Then and Now

On Youtube, the CBS news coverage of the Kennedy assassination

CBS was the only network with national programming that afternoon:  local NBC and ABC affiliates had their own programming.  Part 1 is the the broadcast of As The World Turns just before the first interruption.  The first break-in is at the beginning of Part 2 or at about 1:40 PM EST, 10 minutes after the President was shot.  There’s a commercial break for Nescafé coffee and station identification before Walter Cronkite breaks in with more news.  The soap resumes with a scene in a restaurant before another commercial break for Friskies dog food, the second of which is cut off (at the beginning of Part 3), regular broadcasting never to resume. At the time, As The World Turns was broadcast live; the actors were unaware of transpiring events until afterwards.

Without a “flash” studio, CBS was unable to put Cronkite on camera for some 20 minutes.  He broadcast behind a black “CBS News Bulletin” graphic, which adds a stark chill to the tragedy. 

What’s striking about this broadcast, Cronkite at first is mostly reading wire service copy.  As well, the only voices are Cronkite’s and Eddie Barker in Dallas.  Charles Collingswood takes over for a while only during Part 9. 

Compare to how such a story would be broadcast nowadays.  There would be half a dozen talking heads babbling simultaneously, microphones stuck under the noses of everyone in a 10-block radius of events and, of course, David Gergen.  Would it be more comprehensive coverage?  Yes.  Would it lose its sense of historical import thereby?  Definitely.

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