Sammons lecture hosts JFK-era journalists

From Left to Right: Hugh Aynesworth, S. Griffin Singer, Darwin Payne and Bob Huffaker. (BEN OHENE / The Daily Campus)” height=”433

It was the first time in its 14 years as a program at SMU, that the Rosine Sammons Lecture in Media Ethics was led by not one, but four of some of the best journalists to have worked in Dallas.

Hugh Aynesworth, S. Griffin Singer, Darwin Payne and Bob Huffaker were all reporting in Dallas in 1963 when former President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Not only a pivotal moment in history, but also an event that marked the turning point for media coverage in the United States. “All have observed the changes in media since the assassination,” said Tony Pederson, Belo Foundation Distinguished Chair endowed in Journalism at SMU.

The lecture, was held at 8 p.m. in Caruth Auditorium at Meadows School of the Arts. Aynesworth, who led the conversation, asked each reporter to describe how they dealt with the news the moment of, and directly following the assassination. They discussed the difficulty of reporting with limited technology available, especially as it concerned communication. “The payphone may be a museum item now, but they were very important to us back then,” Griffin said.

Later that evening, when reporters clamored to get a look at assassin Lee Harvey Oswald being escorted to the county jail, Huffaker filmed the first murder on CBS television. It was competitive and was one of the first times that a need for live broadcasting was highlighted. Until that point, all filmed events were scheduled ahead of time, and reporters never needed to broadcast at a moment’s notice. Griffin described it as a “dog-eat-dog environment.”

When Jack Ruby lunged at Oswald and fired his gun, Huffaker said he was shoved to the ground and struggled with the large equipment brought around by the cameramen.

“The print media was standing around and getting hit by all that stuff you had,”
Huffaker said.

As well as reporting on the assassination, each followed up with detailed investigative work of their own, leaving a legacy for those still researching the assassination. Ayensworth published the “Oswald Diaries,” as well as interviewed Marina Oswald, the assassin’s wife. Payne also interviewed Marina, and wrote a story on Jack Ruby.

According to Ayensworth, when Marina Oswald was asked in an interview whether it all would have turned out differently if she had accepted her husband instead of refusing to take him back, she stated, “I agree.”

However, the assassination was a time of sorrow for Dallas and the nation, and Huffaker said it brought a certain seriousness to all journalists working on it. Describing the scene at Parkland Hospital, as Dallas-ites gathered to pay their respects he said, “It was like being transported into a nightmare that would not end.”

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