Back when a 'scoop' was everything

Back when a 'scoop' was everything
Former United States President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jackie Kennedy.

For a life-long print journalist, it was fascinating to read some of the long-forgotten stories and recollections of the American wire service reporters who covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas half a century ago.

Fascinating and also rather depressing. It spoke of a golden age when we dictated our stories from cramped phone boxes, when the news went out on clattering teletype machines - and when getting it first was everything.

The killing of JFK had it all when it came to the bitter rivalry that had long existed between legendary United Press International (UPI) White House correspondent Merriman Smith and Associated Press (AP) political writer Jack Bell.

Smith, who turned 50 on that fateful day, was a relentless reporter's reporter. Bell, 59, had left the hard grind of spot-news reporting for the less stressful sinecure of thoughtful analysis.

They and a third newsman were in the Press pool car, uniquely equipped with a radio-telephone, which trailed about 80m behind the presidential motorcade as it entered Dallas' Dealey Plaza at 12.30pm on Nov 22, 1963.

"Suddenly we heard three loud, almost painfully loud cracks," Smith, a gun enthusiast, later recalled. "The first sounded as if it might have been a large firecracker. But the second and third blasts were unmistakable. Gunfire."

A tussle developed for the phone. Smith won because he was in the front seat. He grabbed the radio-telephone next to him and pitched forward under the dashboard, already calling in a news flash as Bell hammered him on the back with his fists.

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