BULLETINS FROM DALLAS
Reporting the JFK Assassination
Genre: Biography / Journalism
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Date of Publication: November 1, 2016
Number of Pages: 280
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Thanks to one reporter’s skill, we can fix the exact moment on November 22, 1963 when the world stopped and held its breath: At 12:34 p.m. Central Time, UPI White House reporter Merriman Smith broke the news that shots had been fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade. Most people think Walter Cronkite was the first to tell America about the assassination. But when Cronkite broke the news on TV, he read from one of Smith’s dispatches. At Parkland Hospital, Smith saw President Kennedy’s blood-soaked body in the back of his limousine before the emergency room attendants arrived. Two hours later, he was one of three journalists to witness President Johnson’s swearing-in aboard Air Force One. Smith rightly won a Pulitzer Prize for the vivid story he wrote for the next day’s morning newspapers.
Smith’s scoop is journalism legend. But the full story of how he pulled off the most amazing reportorial coup has never been told. As the top White House reporter of his time, Smith was a bona fide celebrity and even a regular on late-night TV. But he has never been the subject of a biography.
With access to a trove of Smith’s personal letters and papers and through interviews with Smith’s family and colleagues, veteran news reporter Bill Sanderson will crack open the legend. Bulletins from Dallas tells for the first time how Smith beat his competition on the story, and shows how the biggest scoop of his career foreshadowed his personal downfall.
PRAISE FOR BULLETINS FROM DALLAS:
“So much of what we know about any story depends on how reporters do their work. Bill Sanderson takes us through every heartbreaking minute of one of the biggest stories of our lifetime, with sharp detail and powerful observations. As you read the book, you’ll feel all the pressure and adrenaline rush of a reporter on deadline.” —Neal Shapiro, former president of NBC News, current president of WNET
“The life and work of a noted White House reporter…. Focusing on [Merriman] Smith’s reporting of the Kennedy assassination, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, Sanderson conveys the tension and confusion after the event, as Smith and other newsmen scrambled to ascertain facts.” —Kirkus Reviews
“To read Bulletins from Dallas is to touch the fabric of history, through Sanderson’s artful weave of many voices, from presidents across the decades to the last words uttered by J.F.K. Swept back through the corridors of time, we hear the urgent bells and clatter of the teletype machine: Merriman Smith’s first report to the world, ‘Three shots fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade today in Downtown Dallas.’ This compelling narrative takes us to that moment when our whole nation cried, and, even now, to tears of primal sympathy that never seem to end.” —Allen Childs, author of We Were There: Revelations from the Dallas Doctors Who Attended to JFK on November 22, 1963
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“In the news business, being first with clearly written copy is better than being garbled and last.”
Bulletins from Dallas: Reporting the JFK Assassination chronicles the career of A. Merriman Smith (Smitty) as a Pulitzer prize-winning White House correspondent for UPI. By the time the Kennedy assassination occurred in 1963, Smitty had been part of the White House press pool for several presidencies. On November 22, 1963, Smitty was at the top of his game as he rode in the press wire car in that fateful motorcade in Dallas.
Bill Sanderson offers readers a rare view of this historic event by placing us right there with the journalists, before, during, and after. Within minutes of those gunshots, Smitty did what he did best: commandeered the nearest phone and delivered the first bulletin. While Sanderson gives us “just the facts, ma’am,” he does it in such a way that you feel as if you are right there in that press car. You can almost feel the adrenaline surge, the pouring sweat, and the brutal competitive spirit as the journalists madly dashed to report, report, report!
Of course, most people know about the JFK assassination and have heard the conspiracy theories; however, Bulletins from Dallas gives us a front-row seat to that main event as well as singular glimpses into the private or least-reported moments afterward and into the next presidency.
Bulletins from Dallas, however, is more than that one event. Smitty embodies our journalistic ideal from that bygone era: crumpled suit, long hours, cutthroat ambition, witty one-liners, and lots of booze. Journalists today will never know how it feels to carry a portable typewriter or be on the lookout for a telephone. Unfortunately, that type of hectic, competitive career had a hefty price tag for Smitty. Alcoholism and personal loss inevitably took its toll.
Sanderson introduces (or maybe reintroduces) the reader to Smitty, who could deliver a lightning quick bulletin; an engaging byline; and a well-written, in-depth story at a moment’s notice on a typewriter or over the phone. He could do it all, including writing a Backstairs at the White House UPI column that provided those behind-the-scenes tidbits that so many people love to read.
In Bulletins from Dallas, Sanderson does an amazing job outlining Smitty’s accomplished yet tragic personal story amidst the headlines of the day. This book is timely because it clearly shows how the art of journalism has evolved over the decades and how the business is metamorphosing yet again into a completely divergent era of news reporting.
Enter the Giveaway below for a chance to win a signed copy of Bulletins from Dallas: Reporting the JFK Assassination by Bill Sanderson.
Bill Sanderson spent almost two decades as a reporter and editor at the New York Post. His work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Observer, and the Washington Post. Sanderson lives in New York City. Connect with Bill:
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