How President Kennedy Changed Televison


One of the most interesting articles in the Sunday newspaper.

KENNEDY

And the nation was transfixed. Following the White House confirmation of Kennedy’s death, nearly half of all the country’s TV homes were in use. A few hours later, nearly two-thirds of all TV homes were tuned in. And on Monday afternoon, during the funeral coverage, viewers in 81 percent of the nation’s homes had their eyes glued to the screen, according to Nielsen.

This upended a world where people still got most of their news from print, when newsreels still accompanied the features at movie theaters.

“It was the coming of age of television news,” says Dan Rather, who was in Dallas to coordinate CBS’ coverage of a political visit by the president that was expected to produce little actual news.

“Television intensified all the emotions of those four days. It intensified the shock and horror of the murder, and then the murder of the murderer,” Caro says, referring to Lee Harvey Oswald’s slaying. “It intensified the grief and the mourning and the mystery. And it intensified the healing process of the funeral ceremonies.”

But TV also assisted with a seldom-recognized part of the transition process, Caro adds: It reintroduced a man who for three years toiled in the margins — Johnson, Kennedy’s vice president — as he was summoned to command at a crisis point of trauma and alarm.

Says Caro, “You have to recognize the relationship of television not only to the dead president, but also to the new president taking over — his reassuring, calming effect on the public because of his demeanor.”

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