The Kennedy Assassination and the Death of Television Journalism

I was, many years ago, a producer at CBS Sunday Morning.

I used to produce Bob Pierpoint, who had been the White House correspondent for CBS News when JFK was the president.

I became fairly friendly with Bob, needless to say. I was at his house in D.C. when we watched CBS News' commemoration of the 25th anniversary. It was, of course, wall-to-wall Dan Rather.

Then Bob told me a very interesting story.


Bob had been in the motorcade, three cars behind JFK, when the shots rang out. Dan, the local CBS guy, had been assigned to be with Bob during the time in Dallas.

When the motorcade came to a halt, Pierpoint ran to the front and found out what had happened. The president had been shot.

Pierpoint said he looked around for Dan, couldn't find him and commandeered a car. "Get me to Parkland Hospital," he said.

Arriving at Parkland, Pierpoint made his way to the ER and grabbed a nurse. "How is he?" Pierpoint asked. The nurse, he said, was crying. "He's dead," she said, badly shaken.
Pierpoint rushed to a pay phone and called New York. Cronkite went live.

Then, CBS News cut to Dallas... and Rather.

Rather had seen what had happened, and instead of going to Parkland to get the story, he had headed back to the Dallas studio, had them fire up the cameras, then sat and waited for the call.

Pierpoint was a journalist -- he had come from the AP. Rather understood TV.

When CBS News did the 25th anniversary, Dan completely elided Pierpoint's name from the entire Special Broadcast -- even though you could hear his voice narrating every piece of archival stuff.

Pierpoint was one of the last of the generation called "Murrow's Boys." These were the first generation of print journalists, most from the wire services like AP and UPI, who were recruited into the then-new medium of television.

They were people like Pierpoint and Charles Collingwood and Eric Severeid.

Their primary interest and passion was journalism. Television came later.

Rather and his ilk were the first of the new generation of TV reporters.

Their primary interest was TV and how it worked.

Today, everyone on air is a TV reporter.

They all look good.

And most times, it seems. that's enough.