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JC Louis

“Knolls of Grass Nov 22 2005 by JC Louis
JC Louis is a financial and science journalist. He authored "The RUby Version", a play about Ruby's role in the assassination. (1989)

CSPAN is running a special reunion of news reporters. 3 AM Austin Texas. Nov 20,2005

It is a book tribute -- "When the News Went Live -- Dallas 1963."
Dan Rather is hosting a series of 4 authors. They are toasting the transformation -- the christening of the age of live television news -- ushered in by the JFK assassination. Here is a toast of Tinsel Town -- TV came of age in the JFK event. Concensus credibility. The old hands of Dallas news are -- KLID. Four reporters -- a CBS affiliate at the time. So we have Rather and former KLID reports who are avowed believers in the lone assassin theory. They are trashing Oliver Stone. They are saying that they are fair, balanced, truthful. After Rather's mistaken analysis of George Bush's military service-- the flap that capped his career -- they are toasting the purity and truthfulness of television news forty years ago. Dan Rather can say with no irony that most people in the audience are probably too young to remember the time when there were a significant number of people with questions, and perhaps believed -- “as ridiculous as it sounds today”-- he editorialized -- that there might have been a conspiracy.

Given this kind of Orwellian understatement, it is fair to say there are two dots in Dan Rather's career, the connection of which would form bookends to a distinguished run. His career was capped by a an egregious mistake in news judgment. Was it also begun with one -- in Dallas on Nov. 22. These are the bookends. We say, “Good Night and Good Luck.”

These newsmen are the elders, the founding lenses -- they say the assassination was the ultimate dagger to the heart, the movement that the seas of history opened, and somehow, because they were there at the creation of TV news as it covered the death of the fist president born in the 20th century -- they were privileged to have 'gotten it right.'. They are riding on the youth and forward-looking pioneering sprit of Kennedy's own life -- as JFK was young and vibrant, and new, so the news that covered his death was also somehow visionary.
Like the weather that day -- clear, blue skies that support a like clarity of vision and discernment. They are tearing up in their eyes even as they recount the motorcade and the First Lady and then the sirens and the Stemmons freeway sign. The clarity of the recall of the
details of the scene empower them as eyewitnesses to the truth behind it.

Beneath their collective narrative is a powerful belief -- because they were eyewitnesses of this transformative event both in the history of the country and the history of the medium,-- they got it right and Oliver Stone got it wrong. He was after all - not there. Those who were there automatically know more than those who were not.

One of these guys said he told Jack Ruby " Caroline may have to come back for a trial. And it was that that set Ruby off.” This is the narrative of news as it impacts backward onto the history it reported. It is a peculair variatiion on a contemporary. We do not want judges that legislate from the bench, yert do we want news reporters who rewrite from the trench -- the grassy trench, the killing field of the President? A KLID reporter says, “Everyone I asked questions to about what happened had so little to say -- the who what where and why could never get at who was behind it all. At first, we thought, it must be the right wing. But when it was all done, Oswald never did talk.” Out of this incomplete tale, the reporters have fashioned the shroud of truth. All is known and remembered by them. What is unknown cannot be forgotten or even acknowledged as unknown.

Oswald was led into the press room, the story continues. Reporters scream questions. "Did you kill the President." Everyone heard Oswald's response that he had not been charged. But the reporter who asked the question had gone unsung in history -- until this moment.

And this moment, the KLID reporter recalls, "We had an impression" -- nothing more.” These tireless reporters were going on their incorrigible collective gut. “ We were told "go interview a conservative at the triple underpass." The point of the killing, the point where there would have been a crossfire, the perennial grassy trench. "Go interview a conservative." That was his assignment; go find a right winner at the triple underpass. "We walked around. There was no one there. I looked up and saw a gentleman on the crest of the hill; " a man with a fedora hat, a suit -- and an umbrella. The man walks around the flowers that are strewn everywhere. The reporter introduced himself to this busy professional man; In a probing thrust of journalistic fervor, the reporter asked him, “Could you tell me; what are you thinking?” The man replied: “I hated John Kennedy. But I just wanted to apologize.”

Thus was the right-wing exonerated from any complicity in the assassination, for the representative right-winger produced at the scene of the killing has just uttered a collective apology. This was the news from Dallas when the news went live.

Perhaps there is cinema here. A man walks out of the grassy knoll, a conservative, a pale rider and what is he carrying. The Fedora hat of Jack Ruby, the briefcase perhaps with papers and valuable inside information and alas -- I knew he would say it -- before he said it -- an umbrella.

This is the pale rider from the Zapruder film, the conservative with no face, the briefcase with no papers, the umbrella with no rain in those clear blue skies -- this is neither Clint Eastward or Clint Murchison, this is a squinter into the grassy trench. For in the lonely frames of the Zapruder film -- the first Rodney King tape of history -- there is the mythic, solitary, lone figure of a man in a coat and a Fedora hat holding a raised umbrella. That man had always been rumored to be sending a signal to gunmen to commence. But he had always been dismissed by supporters of the Warren Report as well -- just a bystander shielding himself from the bright sun, the blue skies over the Texas town on November 22 -- a moment in the middle of the last century that still reckons as American history's high-noon.

Yet now, this figure,this pale rider, strides down into the grassy trench, and says to our intrepid reporter -- I hated Kennedy. But I have come back to this scene, to the flowers cast here to apologize. He walks out of the Zapruder film, into living history. Is this the Zapruder reel or a "Field of Dreams" remake -- "Grassy Trench of Dreams" where a character walks out of tall corn fields to consecrate the hero with a transcendental whisper from the American pastures of truth. This is beyond Field of Dreams. This is "Knolls of Grass" and I can hear these reporters, like America, singing, the same song it sings every Nov. 22 .

Toasting perhaps the epiphany of what he takes for journalistic luck, this reporter says he was in the wrong place at the right time. Perhaps they were the wrong men for that time. For they have told us they were there; they were witnesses and they admit that all their reporting was based not on facts, not on gumshoe, not on investigation, not on digging up what Dan Rather would always revel in calling the hard, difficult facts. No, by their own admission -- and validated by the loud applause of the appreciative Texas audience where they spoke -- their reporting was based on pure impression; instinct; supposition; They were all in the dark. but by Jove, they were there. And for that reason and by those lights, they can speak with a voice that dispatches all doubters, all remnants of the still unknown but alas not forgotten truth of Nov 22. " Somehow we got the story right, " and the rest -- as they say -- is history. Unfortunately for the mainstream of this country -- living as it does under a regime of permanent revisionism -- the rest is silence.

Bob Huffaker

When the News Went Live: DALLAS 1963
http://dallas1963.typepad.com ISBN 1589791398

. . . a riveting account not only of the assassination but of TV's transformation into America's most dominant news source.
William Endicott, The Sacramento Bee

Here, finally, is the view from the street about November 22, 1963. This reporters' account of the Kennedy assassination brings to full focus the personal anguish as well as the professional pressure endured that day by those who could not take the time to cry. This book will become part of the real and permanent history of a dark day for America.
Jim Lehrer, The NewsHour

The first accounts of how the Kennedy assassination happened came from the local radio and TV reporters of Dallas. For the first time, some of the best of those reporters tell the gritty tale of how they did it. The story they tell is riveting, insightful and filled with new detail about that awful weekend that changed America.
Bob Schieffer, CBS News

People often ask me "what it was really like" to be in Dallas on the day Kennedy was shot. . . . When the News Went Live provides an eloquent answer to that tough question, as four newsmen who were there, on the ground, tell how it "really was" through their eyes and ears.
Dan Rather, CBS News

This book has more legs than the Rockettes. The slim page-turner possesses a crisp, objective quality that, like a good movie, never stops moving.
Kent Biffle, The Dallas Morning News

This work brings immediacy and intensity to events that shook the nation. You are there with the four, on the streets, at the hospital, along the flower-strewn Grassy Knoll the day after, in the jail as Oswald is paraded for the press and then for murder live on TV. Interwoven with this is the perspective of forty years from men grown old, who still live with November 1963.
Sterlin Holmesly, The San Antonio Express-News

The integrity and dedication of these four veteran journalists is impressive, as is their ability to make a 40-year-old event come alive again.
Publishers Weekly

. . . a fast-paced recounting of what they witnessed. . . . It concludes with two thought-provoking chapters about the business of news and its uncertain future. Recommended for academic and public libraries devoting space to journalism.
Library Journal

Their account of reporting the events surrounding Kennedy's death goes beyond mere retelling, reflecting on issues such as ethics and duty in the presentation of news.
Liberty Journal, RTNDA Communicator

When the News Went Live is more than just a compelling read. It is an account of incredible from-the-streets reporting of history. . . . Each author has a chance to share individual memories, and readers will appreciate the opportunity to read transcripts of live reports, such as Huffaker confirming the assassination by saying, "This is one of the quietest crowds that will ever assemble—the crowd with pity, sorrow, horror and shame in its heart." No less moving is Huffaker explaining to us 42 years later, "I hated having to speak when I felt like weeping."
William Kerns, Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

A first-class account of a tragic historic moment that still has an impact on our nation.
Ken Judkins, The Lewisville Leader
When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963, a thoughtful and fast-moving book by four Dallas broadcast reporters, is earning respect of journalists who praise its depth, authority, and readability. Their vivid first-person account is the clearest view yet of the JFK assassination and its aftermath. From interwoven viewpoints at the center of that tragedy, they show what really happened, how they covered the stunning events for the nation, and how broadcast news has developed since, both technically and ethically. Bob Huffaker, Bill Mercer, George Phenix, and Wes Wise reported for the Dallas CBS affiliate KRLD Radio-TV News, one of America’s top news operations. They worked with Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite, and CBS to bring Texas news to the nation. When broadcasting JFK’s Dallas visit suddenly evolved into reporting a worldwide tragedy, they kept as calm as possible, to encourage the world to remain sane.

They earned the nation’s highest honor for their on-the-scene reporting, presented by the Radio Television News Directors Association, which wrote, “KRLD deserves the highest praise for the manner in which its personnel moved without a moment of hesitation from what was to have been normal coverage of the arrival, presentation and departure of the President, into fascinating, elaborate, complete and deeply detailed coverage at the local level of what has to be easily the story of our modern lives.”

Bob Huffaker broadcast television’s first murder when Jack Ruby shot Lee Oswald. He broadcast the motorcade and Parkland Hospital scenes, interviewed the assassin’s mother, covered Ruby’s trial and finally his death, having done an award-winning courtroom interview with Ruby. He earned the Ph.D. and was an English professor until 1980, when, as investigator for the Texas Legislature, he exposed his university for falsifying class records. Texas State University honors Huffaker in its Star Hall of Fame for defending press freedom when he headed its student publications committee in the 1970s. Huffaker was an editor for Texas Monthly, Studies in the Novel, Studies in American Humor, and Modern Humanities Research Association. His book John Fowles is seminal work about the novelist, and he has written for Southern Humanities Review, Dallas Observer, True West, Senior Advocate, and Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Bill Mercer kept vigil at Dallas Police headquarters and confronted Oswald in a midnight press showing, where he informed the assassin that police had charged him with the president’s murder. Among flowers at the assassination site, Mercer reported words of sympathy on wreaths—and on the minds of those who gathered in grief at JFK’s murder. Voice of the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, University of North Texas, and the Cotton Bowl, Mercer is in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, Texas All-Pro’s Hall of Fame, and UNT Athletic Hall of Fame. He gained fame announcing wrestling and wrote history of the Navy LCI: World War II combat landing craft on which he served in the Pacific.

George Phenix has made his mark in press and politics. For two decades he has published Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter he founded. After the assassination, Phenix left KRLD to lobby for the Texas Municipal League, and he wrote speeches and television shows for officials including Governor Preston Smith and Congressman J.J. Pickle. After four years as Pickle’s Washington aide, he returned to Texas as Executive Assistant to US Senator Lloyd Bentsen, published several weekly newspapers, and remains an authority on politics and journalism.

Wes Wise, president of the Dallas Press Club, escorted Adlai Stevenson the month before the assassination and filmed attacks on the UN Ambassador. Wise helped prepare JFK’s security for the Dallas visit, broadcast the motorcade and Trade Mart scenes, encountered Jack Ruby the day before he shot Oswald, waited at the county jail for the aborted Oswald transfer, and testified in Ruby’s trial. Honored in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, he was a famous baseball announcer for Liberty Broadcasting System in the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote for Sports Illustrated, Time and Life, winning Southern Methodist University’s Southwest Journalism Forum award. He served five years as mayor of Dallas in the 1970s, was president of the Texas Municipal League and board member of the US Conference of Mayors. Wise helped Dallas overcome its tarnished reputation. As a reporter, he set records straight; as Dallas’ first independent mayor in decades, he helped the city toward racial equity, guided it through desegregation and the uneasy Sixties, fought to memorialize JFK’s life and death, and helped pull Dallas up from international disgrace.

Fred Litwin

why on earth don't these conference ever have any supporters of the warren commission? John McAdams, Kenneth Rahn would be super at these conferences.


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AARC JFK Conference Information

  • AARC 2004 Conference DVD Set is Available
    A 13-DVD set is now available for purchase, capturing all the presentations at the AARC's 2004 Washington conference entitled "The Warren Report and its Legacy." Speakers include Dr. Cyril Wecht, Dr. Gary Aguilar, Josiah Thompson, Don Thomas, Jefferson Morley, John Newman, Gerald McKnight, David Kaiser, AARC President Jim Lesar, Rex Bradford, and many others.

    For more information, see online catalog pages on the AARC website and at History Matters.