Mapping the American Century

Mediating the cold war

Televising the kennedy assassination

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 11, 1963, marked a black day in not just American history but maybe even in world history. No matter the tragedy, it also marked a turning point for television broadcasting. CBS and NBC, two of the major newscast companies, were two of the first to report on the attack. Television was merely in its elementary stage when it had to cover this event. The event was covered for over four days straight, sharing every bit of information, repeating and reanalyzing the event in detail. The American people at home were able to follow the event minute by minute from their own living rooms. The following clips are short fragments from the CBS and NBC news coverage announcing the President’s death. These fragments are iconic and showcase the very beginning of a certain media revolution. This event truly changed the position of television as a news medium.

In the midst of the storm

The particular fragment shown here is part of the ongoing coverage of the CBS network on the assassination of the American President. This clip shows different kinds of important aspects that helped shape the television medium as we know it today. Anchorman Walter Cronkite is continuously covering the event live from the editorial office, which was a unique and unprecedented situation. Normally, newscasts were filmed in a studio. This new scenery showed the hectic and dynamic side of news production; this has never been shown to the public before. However, as new information about the President’s condition became known, this was a more practical way of shooting it; the anchorman in the midst of the storm. Moreover, it adds something to the seriousness of the event as it emphasizes the fact that there was no time to really prepare a newscast. In the background, you see people walking, and you hear people talking. Shortly before the announcement, Cronkite gets the information handed to him. In this fragment, he is just informed about the death of the president. It shows the dynamic and improvised approach of the broadcast company.

Fragment 1: CBS NEWS, announcing President Kennedy’s death. PIDMR Documentaries. (2014, December 12). CBS Newsflash From Nov. 22nd 1963 Re: The JFK Assassination [Video]. YouTube,

Immediate Coverage

This second fragment from NBC news depicts the clumsy stage in which television was at the time. Seeing the anchorman holding a phone and repeating everything the correspondent is saying is not something we are used to when turning on the television today. However, this telephone communication was very effective and useful; it enabled the studio to share the information immediately with the audience. Until then, radio and newspapers were the primary sources to cover the news. The advantage television had compared to newspapers was that newspapers were always lagging behind. Unlike television and radio, papers needed time to create a product: they needed to be printed. This obstructed the possibility for the medium to communicate every new piece of information with the audience directly. Unlike the CBS fragment, this fragment was shot in the studio.

Fragment 2: NBC NEWS, announcing President Kennedy’s death. David Von Pein’s JFK Channel. (2017, June 29). NBC-TV Coverage of JFK’s Assassination on November 22, 1963 (6+ hours) [Video]. YouTube.