50 years ago, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
For the first time in its short history, television news was called upon to provide minute by minute live updates and to show the world indelible images that will never be forgotten.
“There had been large viewing shows before, but it was the first time everybody flocked to their television for a program.”
UMaine journalism professor Mike Socolow says by the time JFK’s funeral was held, three days after the assassination, 93% of televisions in America were on, watching the coverage…
“I think it’s the first real memory of television people would have. Television wasn’t exactly new, but it wasn’t a very good source of news because film took a long time to develop, news wasn’t very timely. The evening news had been 15 minutes up until just two months before.”
Nothing like this had ever happened before. Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who was in Dallas the day Kennedy was shot, has said everything was happening so fast, when it came to how they covered the event, they had to make it up as they went along.
“TV news came of age.”
“It was amazingly quick. To think how many Americans knew that the president had been shot and killed within a couple of hours, it was a technological marvel. It really couldn’t have happened even ten years earlier.”
Perhaps the most talked about moment still today is the official announcement of Kennedy’s death from CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite.
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, president Kennedy died at 1:00 pm central standard time, 2:00 eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago.”
Nobody had lived through the assassination of a president and the emotion in Cronkite’s voice mirrored what the country was feeling.
“Yes he was sad and grieving I think, but he was shocked. That’s the overriding emotion in that moment, that’s where it fits with everybody, everybody was just shocked.”
Making it even more personal for thousands of Mainers was the fact they had seen the president in person just a month earlier, speaking at the University of Maine.
“And so I think there was kind of this visceral sense of people who had seen Kennedy recently, and suddenly here on television, you’re hearing this news. And I think it wasn’t just here in Bangor, but also in Dallas and other places where the president had visited. He had such a compelling sort of personality about him that people really remembered seeing him and being with him.”
Television news had passed the test, informing and comforting a grieving nation, something Americans still expect today.
“They might hear about it somewhere else. We know that a lot of people hear about breaking news, like on 9/11, from a telephone call, or from the radio as they’re driving, because it happened right after rush hour, but immediately, they find a television.”