By BOB SHRALUKA
The weather of the day has long since been forgotten. But it was Friday and so there was, no doubt, some small excitement for the impending weekend. The young reporter had hustled home for a quick lunch. Turning on the TV, he was immediately stunned.
There, in black and white, was CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite saying the president had been shot in Dallas.
WHAT? These things don’t happen in this country.
Rushing back to the newspaper office, he found the United Press International machine ringing and clicking like never before. It always clicked as the news copy was coming through. And when something major was happening, a bell would ring to attract your attention; if you heard the bell, you would head for the machine to see what was going on.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Then Ding! Ding! Ding!
And there it was, on the yellow UPI paper: President John F. Kennedy is dead.
We scrambled at the Daily Democrat to get the story in that day’s edition (yes, the deadline was much, much later in that day of non-instant communication). Then it was home and being glued to the television for days. Programming wasn’t anything close to what it is today; there were just the three networks and they carried nothing but the assassination and all its related stories.
Sunday brought another stunner. As the television screen showed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald being brought from jail to be transferred, there was a sudden commotion, a loud BANG! and Oswald slumped. “He just shot the son--------“ was our reaction.
We had just seen a man killed. Shot dead on live television. Even today’s glut of reality shows don’t go that far!
Then it was back to the crushing sadness; the horse-drawn caisson carrying the casket and the body of John F. Kennedy down Pennsylvania Ave.; the people lining the streets; the young son saluting as the casket passed by; the eternal flame at the grave site.
Parallels to today
What is largely forgotten 50 years later is that there are parallels to today. Jack Kennedy was seen by young voters as someone who offered hope; many young people identified with him because they were much closer to his age than any of the previous presidents.
He was outgoing, glib, charismatic, and all those similar adjectives. He spoke well and could deliver a great speech. Does that ring a bell?
And just as Barack Obama is besieged with hatred and disrespect — a congressman yelling “you lie” during a speech; a Supreme Court justice mouthing “not true” during a State of the Union address; the still-constant chatter about him being born in Kenya — so, too, was JFK deeply disliked by the Far Right. The detractors stood four-square against any form of integration; they saw Communists at every door and feared government was being taken over by the “pinkos;” the relatively new United Nations was perceived as a threat to America; and a “liberal” like Kennedy … well, he certainly couldn’t be trusted. Unless, that is, you were, say, 30 years of age or so and under.
Dallas was a hotbed for such dislike and outright hatred. As David Von Drehle writes in the latest edition of Time magazine, “Oilmen H.L. Hunt and Clint Murchison bankrolled far-right propaganda, while newspaper publisher Ted Dealy trumpeted an extreme line in the pages of the Dallas Morning News. When Kennedy cashiered Army General Edwin Walker for spreading the ideas of the ultraconservative John Birch Society to U.S. troops, Dallas welcomed the general with open arms.”
Kennedy had more than one warning to stay away from Dallas. So why go there? Perhaps a bit of a desire to not let the haters see any fear in him. Perhaps, knowing his own popularity, he thought he could underscore that popularity by drawing strong support amid a hotbed of dislike. And he did. Thousands lined the street to wave and cheer.
And then it was over. Almost immediately, numerous conspiracy theories cropped up about who beyond Oswald was responsible. Many thought it was a CIA plot; some even went so far as to point a finger at Vice President Lyndon Johnson and a bid to make himself president. The skepticism continues to this day.
This day … 50 years ago this very day. Fifty years ago a degree of innocence was forever lost, a loss only heightened just five years later by the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. As Whoopi Goldberg said just this week on a TV show she did on Moms Mabley: “These assassinations took the breath out of us.”