November 22

On May 29, 1917, John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts.  More than fifty years later –to the day – I was born on Cape Cod.  Our shared birthdays led me to consume anything and everything Kennedy related as a child, and –like a child- I basked in the heroism and hagiography of his life story.  With age and with study of history and politics came the realization that –as are we all- Jack Kennedy was a human being: not quite perfect, and not completely flawed.   

The fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination is being marked by remembrances from national leaders to journalists who covered the event to citizens who may have never met the thirty-fifth president….

….but still feel a connection to him. 

The reasons his assassination resonates so fully with people vary and have been well documented. Primary among them is this: television brought this young, charismatic politician into the homes of Americans on a daily basis; his death seemed like the death of a family member. 

A native Cape Codder born after his assassination, my connection to the Cape’s most well-known resident is obvious – we swam in the same waters, drove the same roads and walked the same greens and fairways at Hyannisport Golf Club.   That connection, however, goes far beyond the fact that my siblings and I were raised just a few miles away from the Kennedy Compound.  First, a note about the Cape: yes, it is an exclusive vacation spot for some – but not for all.  Like most of my friends and neighbors, we were middle class.  Dad was a teacher, Mom a secretary.  We struggled with finances like other families, but the efforts of –and the part time jobs obtained by- my parents taught us the value of hard work and discipline.  I may have walked the same fairways as JFK at the Hyannisport Club, but there was a great difference: he played, I caddied.  Proximity to the Kennedy Compound didn’t mean we were in the same economic neighborhood.  Far from it.

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The first tee at Hyannisport, twenty years before I was doing double loops there. 

That proximity did lead to other shared experiences.  Mom and Dad were married  -and I was baptized and had my first communion- at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis.  It was also the same parish the Kennedys called home.  I can still recall tourists turning and taking photos of Ted Kennedy as the Senator attended mass.  There was pride in the fact that my parents prayed in the same pews as the nation’s first Catholic president, and that Jack’s –and later Bobby’s and Ted’s- efforts to improve the lot of the less fortunate among us came from our shared Catholic beliefs.

The church is located on South Street in Hyannis, directly in front of the old Barnstable High School and a half mile from where my mother grew up.  Mom loves telling the story of election-day in 1960: Jack’s defeat of Nixon wasn’t confirmed until early the following day.  A few hours later, the President-elect and his family drove down South Street to give his acceptance speech at the Hyannis Armory, a few blocks from the high school.  Mom describes running from the school, falling and scraping her knee in an effort to watch the caravan of cars pass.  She had seen him plenty of times before, but never as President-elect. The memory, she says, still resonates.

“They drove by,” she’s told us hundreds of times, “and as he passed he smiled and waved right at me.”

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The President-elect at the Hyannis armory. 

I grew up in the ‘80s, years after Kennedy was assassinated, and during the height of the Reagan revolution.  Despite the country’s turn to the Right politically, there was still a great deal of interest in all things Kennedy.  The summer months would see thousands of tourists descend upon Hyannis for a drive by the Compound.  I can’t begin to count the number of times I’d be biking through Hyannis and then be stopped by tourists asking for directions.

Inevitably, after giving directions, I’d hear the same question: “Are you a Kennedy?”

I always thought the question came as a result of my obvious good-looks, charisma and intelligence.*

Not so much. 

A high school friend of mine is in Hollywood shopping a script he’s written about similar experiences he went through growing up.  Thanks, Ted Collins for destroying the belief that I was something special.  Apparently ALL of my friends were asked the same question. 

Fifty years after his assassination Kennedy’s legacy lives on: you can read today of the elected officials who were inspired by him to pursue politics, or join the military….or the Peace Corps…or the fight for civil rights.     

A legacy of service?

For this journalist who shared a birthday, a church and the same hometown as the martyred president, I can think of nothing more impressive. 

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*Kidding. Swear to god. 

 

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Dan Rather Made Me Do It

Friday marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and as reporters chronicle the half-century since the event, something will be missing from CBS’s coverage.

Dan Rather.

In 1963, Rather had recently been hired as the head of CBS’s southwest bureau and, as such, took on the mundane administrative duties required of a bureau chief during the President’s weekend trip to Dallas.  That changed the instant shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.

Rather, through hustle and institutional knowledge of the major players in Dallas, was among the leaders in coverage of the chaotic aftermath of the assassination.  Walter Cronkite’s emotional reaction to the wire service flash announcing the President’s death remains one of the more iconic moments in a weekend filled with such moments.  What many forget, however, was that Rather had reported the President’s death moments earlier.  CBS, which created the field of broadcast journalism through the work of the Murrow Boys and Cronkite and Rather, has decided to ignore its most well-known connection to that Friday afternoon in Dallas.

That’s fine.  Rather sat down for a compelling series of interviews with Tom Brokaw, a former competitor at NBC.  The 82-year-old journalist also hosted an hour-long special about the weekend on AXS TV, a cable outlet owned, in part, by Mark Cuban.

Why, you ask, is this topic brought up in my quest for funding in the Go To Black  ( http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black )   project?

Because Dan Rather made me do it.

Not specifically, mind you.  Heck, I haven’t spoken to the broadcast pioneer in years.

But his support and encouragement from years ago led me to this effort.

In 2004, I was the head of Meredith Broadcasting’s Washington, DC bureau (we had a bureau chief, but he was saddled with so many other responsibilities in the company, he was hardly in DC).  In July, my photographer Rob Yingling and I packed up the bureau and moved everything to Boston to cover the Democratic National Convention; a month later we did the same for the Republican Convention in New York.  In Massachusetts, CBS gave us an opportunity to meet with and interview Rather from the network’s booth high above the convention floor.  His stories about past conventions and his opinions about the ’04 race were fascinating to listen to – I seem to recall his interest in a little-known Illinois state senator named Obama who was scheduled to deliver the keynote address in Boston.

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Speaking with Dan Rather in Boston in July, 2004. 

A month later we were in New York and CBS offered the same opportunity.

“Andy Gobeil,” Rather called out as I walked in to the booth at Madison Square Garden.

Taken aback and pleasantly surprised at his familiarity, I smiled and complimented him on a staff that prepped him well for the visit of one of the many reporters taking his time during the convention.

My staff is wonderful, he told me, but they didn’t remind him of my name.  He said he remembered me from the visit in Boston.

I was skeptical until he told me how his wife’s maiden name was nearly identical to mine.  His response remains one of the high points of my career:  “After you left, I asked around, heard some good things about you and looked forward to seeing you again.”

Rob and I produced another story with Rather, I thanked him for his kind words, and we left.

Four years later, I was in South Carolina and ran into Rather again.  He had since departed CBS and was hosting a discussion –to air on his online program Dan Rather Reports– on the presidential race, a race in which the Palmetto State played a major role.  I reintroduced myself, reminded him of our meeting in Boston and New York and, not wanted to intrude on his prep time, stepped away.  After a few moments, he called me over (we were waiting for the lighting to be set for my interview of him) and we started discussing –of all things- books.

Now, I’ve wanted to write for quite some time, but I’ve been pretty quiet about my hopes to do so.  Yet, for some reason, I told him about my idea of producing a book about local television coverage of the civil rights era.

What a great idea, he said.  You need to write that book.

I chuckled, thinking he was simply being polite.

We conducted our interview and, before leaving, he took my hand in his and urged me –again- to write the book.

Five years later, I’m trying to do just that….

….but I need your help: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/go-to-black