In radio and television stations across the country, thousands and thousands of hours of tape are slowly deteriorating. If they don’t get digitized soon, their contents will be gone. As Karen Cariani, director of WGBH’s library and archives told me, ”Video tape and audiotape is not a stable format. After 40 or 50 years, they are disintegrating. And the information—pictures, sounds on that physical medium—is disappearing. Unlike a piece of paper or a photograph that might last 100 years, media formats are extremely fragile.”
Unfortunately, that deterioration is all too apparent in the following, remarkable clip from WGBH. In it, we are treated to a conversation between two of the 20th century’s most remarkable figures, Eleanor Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, but it is marked by an audible, distracting buzzing throughout. As WGBH archives manager Keith Luf explained to me, “this is the result of a deterioration of the original video source tape to the extent that the two audio channels have begun to ‘bleed’ together as the tape begins to physically breakdown. Videotape was never intended to be permanent, and its decay does not discriminate on content, even if it is an historic meeting between JFK and Eleanor Roosevelt.”
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Last month marked the 50th anniversary of a bizarre day in history. Three men of significant importance each died on November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy, author Aldous Huxley, and author and scholar C.S. Lewis.
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Check out the set of combination photographs from the Atlantic Cities Blog on "The Places That Defined JFK’s Assassination, Then and Now."
Above: A combination picture shows (L) a handout photograph acquired from the Dallas Police Department John F. Kennedy Collection, described as showing Lee Harvey Oswald “holding a rifle in one hand and Communist newspapers in the other” in the backyard of 214 W. Neely Street in an undated photo believed to have been taken in 1963 in Dallas, Texas, and (R) the backyard of 214 West Neely Street in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, Texas photographed November 12, 2013. (REUTERS/Dallas Police Department/Dallas Municipal Archives/University of North Texas/Handout (L) and Adrees Latif (R))
Today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. In honor of him, here is a collection of The Atlantic’s coverage of Kennedy, his death, and what it meant to the country.
- John F. Kennedy, Eulogized: In February 1964, The Atlantic looked at Kennedy’s place in history.
- November 22, 1963: A photo essay.
- How to Watch the Kennedy Assassination Coverage as It Happened: The 1963 footage reveals as much about early TV journalism as it does about the nation’s grief.
- Courage in a Pillbox Hat: Remembering Jacqueline Kennedy’s public dignity in the face of catastrophe.
- Film’s Failed Quest to Understand JFK’s Death: Directors keep trying to show all the things the famous Zapruder footage missed, but they only end up revealing truths about their times.
- What JFK Saw: The day from the president’s perspective.
- Death of a Man: A poem in honor of JFK.
[Image: Associated Press]
The 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination has drawn all manner of retrospectives. But for one woman, the memory of tuning in to the news coverage is particularly poignant. Priscilla Johnson McMillan is the only person who knew both President Kennedy and his killer.
McMillan worked for Kennedy on Capitol Hill in the mid-1950s, when he was a U.S. Senator, advising him on foreign policy matters. She then moved into journalism and in 1959 was stationed in the Soviet Union, reporting for The Progressive and the North American Newspaper Alliance. It was there that she met a 20-year-old American called Lee Harvey Oswald. He was staying in her hotel while trying to defect to the Soviet Union.
McMillan interviewed him. Oswald proceeded to critique the American system and informed her that he was a follower of Karl Marx. “I saw,” he said, explaining why he left the U.S., “that I would become either a worker exploited for capitalist profit or an exploiter or, since there are many in this category, I’d be one of the unemployed.” On that night in Moscow, Oswald also told McMillan that he had a life mission: “I want to give the people of the United States something to think about.”
Four years later, on the night of November 22, as McMillan followed news coverage of the assassination in Dallas from Cambridge, Massaschusetts, charges began to emerge that Oswald was responsible for shooting Kennedy. McMillan was astonished. “My God,” she said, “I know that boy!”
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. In honor of his life and legacy, here is a collection of articles from The Atlantic on JFK.
- Here Comes Kennedy: Photos of Kennedy’s youth and life leading up to the White House.
- Team of Eggheads: From our February 1961 issue, a look at JFK’s presidential cabinet just after his inauguration.
- Open Office, Open Door: A May 1961 analysis of President Kennedy’s leadership style, the “creative tension” that it inspired in the executive branch, but his failures to excite Congress.
- JFK vs. The Military: How Kennedy faced off a foe more relentless than Khrushchev, just across the Potomac: the bellicose Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for the deployment of nuclear weapons and kept pressing to invade Cuba.
- The Limits of Power: In an issue that went to press just before President Kennedy’s death, The Atlantic described how JFK’s difficulties in influencing events brought gloom to the White House.
- Passing the Torch: President Bill Clinton assesses the civil-rights accomplishments of JFK.
- The Legacy of John F. Kennedy: Historians tend to rate JFK as a good president, not a great one. But Americans consistently give him the highest approval rating of any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why?
[Image: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum]
President John F. Kennedy once described himself as an “idealist without illusions.” Now in my 88th year as one of the dwindling number of surviving members of Kennedy’s administration, I often think of him. As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of his death, we should remember not only the man himself, great as he was and could have been. More important is the exceptional era he embodied and championed, an era of both bold optimism and hard realism.
Kennedy described and also prescribed the time perfectly in his inaugural address when he spoke of “a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”
Kennedy was not alone in his conviction, and as we reflect on his tragic death, we might think as well of four other transformational men and women who died in a six-year period between 1962 and 1968. Eleanor Roosevelt and Pope John XXIII died in 1962 and 1963, respectively, after long and productive lives. Six years later, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, like Jack Kennedy, died as young men at the hands of assassins. All five died having transformed the way we think about ourselves as citizens and as people. All changed my life profoundly, as they did the world at large, and I had the good fortune to know three of them.
At 17 years old, the future president seemed to understand that the value of an elite education is in the status it offers.
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To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, a wave of books has been published in the United States covering everything from Kennedy’s legacy to alleged new details about his death. One new title examines the Soviet chapter of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot Kennedy. Oswald defected to the Soviet Union in 1959 and spent two and a half years living in Minsk before he grew tired of the adventure and returned home. In The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, Peter Savodnik looks at why Oswald fled America, his life in Minsk, and what ultimately led him to climb to the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas and aim a rifle at Kennedy’s head on November 22, 1963. An interview with the author follows
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Fidel Castro shares at least one belief with the majority of Americans: He is convinced that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was not the work of a lone gunman, but was the culmination of a broad conspiracy. According to a recent Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in Dallas 50 years ago. But Castro suspects that Oswald might not have been involved in the assassination at all. Here is what he told me–to my great surprise–over lunch one day in Havana: “I have reached the conclusion that Oswald could not have been the one who killed Kennedy.” Castro is of course a confident man, but he said this with a degree of surety that was noteworthy.
I was visiting Havana three years ago at Castro’s invitation. I had just written a cover story for The Atlantic about Israel’s threat to strike militarily at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Castro read the article, and sent me a message through the Cuban Interest Section in Washington: He would like me to come to Cuba as soon as possible in order to discuss my findings with him. I obliged.
Kennedy was only a peripheral subject of our discussions. Castro, I found, was preoccupied with the threat of nuclear war and proliferation, as one would expect him to be: He was one of the three key players in an episode, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, that nearly brought about the destruction of the planet. John F. Kennedy was his adversary; Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier, was his patron. At one point, I mentioned to him the letter he wrote to Khrushchev, at the height of the crisis, in which he asked the Soviets to consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attacked Cuba. “That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense,” he wrote. In Havana, I asked him, “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?” He answered: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.” I expressed relief that Khrushchev ignored his request.
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