How would the Express cover an assassination today?

Posted November 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm

BABBLING BROOKS column–Express Editor Kim Brooks

I am an avid John F. Kennedy fanatic. It’s a tad embarrassing to guess just how many books I have on the subject, written by a variety of political figures, Secret Service agents who served under the Kennedy administration, family members and others who consider themselves “experts” on the subject. None-the-less, I enjoy them all.

I also have several movies about the Kennedys, starring many of Hollywood’s finest as JFK himself. (If you haven’t seen “Parkland” or “Bobby,” these are a must!)

On Nov. 10, the National Geographic channel debuted a movie starring Rob Lowe as JFK based on political commentator Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book titled “Killing Kennedy.” While Rob Lowe nailed the Kennedy Boston accent, it was the unknown actor Will Rothhaar portraying Lee Harvey Oswald that stole the show for me!

Nov. 22 marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. As the 35th U.S. president, Kennedy had it all: the charisma (some say to a fault), the dedication, the drive and determination to bring this country together. Many hail him as one of the greatest U.S. presidents, notably in the top five for sure!

As numerous TV networks have and continue to air specials on the Kennedys, JFK and his assassination, I decided to look back through the pages of the Monticello Express and see just how our very own newspaper covered this tragic news.

During this time, the Express came out on Thursdays as opposed to its Wednesday publication now. Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was shot and killed, was a Friday. So this means the Express had to wait a whole week before publishing the news, the unfortunate side to being a weekly newspaper. A small article appeared on the front page on Nov. 28.

In looking for this article, I first took to the Express archive website (, via the Monticello library’s website. I went right to the Nov. 28 issue and noticed that a chunk of the front page had been cut out, quite carelessly. That was a bummer.

The actual Express archive books here in our office are not easily accessible, so I went to the library. They store giant archive books of every issue of the Express. With everything digitized online these days, it’s still nice to go and sift through these books if needed. I got help locating the 1963 book, flipped gently to the November issues and discovered that issue had the same cutout I found online. Someone desperately wanted this article on JFK’s assassination.

I eventually hauled out the Express’ 1963 book (thanks, Pete, for the help and heavy lifting) and the front page was whole! However, I think Pete Temple and I were both disappointed when I located the article. It amounted to a small photo of Lyndon B. Johnson, who was, at this point, the new 36th President of the United States, upon Kennedy’s death. Johnson’s photo was taken on July 31, 1960, when he was here in Monticello, Iowa, campaigning at the time for the Democratic bid for vice president. Under his photo was a small article explaining all of the community and school events that were canceled on Nov. 22 to honor the day Kennedy died, and information about the churches in town that held memorial services for the late president.

That’s it. No giant headline. Nothing about the legacy of Kennedy or his reign as president.

The MHS play that was scheduled for Nov. 22 was postponed. A Sacred Heart basketball game was canceled. A MHS wrestling match was also canceled the following Monday.

A community memorial service was held at the Presbyterian Church that Sunday evening, with other churches participating. Sacred Heart held Mass the following Monday as well. All schools were dismissed that Monday, and most stores and businesses closed for the day.

Looking through the paper for more of a splash on the death of JFK, I did come across the Express editorial (no indication as to who wrote it). While I was surprised to see very little news on the topic, the author of the editorial clarified this for me: “Little would be said on the front pages of the nation’s small town newspapers about this world-shaking event, for the simple reason that community weekly papers devote their entire energies to the reporting of strictly local events. National, state and regional affairs are left to metropolitan papers, radio and TV.

“The Express would be no exception were it not for the fact that Lyndon Baines Johnson, now the 36th president, appeared here in Monticello on July 31, 1960. Coverage given the assassination of President Kennedy by the big newspapers, by radio and TV, leaves very little for us to say.”

I disagree on many levels. Just because larger newspapers, perhaps dailies, may have covered the news on a larger scale, the Express was still responsible for relaying the news to its readers. Perhaps they could have talked to readers to get their reactions to the news. I was always taught to take a national event and try to localize it for your readers. When the Boston Marathon bombing occurred, we reached out to a couple of locals who were there that day to bring a major national new event to our local readers on a local level.

I think small town newspapers have to cover more than small town news to compete in this industry. When President Obama was in Peosta speaking at Northeast Iowa Community College, I covered his speech and the entire day’s events. While this was not in our immediate area, it was in Eastern Iowa, and two of our locals were in attendance that day as well.

The editorial went on to say: “A hundred years from now, perhaps someone may pick up a faded copy of this very issue of the Express and say, ‘Good Lord, the President of the United States was assassinated and they didn’t care enough to print more than this about it!’ To you in the year 2063 (or myself and Pete Temple in 2013), we say that we do care. We care very much here in Jones County what happens even in the farthest reaches of the world. Perhaps we care even more than do the people of the heavily populated areas.”

The editorial went on to say every one of all ages was affected by the news of Kennedy. I don’t doubt that one bit myself. In fact, even today, 50 years later, people are still stunned, mystified and saddened by this tragic event.

Fifty years later, newspapers and magazines all across the country are still using the event as front-page news to commemorate the anniversary. It makes me wonder, though, had JFK or any present-day U.S. president be assassinated today, how would the Express cover the news…