Thursday, November 21, 2013

Amazing first-person account of covering the JFK assassination

With November 22nd being the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, we're being inundated by specials and tributes to commemorate the event.   Tomorrow in particular.  I thought I would get a jump by presenting a first-person account you've never heard and quite frankly is somewhat astounding. 


In 1963 Geoff Edwards was a San Diego disc jockey who got a job in Los Angeles radio.  Eventually he would become quite popular on big stations like KMPC and KFI, and then go on to become a national game show host.  (Today he writes wonderful travel books and has a great podcast.)   I first heard of Geoff Edwards that fateful weekend because he was interviewed frequently on the major networks.  He was an eye witness to the Jack Ruby shooting.   Anyway, I asked Geoff if he wouldn't mind sharing with you his personal account of being in Dallas and covering this story some fifty years ago.   I knew it would be interesting, but I had no idea HOW interesting.  Thanks, Geoff for a truly remarkable true story.  

I was in San Diego listening to KFMB, my former radio station while packing for my new job at KHJ in Los Angeles. The news broke: President Kennedy had been assassinated. A few hours later I arrived in Dallas, reporting for KHJ and the Mutual Broadcasting System.

My first impression of Dallas was a hefty Dallas policeman directing traffic with a cigar hanging from his mouth. Little did I know it was a metaphor.

Press coverage of this momentous event is hard to believe given the ways of today’s electronic world. No cell phones then, no internet broadcast abilities, and even with the FBI everywhere, no one defined as “in charge”.

I entered the Dallas Police Headquarters, walked right past the desk sergeant and down the halls without showing any Press Credentials, or indeed any ID at all.

There were reporters from all over the world and a room had been set aside for us. We gathered there and exchanged information, nailing down certain facts so all our reports would agree on times,  each of us telling what we had uncovered.

Oswald was brought down a hall with the press lined on one side yelling out questions. His rifle held high by an FBI agent, he was asked if he had a lawyer.

“No”, he said in a soft voice. “I want Melvin Belli”. Belli was a well known defense attorney out of San Francisco. After Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald, Belli represented Ruby for free.

The FBI brought Oswald into a good sized room to be questioned by a group of us. He was seated behind a long table. Oswald was asked if he was handcuffed. He held his hands up in front of him and said, “Yes sir.” Next day the front pages of almost every major newspaper showed that photo with the caption, “Oswald gestures defiantly at the press.”

There was a phone on the table. I dismantled it, and wired it into my tape recorder. The tape recorder’s microphone was placed near Oswald and thus delivered the only live broadcast of the questions and Oswald’s answers.

Listeners wanted to know the reactions of the general public. I went into the office that was collecting telegrams and phone call messages from US citizens.  After locking the door, I called Mutual and read a sampling over the phone, and thus, live on the air. The police information Captain knocked loudly and rattled the door handle. I told him I’d be done in a minute. Still needed no ID.

Opening the door to an interrogation room, I was surprised to find Oswald and his mother. That was the one time during the weekend I backed away.

On the morning that Oswald was to be transported to County Jail, the Dallas Police Chief brought us up to speed, pointing out snipers on rooftops set to protect Oswald on the route.

At the garage entrance door, press credentials were checked for the first time. I walked up to the back of the van that was waiting for Oswald. A police officer roughly yanked me back.

The mass of press was outside a guard rail and a few steps down.
Jack Ruby somehow made his way through the group, and, well, the rest is history.

President LBJ said information relating to the Kennedy assassination would be kept secret until everyone alive at that time was no longer around.

The question should be, what is in those records that we were not supposed to know?

UPDATE: Here is the NBC account of the Ruby shooting with Geoff being interviewed. The NBC reporter is Tom Petit, who happened to be a neighbor of mine. Did I mention the whole thing was surreal? Thanks again to Geoff Edwards.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recommend visiting the 6th floor museum at Dealey Plaza, if ever visiting Dallas, TX. http://www.jfk.org/

Jim said...

This probably won't mean much to anyone from the UK, but noted British DJ John Peel (well known throughout the 70s 80s and 90s as just about the only nationwide DJ who presented music by new bands) also managed to wangle himself in to that press conference:

I said to this policeman, I said "what's happening?" And he said, "Well, actually there's a press conference down here," pointing to a flight of steps into the basement of the building - "there's a press conference in here in a few minutes." And I said, "Well, actually I'm from The Liverpool Echo and this is my photographer," and we went down there. I mean, we didn't have a pen or paper or camera between us, but we went in there anyway.

Full interview (and transcript below) on You Tube

5w30 said...

The NBC Oswald footage, with Edwards being interviewed, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o-EfTV6hgE

Hamid said...

Thanks for posting this, Ken. Fascinating to read this, imagining what it was like in a pre-internet/cellphone/rolling news world. The lack of security that Edwards describes is rather telling, given the president has just been killed and the chief suspect was in the building, but I'll leave that to the conspiracy theorists.

I've been totally fascinated by this whole subject for years. When I was about 12, we were allowed to choose any subject to write an essay on for history and I chose the JFK assassination. I love the Oliver Stone film, even if its theory is OTT in that it claims just about everyone was involved, and I'm gonna see the new movie Parkland.

By the way, I haven't had time yet to start MUST KILL TV but I'm gonna read the whole thing over the weekend!

JT Anthony said...

More records--and secrets--are reportedly supposed to be released about the shooting in 2017.
Deception, greed, power, obfuscation are part of the human condition over the history of time. The US seems less obtuse about it by wrapping our issues around the bible, American flag, Puritan work ethic, or "keeping the world safe for democracy."
Still the best place to be, but not much less sinister than other countries we often condemn.

Anonymous said...

So Jack Ruby could have gotten away with it too?

Mike said...

Kennedy tried to kill Castro. So Castro had a Communist kill Kennedy.
Meanwhile lots of people found the opportunity to turn it into a big conspiracy.

H Johnson said...

Interesting read. The explanation of Oswald's pose with the cuffs is especially enlightening.

As long as people in the government are responsible for keeping the facts, I'm not sure we'll ever know the truth.

But gee, since your informed reader Mike knows what really happened, what's all the fuss about?

PS: the top photograph strikes me as a bit disrespectful to the serious topic. Kinda stupid anyway, who made it?

Henry said...

That top photo has been floating around for years. I'd be surprised if it's origins could be determined. Twelve years ago, I brought the photo to a college professor that was discussing the conspiracies behind the assassination. Even at that point, he had already seen the photo. It's not necessarily disrespectful, our consensus was it alludes to Oswald attempting to sing, only to be drowned out by Ruby's guitar.

Rodney said...

Love all the conspiracy theories. I think the reason they still exist is there are so many unanswered questions. After all, who in America in the 1950's/60's visited the USSR as Oswald did? Maybe 2 people? And the biggest question: Why did Jack Ruby shoot Oswald? He was a strip club owner with possible ties to the mob... now he was doing his patriotic duty? My own totally unsubstantiated theory is that Oswald went to the mob to get their backing to kill JFK. The mob threw the lunatic out. Then when they realized the lunatic went out and actually killed JFK they had Ruby (who had cancer and was dying) kill Oswald. The mob was afraid that just the meeting they had with Oswald would somehow tie them to assassination. So they rubbed Oswald out.

Morgan said...

I'll probably have people jumping down my throat for saying this but I don't get why this is still such a big deal to people. Ancient history. Hell, my dad wasn't even born when this happened.

Eric J said...

A remarkable thing happens as you age, Morgan. At some point, you quit being the Center of the Universe and become part of the whole. Then things like this come into focus.

Hollywoodaholic said...

@Rodney
Ruby was also a known police wannabe, like a George Zimmerman of the time, so it's not unreasonable to think he imagined he was doing vigilante justice that would glorify himself in their eyes.

There has never been a better Rorschach test for sensibility than the JFK assassination. For the imaginative and paranoid it evokes vast conspiracies. For the fatalists, it's the random act of a lucky lone gunman. For the optimists, it was a rude awakening.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@ Morgan:

I dunno...maybe because the leader of the free world had just been assassinated, and his suspected assassin had just been killed on live television before the whole truth could be known, and because a whole lot of people who were alive then are still alive now and remember is happening.

I wasn't born at the time this happened either, but I'm sentient enough to recognize why it was a "big deal".

Jeez.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@ Eric J:

Thank you. You said that better than I could have.

Jeff said...

Just curious. Are kids even learning about Kennedy and the assassination these days? I texted my son to ask him if they had discussed it in his American History course and he replied back that it got mentioned in an "...and in 1963 this happened" sort of way.

Mike Barer said...

Great account!

MikeN said...

What did you learn about the McKinley assassination in school? More, what were people in 1950 or 1960 learning about it? In 2002, people in college had little knowledge of Bill Clinton's impeachment.

Aaron Sheckley said...

I don't believe the issue here is whether or not they are teaching kids in today's schools about the Kennedy assassination. A thinking, aware person doesn't need to know all the facts of something to merely recognize why it's significant, or may be significant to others. Not knowing the details of the assassination is understandable; being so obtuse as to not recognize why the assassination of a president (whether it was Kennedy, McKinley, Garfield or Lincoln) of your own country is a "big deal" is a pretty good measure of your status as a dullard.

Dudley Dullard said...

I'm with the "call me when the story is relevant to my generation" crowd.

Corey said...

Sheesh, from the top photo, it sure looks like LHO could really belt out a tune too....

Carolyn said...

Good Lord -- people are still writing books about Abraham Lincoln's assassination, and that was in 1865! And still arguing conspiracy theories, too.

Larry said...

Doesn't Marilyn Monroe figure in this somewhere? Or was she already dead by then. Saw her in SOME LIKE IT HOT. Now that was a funny movie. When I heard the premise I figured it'd be too broad and silly for my taste, but it turned out to be funny as hell. Really a classic. Wonder if Kennedy ever saw it? That'd be weird if he saw it with his wife. Watching a movie with your wife that stars the woman you're having an affair with. Geez, I'd feel way too guilty and my wife would suspect. She's one of those chicks who has like guilt radar or something. Never understood Kennedy having an affair with Marilyn, anyway. It's not like his wife wasn't hot. A little stiff maybe, but you know, sometimes those types loosen up real nice, if you know what I mean.

Hamid said...

There are lots of kids like Morgan out there who have a short attention span and a knowledge of history that stretches back as far as the first season of American Idol. In future years, when asked where they were on 9/11, their memory of that day will have long been erased and replaced by more vital information like how many times Kim Kardashian's got married.

Aaron Sheckley said...

As I said earlier, it's not so much that people are ignorant of history; there are plenty of significant events in history that a lot of people don't know a lot about. This doesn't make them cretins, it only means they don't have knowledge of a particular subject. It's another matter entirely to be so smugly obtuse as to be unable to recognize that an event is important and significant simply because it didn't happen in your front yard. People who share Morgan's opinion make me believe that Idiocracy was a prophetic documentary.

fred said...

often wondered if the the stories about JFK and his love life were true. Then saw something about his back issues and found out he was shot up with testosterone quite often to combat it. There were other drugs too, but things started to make more sense. There was also something on the internet this week about his back brace. The thinking was the back brace help hold him in place and somewhat upright for rounds 2 & 3.

Jerry Bachman said...

"Wonder if Kennedy ever saw it? That'd be weird if he saw it with his wife. Watching a movie with your wife that stars the woman you're having an affair with. Geez, I'd feel way too guilty and my wife would suspect."

How many times can you screen "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" at the White House? Eventually the Kennedys have to have watched several movies with any number of nubile young Kennedy boosters.

And wasn't Jackie at the famous JFK birthday party where Marilyn cooed, "Happieehh......Birth-daahie.....two-yew...?"

Nathan said...

Prophetic documentary like about Nostradmus? They say some of his predictions were about the Kennedy assassination. That's just weird if it's true. Not that I really believe in that kind of stuff, but I saw this TV show about it once and it was kind of eerie.

DwWashburn said...

Thanks Ken. I asked Stu Shostak to interview Geoff about his experiences. He said, and rightfully so, that there would be so many reports on the assassination that he didn't plan on doing a show about it. However, I think his story and should be told. Thank you for posting this.

Mike Schryver said...

The deal with Nostradamus is that his writings were so vague you could twist them into meaning anything. I'm too lazy to look up actual examples, but he has phrases like "The young hero will be killed", and someone will say he was talking about Kennedy. They don't tell you those details in the documentaries, because they want you to keep watching.

barbara meyers said...

20+ years ago I heard on the radio a couple of nostradamad predications 1) earth would change its rotation of axis and seasons would change (sounds like global warming) and 2) Russia would become more democratic and the us would become more socialistic - it would be like 2 ships passing each other at night.
ken loved this blog..i toured dealy plaza last year and the depository - after visiting the 6th floor and the museum had dinner..there wa music but they wouldn't let us dance...dallas thinks it would be too disrespectful to dance where kennedy was shot
Barbara meyers

Pat Reeder said...

I was born in Dallas and now live here again. Just last weekend, our friends Tim Russell, Sue Scott and Fred Newman from "Prairie Home Companion" were in town, and we took them to dinner after the show and drove them slowly through Dealey Plaza, to give them a close look. So yeah, it's still fascinating to a lot of people.

If you're interested an eyewitness account of the JFK assassination, our friend Hugh Aynsworth has written books about it and worked with public TV on a documentary. He was the only reporter present at JFK's shooting, Oswald's capture, and Oswald's shooting. I asked him once if that was really just coincidental?...

As for the discussion of younger people who are smugly dismissive of things that happened before they hit puberty, I never understood that. As a kid, I loved WC Fields, Robert Benchley and Curly Howard, all of whom had been dead for decades by then.

One of my favorite sayings is "Ignorance of your culture is not considered cool." That was the slogan of the Credibility Gap, a great and influential comedy troupe of the 1960s that I'm sure many younger lurkers are quite proud of themselves for being completely ignorant of.

Johnny Walker said...

Wow, journalists sitting around making sure they'd all got their facts straight. Another universe. *sigh*

LHO was the original freak. Apparently when he went to the USSR at the height of the Cold War he expected to make big waves in the news. Nobody cared. Then after a few short years of Communist "bliss" Oswald realized there was nothing for a young man to do. Plus, still nobody cared. Bored and fed up, he decided he preferred the US afterall. When he returned... nobody cared.

For whatever reason he clearly felt he deserved the world's attention... not that he particularly deserved it. (The world's first "reality" star?)

As his ego demanded more and more, he decided he needed to make a stand against the injustices he perceived -- first attempting to assassinate anti-Communist General he didn't like. Then, after that failed, JFK.

What a dick.

It's annoying that the FBI didn't keep tabs on the one guy(?) who defected to the USSR and came back again. Wasn't it possible he'd been trained as a spy during his time out there?

Still, at least Oliver Stone was able to twist the facts into a highly entertaining movie.

Johnny Walker said...

Bill Hicks does a great impression of Morgan-types here:

http://youtu.be/e0bIRkv29xk?t=2m26s

Nice comeback, too.

Mike said...

fred, yes the stories were true, and often worse than what has become common knowledge. One intern wrote about how he would just make demands of women that they serve his friends.
Chris Matthews had daily been talking about his book on the Kennedys until that story broke, and he suddenly stopped talking about it.

Aaron Sheckley said...

@Pat Reeder:

Pat, thanks for that Credibility Gap quote. I've never heard it before, and I plan on using it in the future (with all due credit given) when I next encounter one of the Morgans of the world.

Matt said...

Hate to correct you, but the NFL played that weekend. Pet Rozelle said it was the worst decision he ever made.

Liggie said...

I remember Geoff Edwards from the game shows "Treasure Hunt" and "Jackpot", amongst others. I had no idea he witnessed the Oswald shooting. Wow.

When I was in high school in the '80s, our parents and teachers would tell us where they were when Kennedy was shot. For a while, I thought the only where-was-I moment my Gen X brethren would have was the Challenger explosion. Then came 2001 ...

AndrewJ said...

Geoff Edwards witnessed Ruby shooting Oswald, and wound up hosting "Treasure Hunt" which was produced by Chuck Barris, who claimed to work for the CIA.

Coincidence?

Mike Barer said...

I finally watched the video, very surreal. With Ruby's black hat, it looked like something out of a 1940s gangster movie.

Jeremy said...

Come on Ken! Those of us who grew up in the 70's and 80's in California know Geoff Edwards. The guy hosted Starcade! (here's a low quality video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxr9gLBrjQY ) Also he hosted the Big Spin show for the California lottery.

Anonymous said...

I saw the shooting of Oswald live on TV as it happened. We were in a restaurant in Kansas right after church where we went a lot because my grandparents and father liked the prime rib. They had a TV mounted in the corner up high that I was watching because the conversation about relatives I'd never heard of nor never met was quite boring. CBS was on. They were moving Oswald, and this guy came up kind of fast and there was a "boom". Chaos reigned, and I spoke up and said "someone just shot Oswald". It took about 20 seconds before people at the table connected with what I was telling them. It was the first and last time I ever kept their attention for any length of time. I was told to leave because my grandmother wanted to sit where my chair was so she could watch TV. I was told to leave the restaurant, I became an itinerant walnut tree logger wondering the Ozark Plateau looking for seasonal work. I was considered abashed, touchy, even prickly from resentment over my lack of formal academic credentials. I resented anyone who was "well-educated"...and I had adopted the unbecoming habit of taping a bumper-sticker message to the inside back window of the Ford Pinto he neither deserved nor would possess had I not lucked-out and attached myself to a town fire captain who was selling his used car to me. He said it was out of friendship. The sign read, "MY CHILD JUST BEAT THE S*** OUT OF YOUR HONOR STUDENT." Ugly. I don't think witnessing the shooting of Oswald affected me much, though.