STORIES SAD BUT (NOT) TRUE
While browsing through the various and sundry news reports marking the 45th anniversary of the JFK Assassination yesterday, I was struck by one strange but nonetheless glaring error which was reported by several major news organizations around the globe. From a curiously uncited wire service report:
It was 45 years ago today that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed as he rode in an open limousine in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.
The gunshots rang out shortly before noon as crowds lining the street watched in horror as the president slumped over in the backseat of his limousine, with fatal wounds to his head and neck.
Okay , now take a closer look at the second paragraph. Anything jump out at you? (OK, besides the fact that the entire paragraph is one big sloppy run-on sentence.)
The wire copy reports that shots rang out “just before noon.” As anyone who has ever read a history book knows, President Kennedy was shot at 12:30 p.m. central time.
This wire story was picked up by local, national, and international news outlets around the world yesterday. All of them ran the erroneous text exactly as it appears above. Obviously, not a single copy editor at any of these media organizations who ran the article noticed or corrected the error. Even more troubling is that none of their readers or viewers did, either. (Or, if they did notice and complain, their comments and letters to the editor were censored.)
Even when I tuned in to hear Dan Rather talk about covering the assassination on Mike Huckabee’s primetime weekend FoxNews program, I was appalled to hear this exact same error repeated again during Fox’s top-of-the-hour news break at 8 p.m. eastern. This time from the lacquered lips of weekend newsbunny, Emerson College grad and Emmy-award winning anchor Julie Banderas:
“And on this day in 1963, the people of Dallas, Texas, lined the downtown streets for a glimpse of their young president as his motorcade drove past. President John F. Kennedy rode in the back of an open limousine, waving and smiling to the throng. Then, just before noon, the smiles in Dealey Plaza turned to horror as shots rang out…”
So…let me get this straight: a bullet, fired “just before noon” hovers in midair for 30 minutes before hitting its’ target at 12:30 p.m.? Wow, that really IS one hell of a magic bullet! (And you thought all that zigging and zagging it could do was impressive!)
In any murder case — certainly in the most hotly-debated murder case of the 20th century — 30 minutes makes a huge difference. Had shots rang out “just before noon” as erroneously reported, the president would have been assassinated while deplaning Air Force One. (Kennedy’s plane touched down at Dallas Love Field just before noon.) The only motorcade in Dallas that day would have been the one rushing him immediately to the nearest hospital. He would have been pronounced dead by 12:30 p.m., and history would have been written very differently.
Yeah, in a parallel universe. The one inhabited by lazy wire service writers who make up alternate versions of history out of thin air. (Because there is not an encyclopedia in the world which reports JFK’s murder as having taken place before noon.) The fantasy world populated by copy editors at mainstream media outlets worldwide who are apparently too stupid (or at the least mentally-challenged) to fact-check a story. The universe filled with attractive talking heads (“anchor” is too complimentary a word for them) who are too dense and self-absorbed to know or even care if the story they are reading to millions of viewers is accurate.
JOURNALISM 101 CLASS IS NOW IN SESSION
The first thing an aspiring reporter learns in journalism school is that every story must answer five questions: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, AND WHY? (Also known as “the five W’s”) The questions must be addressed in the first two paragraphs of the story (known as the “lede”), and the information must be accurate, based on information provided by at least two reliable sources.
In the case of President Kennedy’s assassination, accurate information which answers the first four questions is readily available from any library, history book, encyclopedia, newspaper archive, or a basic web search. This stuff ain’t rocket science. Any ten year-old taking a history exam could gather the following:
WHO? — President John F. Kennedy
WHAT? — Assassination
WHEN? — November 22, 1963 at 12:30 p.m.
WHERE? — In a motorcade traveling down Elm Street in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas.
Now, as for that tricky fifth question — WHY? — that’s the rest of your story.
WHY is the question the American people still want answered, even after 45 years.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to count on our press to find the answer to that one (a notion that certainly wouldn’t surprise longtime JFK conspiracy researchers). After all, if they can’t even give us an accurate account of WHEN the president was killed (a fact of the case which has never been in dispute), how could we expect them to do any serious investigation into WHY the president was killed?
IT’S THE MEDIA, STUPID
This blog is always critical of the media any time they report bad information about the Kennedy family. We’re quick to point out their easily avoidable errors, outrageous mistakes and boneheaded bloopers.
Unfortunately, they’ve been keeping us awfully busy this past year, as the quality of reporting continues to slide rapidly downhill and somebody’s got to call `em out on it. So we do. But this particular one really hit home for me. If they can’t even get the basic facts straight about JFK’s assassination on the 45th anniversary, this does not bode well for what the coverage is going to look like on the 50th anniversary. Or the 150th.
Heaven help us, God Bless President Kennedy, and Goddamn the lazy, coddled infants of our fourth estate who can’t be bothered to Google the initials “JFK” before running a story about him. Shame, shame, shame!
(And if you think my choice of words might be just a tad harsh, take a listen to this profanity-laden tirade JFK unleashed upon Gen. Godfrey McHugh after the president read a news report he didn’t like:)
(Kennedy, an avid reader, experienced reporter, and tough-as-nails media critic, then called up Arthur Sylvester, his old friend and former newspaperman who now served as Assistant Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs, to let off some more steam over the “fuck-up”. This phone call is absolutely hilarious!)
FOR FURTHER READING ON MORE MEDIA KENNEDY “WONDER BLUNDERS”, WE RECOMMEND:
(yes, even the Boston Globe, the Kennedys’ hometown newspaper)
(apparently, NBC News can’t either. See story below.)
(you absolutely, positively can’t make this stuff up, folks!)