Three Shots were fired: JFK’s Assassination and TV’s First Global Story

In November of 1963, President John F. Kennedy made a trip to Dallas. Officially, this trip was a goodwill tour, the President was to appear and make speeches in San Antonio, Houston, Fort Worth and, Dallas. On Friday evening, the Presidential party and guests would attend a dinner in Austin hosted by Governor John Connally. On Saturday, the President would visit the ranch of Vice President Lyndon Johnson where LBJ was to host a grand Texas barbecue.

News reports also made note that this trip was also to present a united front for the Democratic Party both nationally and, in Texas. It was no secret Vice President Johnson (a longtime United States Senator from Texas), Governor Connally and Texas Senator Ralph Yarborough had their own vision for the role Texas was to play in the 1964 election. An unspoken goal of this visit was to show voters the Democratic Party had no rifts, spats or feuds in Texas or anywhere else.

Unofficially, this was the President’s unannounced 1964 reelection campaign kickoff, fundraising and fence mending expedition.

In a reflection of each medium, articles of Texas newspapers ran fifteen hundred, two thousand words, stressing the political implications of the trip while radio news reporters filed reports that ran thirty seconds or so. TV and radio news stressed how striking the President and First Lady looked and the enthusiastic welcome they received at each appearance.

For the White House press corps and TV networks, this was a typical Presidential road trip. To the local press, the first visit by a President in fifteen years was a big deal. Texas television stations would cover this visit live.

JFK, Senator Ralph W. Yarborough, Governor John Connally, Vice President Johnson at  a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, Texas Hotel Photograph by Cecil Stoughton John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

JFK, Senator Ralph W. Yarborough, Governor John Connally, Vice President Johnson at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, Texas Hotel
Photograph by Cecil Stoughton
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Nationally, ABC, CBS, and NBC would cover the story in their nightly newscasts but would not go overboard.

Fifty years ago, the operative phrase to describe our mass media was “the press”, the emergence of television news and longtime presence of radio notwithstanding. Newspapers published several editions a day, more at a time of calamity. Magazines such as TIME or Newsweek and Life and LOOK summarized the story and captured images television could not hope to show. These mass market magazines were at your fingertips, at the newsstand or in your mailbox a week later.

As with December 7, 1941 or 9/11, November 22, 1963 became a landmark day in our history and marked a change for television and mass communications as television news departments reacted and presented the news, establishing its credibility, reliability and, electronic town square for national assembly.

Three Shots were fired: JFK’s Assassination and TV’s First Global Story is an e-book about television news coming of age.

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