It has been said that television came of age when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was the first time that the American public turned in droves to this new media for their news, away from print, and away from radio. In fact, 175 million people tuned in the follow the events as the news unfolded, an audience that is still unmatched in modern times.
JFK: One PM Central Standard Time refers to the moment that Kennedy was officially pronounced dead in Dallas, Texas, after being shot in his motorcade by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. That incident has been turned over and over by historians, theorists, and conspiracy buffs, and I’m sure it always will be, as it holds a special place in America’s morbid fascination with tragedies. However, this 90-minute documentary looks at the moment of the assassination from a completely different perspective: from that of the news media as they scrambled to get a handle on the horrific event as it happened.
Just weeks before that fateful day on November 22, 1963, CBS News, featuring Walter Cronkite as the anchor, went from being a 15-minute broadcast to 30 minutes, which was a brand-new programming experiment. Television reporting was moving from merely disseminating news to actually gathering news, and the assassination put this change to the test. Cronkite, a true newsman who was a reporter during World War II, stuck to his guns and refused to confirm to his viewers that Kennedy had died until it was officially announced by the White House. As Cronkite was such an icon to television viewers, Kennedy’s death only became truly, horrifyingly real to many Americans when he confirmed it for viewers. The moment where Cronkite removes his glasses, briefly choking up after reading the official news flash, has become an iconic moment in modern history.
JFK: One PM Central Standard Time fleshes out all sides to this fascinating behind-the-scenes story, with interviews from the likes of Dan Rather, Robert MacNeil, and Bob Schaeffer, whose own journalistic careers were shaped by the event. Memories are fleshed out with re-enactments when necessary, but, more impressively, with a huge amount of original footage, much of it in astonishingly rich color. Everyone has seen the infamous grainy Zapruder film of the motorcade speeding off after shots were fired, but believe me, this documentary offers so much more. You don’t have to be a JFK buff to appreciate this unique view of one of the most pored-over moments in American history.