When I began looking into this topic late in 2013, I thought for sure it had been picked clean by other journalists. Hundreds of books have been written about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and I doubted my chances of coming up with anything new.
But it turns out the story of how the media got the story in Dallas has not been fully told.
Plenty of reporters have written I-was-there books and articles. Anniversary stories in print and on TV or radio still bring out many journalists’ first-person accounts of what they saw and did over those horrible days. But their stories don’t match that of the real journalistic star in Dallas, Merriman Smith of United Press International.
Smith said little about the assassination in the years afterward. He died in 1970, and his role in getting the story out to the public is largely forgotten. Most people know that Walter Cronkite first read the news on TV. But they don’t know that Cronkite learned of the assassination from Smith’s first bulletin. Smith and his colleagues at UPI beat the AP on the story by five minutes — an eternity in the wire service war of seconds.
There’s a terrific untold story behind how Smith beat the AP not just on the shooting itself, but by being one of just three reporters to watch President Johnson take the oath of office later that afternoon. Smith’s life is also an interesting story. Even before Dallas, he attained a level of fame no print or text reporter today will ever match.
I’ll use this website to discuss some of what I’ve learned about Smith and what happened in Dallas. If you’ve got something to say about Smitty or the news reporting on the assassination, get in touch with me via the contact page.