News from the Archive

Aspects of the JFK Assassination: Our Interviewees Remember

November 22nd, 2016
Robert MacNeil

In its roughly seventy-year history, television has, at its best, served to bring the country together in times of crisis and sadness. Watergate, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and 9/11 are a few that come to mind. But never more so than on November 22, 1963. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was the first time people looked to television for comfort, while everyone tried to make sense of what had happened and where to go from there. From the first news bulletin on CBS News interrupting As the World Turns, to the solemn state funeral, viewers were automatically and compulsively drawn to the television in a way they’d never been before. 

We’ve covered the topic of the assassination with many of our interviewees, but newsman Robert MacNeil’s account is particularly spellbinding. He was riding on a bus directly behind the motorcade in Dallas and he speaks in such vivid detail, if you close your eyes, it’s almost as if you’re there. It is essential viewing for those who want to know what it was like to be there in Dealey Plaza that morning. In our over eight hundred interviews, this might be the most important remembrance we’ve committed to tape.

There are so many aspects to the story of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. A big piece of the puzzle, of course, was the home movie taken by Abraham Zapruder of the terrible event that day. Life Magazine published still frames of the film in 1963, but the original remained in a vault at Time-Life, unseen by the general public for over a decade. Until, in 1975, Geraldo Rivera’s ABC series Good Night America ran a grainy and blurry version of it. One of the few non-governmental citizens who viewed the film before 1975 was Dan Rather. He recounted that experience for us, and, fascinatingly, what he was told to leave out when reporting on the film.

We’ve got many news people speaking on the assassination, but we also have stories of what happened with television shows that were in production that day, how people found out the news, and the reaction of the television community at large. Judy Garland famously sang a stirring, teary rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on her 1963 variety show The Judy Garland Show in tribute to her fallen president and friend. Skitch Henderson, the then-leader of The Tonight Show band, filled us in on a fact that, but for our interview, may have been lost to history. The evening of the JFK assassination, Johnny Carson did not go on, but NBC had a plan.

We’ve got dozens of interviewees discussing John F. Kennedy, including his presidency, his assassination, and the conspiracy theories it continues to spark to this day. Many knew him and were there, witnesses to history. Among them are Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Roger Mudd, Bob Schieffer, Ted Koppel, Barbara Walters, and Don Hewitt. It is a treasure trove of information, and an invaluable resource. 

- by John Dalton

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Remembering Cliff Barrows

November 16th, 2016
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We’re sad to learn that music director Cliff Barrows has passed away at the age of 93. He began his career as a church music director in Minnesota before meeting Reverend Billy Graham. His association with Reverend Graham lasted more than sixty years, from serving as music director and announcer on Graham’s radio show “The Hour of Decision” through to his television work and beyond.

Below are some excerpts from his 2003 interview:

On the power of television in regards to the ministry:

Well, it’s a great influence. And it’s unbelievable in reaching people and touching people. … And I think as long as we’re able to breathe and we have a message to proclaim and the means to pay for it, it ought to be something we ought to make use of. And I’m grateful for it. And I’m grateful for the early days when a local station didn’t have live programming to draw on and they would welcome us to come along and they’d give us time because we could furnish some programming. That was exciting because we were in the early days of television. 

On Billy Graham’s legacy:

The legacy of a man who knew the word and knew the Lord that he proclaimed. And who loved the word of God. And believed absolutely without reservation that it was the word of God. And that had the power to change people’s lives. And a man who was committed to his calling, who didn’t deviate from it. And was not willing to compromise to achieve any other means for his own personal aggrandizement, but to be faithful and proclaiming God’s word.

On how he would like to be remembered:

I’d like to be remembered as a man who was always on key. He wasn’t sharp, he wasn’t flat but he was faithful. I think to be faithful to the calling that you have is a one of the greatest goals that anybody could have. Whether it was a simple man on the street or a simple woman or whatever they felt was simple but they were faithful in doing what they were gifted to do. I’d like to be known as one who was faithful to the task that was before me that didn’t try to do anything else but was faithful and who could stand before the Lord. 

Watch Cliff Barrows full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Charlotte Observer.

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Remembering Gwen Ifill

November 14th, 2016
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We’re so sad to learn that journalist Gwen Ifill has passed away at the age of 61. She began her career in print journalism at The Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post, and The New York Times before moving into television first at NBC and then PBS. She was the first female, African-American moderator of Washington Week and was co-host of PBS NewsHour. Ifill also moderated the vice-presidential debates in 2004 and 2008. 

Below are some selections from her 2011 interview:

On PBS NewsHour:

On keeping her own views out of her work:

On advice to aspiring journalists:

Watch Gwen Ifill's full Archive interview and read her obituary on The New York Times.
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Remembering Robert Vaughn

November 11th, 2016
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We’re sad to learn that actor Robert Vaughn has passed away at the age of 83. He began his career on stage and in radio before appearing on early television shows including Medic and Playhouse 90. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “The Young Philadelphians,” and is perhaps best remembered as “Napoleon Solo” on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Vaughn was also a political activist and a scholar: he was an early opponent of the Vietnam War and earned a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California. His dissertation focused on the Hollywood Blacklist and was published as the book “Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting.” 

Below are some selections from his 2007 interview:

On being cast on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.:

On his opposition to the war in Vietnam:

On his acting style:

Watch Robert Vaughn's full Archive interview and read his obituary in Variety.

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"Tell me a story, and tell it well"- Jeff Fager and the legacy of 60 Minutes

November 6th, 2016
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Jeff Fager has been a producer at CBS News for over 30 years, and the Executive Producer of 60 Minutes since 2004, when he took on the reins from series creator Don Hewitt. But he never planned to have a career in news. Fager grew up in Wellesley, MA, the son of a neurosurgeon who didn't even allow him to watch television, calling it “brain rot.” But Fager knew he loved adventure and loved storytelling. So he got a job sweeping the floors of WBZ (an NBC affiliate in Boston) right out of college. He created opportunities for himself, volunteering to write copy for free. He once offered to drive Diane Sawyer to the airport from the station he was working at, knowing she was a rising star at CBS. He wasted no time, pointedly asking her, “How do I get to Network?” She told him they were hiring for the graveyard shift on a brand-new show, which turned out to be Nightwatch. Fager got the job, and then his career as a producer really began.

On the dangers of covering stories from war zones, such as a CBS News Story interviewing the PLO from Damascus:

Fager learned from CBS News executives like Tom Bettag and Don Hewitt about reporting a story in ways that were not always in keeping with conventional wisdom: “You can’t ignore something because it’s going to offend a sensibility… there’s a bias there that can’t exist, if you want the world to be a better place because of your reporting. We do what we do because we want it to have impact. We want it to make a difference. We want it to be fair and accurate. But we don’t want it to be driven by someone’s agenda. You really have to fight for that.”

On the 60 Minutes II coverage of the abuse at Abu Ghraib, covered by Dan Rather: “It was CBS News at its finest”:

When the creator of the oldest and most-watched newsmagazine on television, Don Hewitt, stepped down in 2004, Fager took on the responsibility of maintaining the 60 Minutes legacy. He told us what he learned from his mentor: “Tell me a story, and tell it well.”

On the best advice he’s received about producing, from Don Hewitt:

Fager was open with us about some of the more controversial stories that have aired on 60 Minutes, and how he dealt with the fallout as the show’s Executive Producer. “When you make a mistake, own up to it.”

On the controversial 60 Minutes Benghazi story and why they issued a retraction:

On how the media has covered the political campaigns and candidates in 2016:

60 Minutes has been on the air for 49 seasons, and not without controversy. But Fager is passionate about what the program stands for, and sees it as vital: “We don’t cover issues. We tell stories. And I think that is still a fundamental concept that makes 60 Minutes different.”

- Jenni Matz

See the full interview at

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