Roundtable: JFK Assassination Changed TV Forever; Mayoral Race Presents Real Choice
November 22, 2013 1:11 p.m.
Bob Laurence, San Diego Media Writer
David Rolland, San Diego CityBeat
Sandhya Dirks, KPBS News
MARK SAUER: I am your host Mark Sauer and KPBS Roundtable starts now. Welcome it's Friday, November 22. Joining me today are Robert Lawrence, Dave Roland and Sandhya Dirks. Those of us who were around fifty years ago today, we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got the news that John F. Kennedy had it been shot in Dallas. Then came the second newsflash that the president was dead. There was of course shock and around-the-clock media coverage. Bob, we will start with you. Where were you on that fateful day? I happened to be at St. Mary's school in Detroit.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: I was at San Francisco State College. My roommate and I had a house by the beach and in the morning I had left to go to school - to go to class - and I was on my way to catch the streetcar when I remembered I forgot something at the house. I don't remember what that was that I forgot. I walked back to the house, and my roommate was bent over the radio listening to the news and that is what the news that he was listening to. That is when I found out. We did not have a TV set. Eventually, we left the house and went somewhere else where there was a TV set and I don't even remember where we went.
MARK SAUER: Those of us who remembered, this fiftieth anniversary ñ I know seeing all of the coverage this week I can actually feel that same sadness at that time again.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: You can't help but feel that. The reminders are everywhere. You can remember everything you thought about him and what you thought about at the time and it all comes back.
MARK SAUER: David's idea, and Sandhya, this is certainly one of the most one of the major events of the Twentieth Century. How do you perceive this?
DAVE ROLAND: To me it's John F. Kennedy, when you come around after the fact I was born during the Johnson administration and have no recollection of it in his time. My first political recollections were of the '72 election with Nixon and McGovern. It takes on a legendary mythic quality to it. It felt like it was further back in history than it actually was. It was not that long ago. I was born nine months after it happened.
MARK SAUER: Maybe the memory that we have seeing people would be in FDR's funeral.
DAVE ROLAND: And to me you may play a little later in the show, Cronkite and his famous iconic announcement of Kennedy's death ñ that and the film of the motorcade. Those were the two real iconic images.
MARK SAUER: Before we get to this idea, this would be a good time to take a look at Walter Cronkite and see what he said that moment that famous moment TV history.
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MARK SAUER: Sandhya, that is obviously not a memory for you. That is something that you have seen but what is your impression of this?
SANDHYA DIRKS: All of this comes attached with the world of history the greater mythos than one can't put words to. It's something that you see over and over again and I have seen that announcement and have seen their films and it all becomes tangled up in the media representations that passed on throughout the generations and morphed until they become an untouchable moment in time.
MARK SAUER: Impressions, not actually memories. Let's shift and talk about the assassination and the coverage that we saw. All the networks ñ three networks at the time went to around the clock coverage. Tell us about that time and what that meant in terms of TV news coming-of-age.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: A footnote, this was not the first time something like this happened and there's was this kind of coverage. The Kathy Fiscus story was the first time this really happened with twenty-four hour news coverage. She was a three-year-old girl who fell into a wellshaft in San Marino. KTLA Los Angeles covered that story and stayed with it twenty-four hours ñ there is about 10,000 people gathered around watching this event. KTLA 5 stayed with that story throughout until it was determined that she was died. That was the seminal event that showed what TV could do.
MARK SAUER: But back then relatively nobody watched TV.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: Not that many people even had TV sets. But KTLA established itself as the place to go for live coverage of this.
MARK SAUER: And with Kennedy they suspended commercials for days.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: Right. I've heard different places that TV came of age that day that changed TV forever and transformed television news. All of those things are true and Dan Rather said that this is when TV became the national hearth where people gathered to understand what was going on. I think it was the time that TV proved itself and proved that we could do this and that from now on TV was the big player in news coverage and particularly for live events.
MARK SAUER: Here's something we both remember, I watched this with my sisters and mother and father through the whole weekend and one of the most amazing things that whole time was the clip that we're about to show which was a man murdered on live TV. Let's take a look at this.
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MARK SAUER: That is ñ I looked at my sisters and said did we just see a man get shot in front of us?
ROBERT LAWRENCE: We did and it was, it was hard to describe because we were already shocked that the president had been shot. And this is basically the first perp walk. The TV and police in Dallas were marching Lee Harvey Oswald out for the benefit of the television cameras and the people. He was being taken from one facility to another. And, obviously the Dallas police did not take enough attention to security and Jack Ruby got in and jumped in front of the camera and I remember seeing that vividly that this figure jumped in front of the camera and you heard gunshots and saw Lee Harvey Oswald die. The magnified the shock that were already in.
SANDHYA DIRKS: Even today it's not like live murders on television are all that common.
DAVE ROLAND: Even with coverage of wars it is so carefully regulated that you're not going to see people dying in combat but I can imagine, people today won't feel it as shocking because you might expect it with the ubiquity of cameras everywhere.
MARK SAUER: I want to shift gears to the citizen journalist aspect of this story. Let us take a look at this clip versus the video. Okay, for radio folks it's the iconic image for this. Let's talk about that, today what would happen if you had the president in an open limousine going to Plaza in that big city?
ROBERT LAWRENCE: The public would sit around and everyone around has their iPhone up, photographing the event. This weird thing to me is that Mister Zapruder was the only one there with a TV camera. The home movies were not that rare at the time. It was unusual but not really where. With the crowd gathered to you and expect more people have one. He was a man who owned a business manufacturing women's clothing and his office was across the street from where the parade was going by and he was going to go and watch the parade and watch the president go by, his secretary urged him to go home and get his movie camera. He was not planning on doing that. And so he went home and got a movie camera and shot the film and he knew what he had and he got in touch with the local television reporter and they eventually made for copies of the film. Two copies went to the Secret Service and one he sold to Life magazine and one he kept. He sold it to Life magazine for $150,000 and he gave 25,000 to the widow of the police officer was shot. They give that to his widow and after he made the deal with Life magazine, he had second thoughts about it and made them agree that a single frame to not be shown ñ the bloodiest frame that showed that presidents head blown apart that that would not be shown. The film it shows itself was not shown publicly for many years after that. About a dozen years after. Life ran a series of stills from the shooting.
SANDHYA DIRKS: Talk about the difference between then and now. Whether it's with an iPhone or camera and it would be in the news in seconds.
DAVE ROLAND: They would post an update to YouTube.
ROBERT LAWRENCE: Before we leave this I think ironically so much is being observed on the Internet after and that time it was just television proving itself. The other thing I want to inform people of is that right now on CBS news.com there is the streaming of the entire coverage of the weekend in black and white. And I was watching it this morning. For the first twenty minutes of so you'd all you saw was a card on the scene screen saying CBS news bulletin. It was sometime after that that they went live and had the picture up.
MARK SAUER: We're going to shift and turn to the big San Diego story this week the race to replace Bob Filner. What a finish it was. David Alvarez came thundering up on the outside of the campaign to overtake his stomach fellow Democrat Nathan Fletcher. It was long clear that Faulconer had a clear chance in the runoff. Then David Alvarez turned into a viable candidate in a number of weeks. Sandhya, let's talk about this.
SANDHYA DIRKS: I spent a lot of time with him. Alvarez Is a native son of San Diego. He is thirty-three years old and has been on the Council for four years. He paints himself as is the community of activists from a young age transformed by the realization that the neighborhood that you lived in was basically suffering from environmental injustice and that spurred him on to become an activist and he went to SDSU and he wanted to be a mathematician. At some point he found calculus and said that train was done.
MARK SAUER: But he can count votes now!
SANDHYA DIRKS: He can count district votes and was able to do so in a way that reflected the fact that he had an edge in the Democratic side of this race.
MARK SAUER: Dave, your segment had a bad taste of this. It was kind of a hold your nose and vote, smelly in your theme in your headline, tell us why you think it was such a smelly campaign.
DAVE ROLAND: That was a little overreaction on our part. I get disgusted at election time. It's just the amount of mailers and robo-calls that we would get and I find it very distasteful when a group like Lincoln club of San Diego County a very conservative conservative group is calling Democrats or liberals and basically warning them about how conservative Nathan Fletcher is. I find that very distasteful. The phony Karl Rove voice and mailers with Nathan Fletcher making off with the big giant Santa Claus sack with dollar signs on it like he's stealing people's money, which is nuts. I'm disgusted by it.
SANDHYA DIRKS: This campaign got really nasty towards the end. There's a lot of money put into negative campaigning and a lot of it was aimed directly at Nathan Fletcher. It was really very distasteful, distasteful in terms of watching it go very negative. There's so much on the candidates and on Fletcher and all of them. I think that is in some way of legacy of what happened in the summer of scandal with Filner that all of them wanted to know everything. We wanted to know their favorite color, what they had for breakfast, and what their great point average was.
MARK SAUER: The media didn't want to be accused of protecting someone!
SANDHYA DIRKS: Over-the-top in the terms of the pendulum swing of over sharing what the candidates were going through and all of these debates that they had. There's some sort of reaction that happened during Filner in the media that there is a discovery made that may be caused a slight overreaction and overcorrection.
MARK SAUER: Looks certainly one filter was stepping aside that we're going to have a special election that Nathan Fletcher seemed to be a shoe in. Yet the recognition and he was not far behind last year and in the 2012 race and he fell behind now. Scott Lewis at the voice of San Diego has an interesting take on the labor unions here. You buy that? Side up with anybody but Fletcher?
DAVE ROLAND: I'd think what he wrote was essentially the truth, there was a rift among labor folks and Mickey was the guy that you're talking about he is the head of the grocery workers union. The largest one and I believe he is the president of the labor Council of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Lorena Gonzales, the former CEO of the labor Council famously got out very early and endorsed Nathan Fletcher which irritated a lot of folks in the labor community, the story goes that Mickey went out and recruited Alvarez to run and Nathan Fletcher as he say, he really is the major narrative of this last two elections together. I hate to say that a candidate for political office could be a victim of any kind, but he's a victim of circumstances.
MARK SAUER: And he got squeezed here.
DAVE ROLAND: He got squeezed in the first election between Bob Filner and Carl DeMaio and that kind of compelled him to switch parties.
MARK SAUER: Maybe will see him out there as a sandwich board as he keeps getting caught between two pieces of bread here.
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MARK SAUER: We have two-man race now and we have the holidays coming up here, are we going to have a breather here? Or is this going to be a sprint through New Years into February?
SANDHYA DIRKS: Please. I think that there will be a little bit of a break. We all need a breather here. One of the things that both campaigns are aware of his election fatigue. We've been going nonstop with elections for over a year now and through the summer with the scandal. So I think that there will be a bit of a break and will be a bit of a regrouping and I'm sure there will be a bit of recalibrating, because for Faulconer's side of the Lincoln club and those are supporting Fletcher, they're gonna have to take a different game of supporting Alvarez. There will be a pause but any mode that can change and something else could happen but do expect it to get heated again and there will be more money put into this race and if the sort of primary lap, if you will, if that is any indication of what will happen is going to get nasty and it will be an interesting race.
MARK SAUER: Faulconer able to send back watch the first fly as Alvarez and Fletcher duke it out. Let's hear what Alvarez had to say following the results.
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MARK SAUER: Bob what do you think?
ROBERT LAWRENCE: I'm wondering if this is a good subject but I am going to bring it up. Alvarez is the last name and is this going to help him? If I were him I would buy as much time as I could as on Spanish-language radio and television. If he could say was split the angle of the vote with Faulconer and sweep the Spanish-speaking vote he could get it.
MARK SAUER: That would be historic to the first Hispanic mayor of the city.
DAVE ROLAND: He has a lot of work to do in the communities that are north of Interstate 8. Nobody up there knows who he is.
MARK SAUER: And a short time to do it.
DAVE ROLAND: To vote more conservative, he has not been around that long and he is a liberal Democrat and he has a lot of work to do there. What I am looking for in this election is that it will be a another low turnout election it's the only thing on the ballot.
MARK SAUER: Surprisingly it still made 40%.
DAVE ROLAND: But in any case it's going to come down who can to who can energize supporters the most get them to the polls, and the other thing is as you say, Faulconer got to sit back and got the first fly through the election. Nathan Fletcher was the target here and a little bit on Alvarez but Fletcher was assumed to be the leading vote getter and that will not be the case.
MARK SAUER: Let's run out here and hear what Faulconer had to say.
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MARK SAUER: Not about partisanship that was a theme of his. The big point here, is this going to attract some national press? We have what has happened demographically an arising Hispanic candidate and a middle-aged Republican, a very stark contrast. Do you think New York Times will analyze that?
SANDHYA DIRKS: Who knows if that will happen but we can say that is a microcosm of something that is a larger type of trend and is very interesting because you do have two candidates who are very opposed and they are very different pure one represents a establishment and the plastic past and the other one represents something sort of new and different and he's Latino and there is going to be away in rich this is about the soul and the future of San Diego and if Fletcher was a metaphor for it was a metaphor for a city that was going from Republican to Democrat, the weight of the city is trending, these two are the other issues about that records since the greater struggle of the city.
MARK SAUER: Some of the issues that these guys will be tackling?
DAVE ROLAND: Faulconer does not want you to know that he is a Republican. Because to back to what city is saying but he does want you to know that that he is believing in a limited government and that is his big thank you trying to save taxpayer money where he can outsource city functions to the private sector where it would be may be more efficient. That is his big thing and limited government but I don't want everyone to know I'm a Republican because this city is pretty heavily Democrat.
MARK SAUER: And Alvarez is the other way.
SANDHYA DIRKS: And Faulconer said he was going to run and you can't just run as a Republican in San Diego because the numbers are not there. Has he talked of his support? Can Alvarez pull out enough of his demographic base to keep him at that top level?
MARK SAUER: We will have to leave it there. Thank you that was a great discussion and that wraps up another week of stories of the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to thank my guests and a reminder all of our stories today are available on our website today. I am Mark Sauer, Senior News Editor at KPBS thank you for joining us today at the Roundtable.