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Bob Schieffer on the 50th Anniversary of JFK’s Death: ‘There Were No PR People.’

Junior Reporter Bob Schieffer (left) with Russ Bloxom in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newsroom, 1963

Junior Reporter Bob Schieffer (left) with Russ Bloxom in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newsroom, 1963

With sincere apologies to all my journo friends, TV news broadcasting will never be like it was in the heyday of the three national networks, when the family gathered ’round the tube for the nightly news.

Rather. Jennings. Cronkite. Brokaw. Smith. Brinkley. Murrow. 

Those were the biggies, but in my fair burg of North Texas, there is none more regaled and respected than the great Bob Schieffer.

The guy has a school of journalism named in his honor for crying out loud. Simply put, he’s the shizzle in Dallas/Fort Worth. And all year long, he has been in the news for what he experienced 50 years ago — reporting the assassination of John F. Kennedy in his own backyard

In a riveting interview from The Daily Beastthe lovely Eleanor Clift writes about Schieffer’s memories from that fateful day near 50 years ago, November 22, 1963.

Among the gruesome descriptions and hearkening memories, Schieffer says something that should strike all of us flacks to the core. More about that after the jump…

From the article, Clift quotes Schieffer:

There was no Miranda rule, no PR people. We dealt directly with the cops,” said Bob Schieffer, then a cub reporter working the night shift police beat at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He was still asleep when his brother woke him to say the president had been shot. With most of his colleagues dispatched to Dallas, Schieffer was left to answer the phones when a woman called asking for a ride to Dallas.

“Lady, we don’t run a taxi service here, and besides, the president’s been shot,” he said, almost hanging up on her. “I know,” she replied, “I think it’s my son they’ve arrested.” The caller was Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother. At the National Press Club panel “Where Were You When Kennedy Was Shot?” this week, Schieffer said it was “odd but not unbelievable” that Marguerite Claverie Oswald would call the newspaper. The Star-Telegram had done stories about Russian defectors, and newspapers then were a bigger part of the community than they are today.

Mouth. Friggin’. Dropped.

Can you imagine what just happened? Oswald’s mother called Schieffer…directly. Today, that very call would have gone through a publicist or possibly a surreptitious tweet because Schieffer wasn’t following Oswald’s mother on Twitter. Riveting.

However, think about that: “No PR people.” Between the grandiose days of lore in the news and today, something shifted in the world of communications. People began to think they couldn’t talk to the media themselves so they hired folk like us to do it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m eternally grateful for that because I would suck as a car salesman or a mechanic. Journalists were accustomed to speaking to the source and now, they have become accustomed to spin. And to borrow words from my flacktastic homie Gini Dietrich, “Spin Sucks!

Perhaps that’s why I always get this comment when I take a new-found friend from any newsroom to lunch, “What the hell? You’re not pitching me?!” Of course not, because I actually want to get to know the man or woman without the fedora emblazoned with the press badge in the rim.

Source: Smithsonian.comWhy can’t we all do that?

Do you know how many horror stories there are floating around newsroom water coolers about suck-out-loud PR people? We aren’t professionals to many of them. We are ear sores that exist just to make their lives hell. We don’t research proper beats. We don’t understand how they work with their editors. We don’t even read or listen to their work. Why wouldn’t they want it to go back to the “good ol’ days” when there weren’t any PR people?!

$10 says Schieffer still wishes it was like that.

There aren’t enough hacks-turned-flacks (like me, thankfully) in this business to mentor others about understanding the newsroom, which would reflect better upon our craft. We should be a swift reflection of our clients, not a smokescreen. We should mirror their words, not obfuscate them. We should breathe precise messaging, not hot air up every skirt we find.

Sorry for the soapbox, but we should expect better of this industry and it takes a stark reminder of yesteryear to remind me of what I want for the future in PR. Why? Without a newsroom full of Schieffers, clients wouldn’t want them to tell their story.

And that’s our job. At least, it is now.

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