of the night." Standing near Lehrer was Jack Ruby.
Robert MacNeil, NBC Radio/Television
Preparing his notes for a 1:00 p.m. radio newscast, Robert MacNeil was aboard the first White House press bus in the presidential motorcade when he heard what sounded like automobile backfire. Realizing he had heard gunshots, MacNeil ran to the front of the bus and grabbed the driver's hand, saying, "Stop the bus! Open the door!" As he quickly exited the bus, it took off around the corner. The air filled with sound. "It's as though thirty choirs had all gone berserk and were screaming … out of pitch." He instantly knew something awful had happened. MacNeil focused on finding a telephone. The first building he came to was the Texas School Book Depository. As he approached the door he ran into a dark-haired young man in shirtsleeves. "Where's there a phone?" MacNeil asked. "You'd better ask inside," the young man answered. Locating a phone, MacNeil called the NBC newsroom: "MacNeil, Dallas. Urgent! Urgent!” Pulling from his wire service background, MacNeil made his first report. It was not until 1965 that MacNeil learned from author William Manchester that the young man may have been Lee Harvey Oswald.
Dan Rather, CBS Radio/Television
Realizing that something had gone terribly wrong, Dan Rather made his way to Dallas CBS affiliate KRLD and telephoned Parkland Memorial Hospital. A switchboard operator told him that the president had been shot and then connected him with a doctor. Without identifying himself, the doctor told Rather that he believed the president was dead and hung up. Rather immediately called CBS News in New York with these unconfirmed reports. "I was on the phone with [CBS Radio officials in] New York and I told them what the situation was, and a man named—I believe it was Mort Dank, Sr.—said, 'The president is dead.' And I said, 'Yes, I think he's dead.' Now, frankly, there wasn't any doubt in my mind he was dead, but I thought we were going to discuss what we were going to do with this information. And the next thing I heard was CBS Radio playing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' and [announcer] Alan Jackson saying the president was dead." Suddenly the enormity of what had happened hit Rather. What if he had blundered and reported incorrectly? Still on the phone with CBS, Rather heard Eddie Barker's report on KRLD Radio. The news was confirmed 15 minutes later when acting Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff announced officially that President Kennedy had died of a gunshot wound to the head.