50 years

JFK_limousineBetween the commemorative magazines at grocery checkouts evoking “Camelot” and the early-bird TV specials – JFK: The Smoking Gun, Killing Kennedy and Capturing Oswald, to name just three– it’s hard to miss the fact that the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is fast approaching. By midnight on November 22, there will have been more than 20 newly produced assassination specials, including a History Channel offering that promises to be “definitive.”

For those of us at the Peabody Awards and the Peabody Awards Collection, it’s tempting to yawn and say, “Been there, archived that.”

The collection, housing most everything ever entered in the Peabody competition, includes more than 100 videos related to Kennedy, his administration and/or the assassination. This includes news reports, documentaries and movies, as well as retrospectives produced for the 10th, 25th and 35th anniversaries of that day of infamy.

We’re going to screen one of the programs, a 1988 documentary titled JFK: A Time Remembered, at 3 p.m. on Friday, November 22, in the auditorium of UGA’s Russell Special Collections Library, 300 Hull Street.

Come on down. It’s free, open to the general public, and will be followed by a Peabody/Willson Center for Humanities and Arts roundtable discussion about the historical and political impact of Kennedy’s murder. Panelists will include Janice Hume, chair of the University of Georgia’s journalism school, UGA law professor Donald Wilkes and UGA history professor Trey Hood.

Hume, author of Journalism and a Culture of Grief, studies the relationship between American journalism and collective memory. Hood’s research interests include southern politics and gun control policies. Wilkes has written more than 30 articles about the Kennedy assassination

A Time Remembered was written and directed by Mark Obenhaus. Originally televised by PBS, it deftly combines film footage that has become iconic – the ill-fated motorcade in Dallas, the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, his subsequent live-on-national-TV assassination by Jack Ruby – with recollections by journalists and Kennedy administration figures. They include Lawrence O’Brien, Dave Powers, McGeorge Bundy, CBS News’ Dan Rather and The New York Times’ Tom Wicker.

It was chosen for the Peabody/Willson forum because it’s quite powerful but also because it’s quite compact – a one-hour overview. Other archived programs about Kennedy are narrower in focus or run for multiple hours.

The more devout/insatiable JFK buffs and conspiracy theorists thus might consider some do-it-yourself screenings, taking advantage of Kennedy-related programs on file in the media department at UGA’s main library. They can’t be checked out and taken home, but it is possible to view VHS copies on-site.

Rarities and contrarities include:

  • Both Sides Now: John F. Kennedy Assassination – a 1975 edition of comedian Mort Sahl’s local, Los Angeles talk show on KCOP-TV devoted to the “growing controversy” about the murder and the Warren Commission findings.
  • JFK: An Unsolved Murder – a 1988 documentary, long on skepticism, by reporter Sylvia Chase and producer Stanhope Gould of San Francisco’s KRON-TV.
  • Four Days in November – a 1988 prime-time special in which CBS News condensed its 53 hours of live 1963 coverage to two hours.
  • JFK: The Dallas Tapes – a 1998 documentary that Dallas station KDFW gleaned from revisiting the local media’s original TV and radio reports.

To see what else is available, go to http://peabodyawards.com/peabody-awards-collection/ and a search the key words “JFK” or “Kennedy assassination.” If the notation for an archived program says there’s an “analog” copy available, it’s in the main UGA library.

By the way, while none of the shows mentioned won a Peabody, the board in the spring of 1964 voted an award to the entire U.S. broadcasting industry for its unprecedented, drop-everything coverage that began the afternoon of the 22nd with CBS’s Walter Cronkite interrupting As the World Turns. It’s the only time in the Peabody program’s history that such an aggregate award has been given.

“America and the world were stunned by the shock of the assassination of our President,” the board’s citation says. “At this time of critical, national transition, broadcasters throughout this land quickly rose to fulfill their noble responsibility of public service. For giving all Americans and our friends abroad continuous, mature, sensitive, and non-commercial coverage of this tragic period of American history, the broadcasting industry, the men and women of radio and television, and particularly the networks, merit a special Peabody Award for dedicated and enduring service to the public interest.”

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Image: Picture of President Kennedy in the limousine in Dallas, Texas, on Main Street, minutes before the assassination by Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News via Wikipedia (public domain) from the Penn Jones Photographs, Baylor University Collections of Political Materials. Waco, Texas.
Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.