Fifty Years and a Day

During this, 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, many people have been giving spin and perspective.  Some of it has been predictable, some, outrageous. 

It has been a special gift to turn my internet feed onto my television screen and experience the news and programming of CBS from 50 years ago, a time when I was far to young to really remember much  of it.

CBS News has been running a non-stop feed of their televised coverage of 50 years ago, on the event and after of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  

As I type this blogpost, CBS has ended the feed and will begin again at 9am ET on Sunday, November 24, 2013.

It is fascinating to see the perspective of journalists (pretty much all men) on the rough draft of history they were wrestling with.  A concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra hastily recorded by CBS on videotape with Eugene Ormandy conducting, Bass-Baritone McHenry Boatwright, Soprano Phyllis Curtin, and the Rutgers University Chorus performing the Brahms German Requiem. Those were different times, but not too different from now, really.    

And then, the closing for tonight. A brief essay by Harry Reasoner.   I heard it and knew I had to find it in writing - which I did, thanks to the 2007 book about Mr. Reasoner by Douglass K. Daniel, “A Life In the News.” It is well indexed and footnoted.

Here, as cited in footnote 26 of chapter five, Mr. Reasoner’s closing remarks of tonight’s broadcast (Script dated November 23, 1963.).  

On tonight’s rebroadcast of November 23, 1963, here is what Harry Reasoner said:

At the end of this second day of concentrated national grief and attention to one event, it may be time to stop for a moment and think about our own attitude. Introspection is proper in sorrow as it is at any time, because mourning—if it becomes a fixed and purposeless moan at the cruelty of fate—can be habit-forming.

In Norwalk, Ohio, today a fire burned up a home for the elderly, and about sixty-three old men and women died.

There is a way of thinking about our knowledge of God which might make you say that in His sight that event was sixty-three times as important as the death in Dallas. In the national attention those sixty-three have scarcely had a place. They get six inches of type in the Sunday edition of the New York Daily News, for instance, just above a little item about a man who stole some money from a department store. You might think that we are out of proportion, that the national dirge that fills these days is inappropriate. Either we should do more, mourn all the time for everybody, or maybe do less.

There were, for instance, some calls last night to CBS in New York from citizens complaining about missing their normal Friday night programs.

Our operators, I understand, were polite.

We are not out of proportion. We are not dishonoring the sixty-three old folks or the thousands of others who died yesterday and today and will die tonight and tomorrow. We are not God. We are a nation of men who tempt with honor and reward all kinds of men to serve us. When one is especially worthy, especially important to us, and becomes a sacrifice as well as a leader, it is entirely appropriate that we do him great honor. We are all dying and what we feel about John Kennedy is not so much sadness that he met his appointment a little sooner, but a gratitude and love for a man who would make that appointment for us.

There is only one reservation: It must not be a habit. When President Kennedy announced the quarantine of Cuba, one reporter suggested that what he wanted from his countrymen was intelligent support, not intoxicated belligerence. It seems likely that what this man would want from his martyrdom would be a considered dedication, not a pointless self-pity.

The CBS “Time Capsule” of real-time broadcasts will continue Sunday morning, November 24, 2013 at 9am ET.   I hope they keep those archives active for generations to come.   © Scott Hanley 2016