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Covering The Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory


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Am reading a fascinating book (both for what it reveals and obscures) called Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the media and the shaping of Collective Memory by Barbie Zelizer. She wrote this book at Temple University but has since moved onto what I think is the most influencial Journalism School in the Country now, the Annenberg School for Communications at Penn. Reading this book, one is left with little doubt as to why this one had to be moved up quick!

This book goes a long way towards explaining why Journalists have been successful in cornering the market on the JFK assassination, at the expense of historians.

She analyzes the assassination weekend as a whole and her basic points are:

1. The assassination coverage was the single most important event that legitiamed Television Newscoverage.

2. This coverage was had some very serious problems

3. These shortcomings were compensated for by

A) "Synecdoche-- the narrative stategy by which the part

'stands in' for the whole-- " which "allowed journalists to borrow the authority accrued from having

covered certain events and apply it to events they did not experience"

1. The "certain events" covered well were the Oswald Killing, the swearing in and the Funeral.

2. The "events they did not experience" would be the shooting itself

;) Omission-- by this Zeilizer means things that were commented on in the media and in journalism

trade publications shortly after the assassination, but were gradually dropped util they are rarely

mentioned anymore in legitimizing narratives.

1. e.g. local reporters excluded a the expense of national reporters. (Eddie Barker, a CBS

affiliate employee, is forgotten in favor of Dan Rather in being cited at the first to announce

that Kennedy was dead.

2. In the year after the assassination there was a lot of discussion in the press and in the

professional journals of the media's culpability in judging Oswald, and even inadvertently

enabeling his killing by cluttering the crime scene. Zelizer claims that this was entirely

dropped as the years passed in favor of self-congratulatory media rhetoric.

C) personalization-- Zelizer writes that the coverage of the Assassination was characterized by an

unusual degree of personalization by the journalist involved, who mentioned thier

personal reactions and feelings as if they were inseparable form the story itself. She

then concludes:

Personalization thus allowed media institutions to invoke the experiences of certain

journalists as legitimate reconstructions of the assassination story. But by postiioning

themselves in the narrative through personal experience. journalists sidestepped the

possibility that working from afar might be considered a flawed way to cover the

assassination weekend. The fact that personalized narrative was held up by news

organizations as a legitimate way to recollect the assassination story reinforced its

importance. Wittingly or not, it also set up a credible framework by which to legitimate

certain journalists as narrators of the assassination story, regardless of thier actual

role in covering it.

Zelizer clearly points out that the press bus missed the shots, and may have been somewhat jealous

of amateurs who hadn't.

Has anyone else read this book? It is considered a book on media and journalism more than the

assassination. Often its professional rhetoric is off-puting (she sure does like the word "discourse"!).

Yet this use of an isolating, professional discourse may, in itself, reveal an agenda: while admitting very

serious flaws in the assassination coverage Zelizer's book can be read as a way of airing dirty laundry

"in house" professionally, in a manner we have come to expect(orate) from America's uppity scribes!

More later. Lots here almost all of the sung, and unsung journalists in Dallas.

Edited by Nathaniel Heidenheimer
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You wrote:

"what I think is the most influencial Journalism School in the Country now, the Annenberg School for Communications at Penn."

Are you aware that BOTH schools of that name (Penn and USC) are closely tied

to the CIA?

To check this, simply google "CIA Annenberg". Annenberg himself (TV Guide

publisher) had CIA ties.

Jack

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You wrote:

"what I think is the most influencial Journalism School in the Country now, the Annenberg School for Communications at Penn."

Are you aware that BOTH schools of that name (Penn and USC) are closely tied

to the CIA?

To check this, simply google "CIA Annenberg". Annenberg himself (TV Guide

publisher) had CIA ties.

Jack

JACK,I did not realize they were at USC also, unitl I was googling the one at Penn. There is perhaps no Agency chat I'd be more interested in anywhere.. than that which goes on in Annenberg. I think the relationships between the CIA and J-Schools is something we should all know a lot more about. I know Bill has some usefull info on this front. Any chance of you or Bill making a thread on Cold War Journalism Schools and the CIA? It could probably save me a lot of reasearch.

ON MERIMAN'S ROLE IN MEIDA LEGITIMATION OF THREE SHOT SEQUENCE:

"During the shooting, Merriman Smith of (UPI) was seated in the same pool car as Bell.

LIKE BELL HE DID NOT SEE THE EVENT BUT DID HEAR THE SHOTS(my emph) Over the

pool cars radiophone...

(one journalists perception (rendition?) becomes socialized to a bussload of reporters under pressure, because, well they were in Dallas and got scooped by dressmaker in the Hit of the American Century. Even if you believe he was advanced dressmaker, try to imagine what these reporters were feeling, when they missed the shots because they were three vehicles (and a turn?) behind. Might they have professional motive for trusing Smith's perception(rendition?)

... he reported that "three shots were fired at President kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas'

Seeing but not knowing, hearing but not seeing, neither seeing nor hearing: such were the

foundations on which journalists built thier accounts of the event. As William Manchester later

said of Smith: Smith was not as astute a reporter as he seemed. Despite extensive experience

with weapons, he had thought the sounds in the plaza were three shots form an automatic

weapon, and in a subsequent message he identified them as bursts...

Note that bursts is an obsucure term in terms of number of bullets. This is different from the "three shots

were fired we are told he said over the "car's radiophone" (agreed that I dont know exactly what this means)

... But his speed was remarkable" Initial reports of th assassination, while rapidly transmitted,

thus dusplayed partial knowledge (Covering The Body, Zelizer, pp. 53-54)

Smith is later selected ( in an interestingly indirect (or directly in order to make it seem direct) manner

to be one of the three journalists with a shot of covering the Swearing In ceremony at the airport. Zelizer

describes Johnson's swearing-in as

one of the few times during the assassination weekend when journalists played an officially

recognized role as eyewitnesses. Three journalists agreed to serve as the press pool.

Merriman Smith of UPI said 'Jiggs Fauver(thread?) of the Whitehouse transportation office

grabbed me and said (Malcolm) Kilduff...

Former navy something, burried at Arlington after dying in 2003, Malcolm Kilduff served as Acting press

secretary for the Dallas trip. It was his first time as acting press secretary outside of DC. Check out how he

describes telling Johnson that Kennedy was dead, just minutes before telling the press:"I just gave my best shot, and I called him 'Mr. President,'" Kilduff recalled in 1988 for an Associated Press article marking the 25th anniversary of the assassination. "Lady Bird kind of screamed. ... She realized what I was saying." No

mention of Lyndon's reaction. Seem a bit odd? Maybe if you go by sound Ladybird was louder, but I still think the bearer of such news whould be focussed on something a little more newsworthy... or news-proof.

The Arlington Cemetary site claims that after informing Johnson about his new job in the above maner typed above "Fearing a widespread plot against other top-ranking officials, Johnson ordered Kilduff to withhold the announcement of Kennedy's death until Johnson was safely aboard Air Force One." Perhaps protesting too much(?) the Arlington site continues, " Kilduff's place in the assassination story came only by chance.

wanted a pool of three men immediately to fly back to Washington on Air Force One, the

Presidential Aircraft..... Down the stairs I ran and into the driveway, only to dicover Kilduff

had just pulled out in our telephone car. Charles Roberts ( of Newsweek) Sid Davis ( of

Westinghouse Broudcasting) and I implored a police officer to take us to the airport in his

squadcar' Davis went aboard the plane to cover the swearing in but did not return to

Washington. He INSTEAD SUPPLIED POOP COVERAGE OF THE EVENT TO A BUSLOAD OF

REPORTERS WHO ARRIVED AS THE PLANE TOOK OFF (my emphasis) (p. 57)

Without in anyway highlighting it, Zelizer has thus described two situtions in which one reporters narrative

is thus structurally ( and in perhaps a premeditaded manner?) transformed into a proclamation to buslaods

of reporters:

Said one reporter, "I shall not soon forget the picture in my mind, that man (Davis) standing

on the Trunk of a white car, his figure etched against the blue, blue Texas sky, all os us

massed around him at his knees as he told us of what had happened in that Crowded compartment

in Air Force One" (P. 57)

Note the way this journalist recalls the situation as if it had been sculpted like a rite of passage or some

party like at the end of Eyes Wide Shut ( frigin masterpiece, dont believe the idiot critics, but you have to see it on the big screen, or you will agree with the critics.)

Meanwhile BACK TO THE THREAD TOPIC MERRIMAN OF UPI

Shortly after the assassination in the professional journals, Merriman was "castigated for what they saw

as his selctive memory of what had happened. In (Mark) Lane's words, Smith "had been awarded the

Pulitzer Prize for his eyewitness reporting of the assassination. If ever one wishes t develop an agrument

against such awards, one need merely reread the Smith dispatches from Dallas in the light of the facts

now known, making allowances for the fact that standards which an historian might be expected to adhere to cannot be applied to a reporter" (p. 108)

Edited by Nathaniel Heidenheimer
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You wrote:

"what I think is the most influencial Journalism School in the Country now, the Annenberg School for Communications at Penn."

Are you aware that BOTH schools of that name (Penn and USC) are closely tied

to the CIA?

To check this, simply google "CIA Annenberg". Annenberg himself (TV Guide

publisher) had CIA ties.

Jack

JACK,I did not realize they were at USC also, unitl I was googling the one at Penn. There is perhaps no Agency chat I'd be more interested in anywhere.. than that which goes on in Annenberg. I think the relationships between the CIA and J-Schools is something we should all know a lot more about. I know Bill has some usefull info on this front. Any chance of you or Bill making a thread on Cold War Journalism Schools and the CIA? It could probably save me a lot of reasearch.

The only J school I know lots about is the one I graduated from. TCU.

Journalism is now the third largest major at TCU, and recently the

university named the J school for its most famous graduate, Bob Schieffer

of CBS. Schieffer is also now on the university board of trustees.

The J school is highly ranked nationally, and has more than 500 students

enrolled and is growing. Its growing reputation is partly based on its

ability to find jobs for grads with grades better than C. This causes more

applications for a J major than there are places available. J students

benefit from publishing a DAILY NEWSPAPER, one of few schools that

do this. The paper annually has been named All-American for many

years...a coveted award nationally.

I can pretty much guarantee that TCU is not connected to the CIA.

Jack

Edited by Jack White
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