Writer discusses reporting on doctor who treated Kennedy

Dr. Robert McClelland stood in a hectic Parkland Hospital’s trauma room as President John F. Kennedy lay on a cart in front of him after being shot in the head.

The halls of Parkland Hospital were filled with men in dark suits and hats. Jackie Kennedy’s baby pink Chanel suit was covered in her husband’s blood.

Kennedy’s head was bruised and suffused with blood where Lee Harvey Oswald’s fatal bullet struck.

McClelland prepared to hold Kennedy’s head in his hands.

That was November 22, 1963.

Two days later, McClelland had Oswald’s heart in his hands.

Forty-five years later, McClelland’s story was finally told by journalist Michael J. Mooney in the November 2008 edition of D Magazine.

“The Day Kennedy Died,” was the first story that told the JFK assassination through the eyes of the man who operated on both the assassin Oswald and the assassinated Kennedy.

Mooney, who at the time was a recent graduate of the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, received a call from his best friend.

His friend, then a medical student, had just met McClelland at a lecture.

“I felt so urgent, even though it had been forty years and I looked up and realized there hadn’t been a story,” Mooney said. “ Not [a] magazine story. Not even a newspaper story. I had to do something. He’s going to die or someone else is going to find him. Something else would happen. I knew it was a good story.”

McClelland received a handwritten letter from Mooney inquiring about an interview. McClelland invited him for an interview.

At that point, Mooney spent three weeks reading documents, researching medical terms, reporting and writing the story.

The year before, Mooney had entered a story about a strip club into The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference and won second place.

He entered “The Day Kennedy Died” in the competition the following year. He didn’t even place in the top 10.

Then the story was published in verbatim. And then picked for Best American Crime Reporting.

The story of the man who held Kennedy’s head in his hands and massaged the heart of Oswald is just one example of Mooney’s off the beaten path reporting.

The 32-year-old D Magazine writer has written stories on everything from a former Harvard art professor who wanders up and down the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. strip drawing crayon sketches to a man who had rolled a nearly impossible feat of an 899 out of 300 bowling game.

“He doesn’t shut off about ideas,” D Magazine Senior Editor Zac Crain said. “He just kept talking about this bowling story from this clip in the Morning News. And it was so much more than I imagined.”

Mooney juggles multiple stories at a time, preferring to work in solitude in the attic of his Oak Cliff home.

Mooney, who often has people ask him if he is on “Duck Dynasty,” entered the graduate program at Mayborn with an English degree.

“I was impressed at the vast knowledge of nonfiction litierature he had,” Mayborn writer-in-residence and Mooney’s former professor George Getschow said. “ To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader.”

Mooney’s stories are often recognizable because of his attention to detail that doesn’t overwhelm the reader.

“He is able to have detailed imagery and keep the story’s perspective,” Crain said. “ I think that’s why he has been successful. Some people do one or the other. He does both.”

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