The assassination of President John F. Kennedy forced television news to come of age, along with its reporters … including Tom Brokaw.
The veteran journalist puts his perspective on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, and its aftermath as the new NBC special “Where Were You: The Day JFK Died Reported by Tom Brokaw” airs – fittingly – on Friday, Nov. 22. People from various walks of life, some famous (Dan Rather, Steven Spielberg, etc.) and others not, discuss their memories of that day and the impact of losing Kennedy and his intentions for the U.S.
“We kept encountering the dilemmas of 50 years later,” Brokaw admits to Zap2it of planning the special. “What is it that younger audiences want and need to know, and what are older audiences that were alive at the time looking for? And what more do we know now that we didn’t know then? That’s a big, big piece of this, but we try to make ‘Where were you?’ the continuing theme throughout the broadcast.”
Indeed, as virtually every American alive then does, Brokaw remembers where he was when the news from Dallas first came.
“I was in Omaha, and I put it on the air there because the network was dark. They gave back an hour at noon to stations for local programming, and there was a garden show on. I was in the newsroom, and I ran downstairs and read the initial bulletins over the garden show. It was a time of some chaos, as you might imagine.”
Brokaw also reflects on covering the story in his foreword to the companion book “Where Were You? America Remembers the JFK Assassination,” compiled and edited by Gus Russo and longtime “60 Minutes” producer Harry Moses.
Also included in the Brokaw special are glimpses of the actual NBC News coverage from that day, which was largely anchored by Chet Huntley and Frank McGee and reported by Robert MacNeil (who had been in the Dallas motorcade). As Brokaw notes, the echoes continue to linger a full half-century later.
“I guess the biggest surprise for me,” he says, “is the hold that day still has on us, and the hold [Kennedy] still has on us. We’re still working our way through that.”