Are We Standing on the Next Grassy Knoll of Journalism?

By David Landis, President, Landis Communications Inc. (LCI)

I recently returned from the global gathering of our PR affiliates – this time in Dallas, Texas. Our Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) conferences are always inspiring sessions where PR pros from around the world meet to discuss trends, business practices and business development.

But often it’s what happens away from the conference that has the most impact. That happened again when I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, the site where John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated.

I was 7 years old and in second grade when JFK was shot. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. Our teacher, Mrs. Dobrokin, came to tell us, “the President has been shot,” and they sent all of us home from school to watch the story unfold on television. It would be the first of many historical moments in our country’s history to play out tragically in the media.

At that moment, we immediately changed from a country full of optimism and hope to one of cynicism and fear. And there would be no turning back.

Visiting the museum 54 years later, I was still overcome with emotion. But something else happened. The Museum seeks, in its own words, “To be an impartial, multi-generational destination and forum for exploring the memory and effects of the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, through sharing his legacy and its impact on an ever-changing global society.” In other words, to do what good journalism does: inspire critical thinking.

As I meandered through the Museum, I came to realize that what we now accept as fact may or may not be factual. For instance, did you know that Lee Harvey Oswald was known to be a terrible marksman? Why was Jack Ruby conveniently at the scene when Lee was arraigned and why did Lee have so little protection? How could the bullet from Lee Harvey Oswald have missed the first time but have hit its target on a subsequent try when the President was so far away? If Lee shot President Kennedy from the Sixth Floor of the Texas Book Depository while the car was heading away, why did the wound indicate the shot came from elsewhere? Why on that day did the President decide to ride in an open-air convertible? And why does the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald – holding the supposed weapon – look like it was photo-shopped, even way before we’ve ever heard of that word?

Good museum experiences – like good journalism – motivate us to dig deeper, ask the hard questions, think critically and ultimately expose the facts. Those tenets are now more important than ever, especially when we have a President and his PR spokesperson coining the term “alternative facts.”

Ultimately, well-researched journalism – and critical thinking – are essential to our democracy. We need to remember the lessons of the grassy knoll, continue to support legitimate journalistic investigation, be thoughtful and never settle until we find the true facts.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below or email me directly at: [email protected].

The Sixth Floor Museum has an admirable program to help continue to educate our young people – and it deserves our support. It’s called the History Relevance Campaign (HRC). It began in 2012 with a series of conversations about why history – both knowledge about the past and the practice of researching and interpreting the past – was marginalized in our country. Children are not expected to learn it in schools, community leaders rarely look to it to inform today’s decisions, and national leaders select and distort facts to support their positions. The HRC believes that history ought to play a greater role in the lives of our communities and nation. To support this program, click here.

16 thoughts on “Are We Standing on the Next Grassy Knoll of Journalism?

  1. Thanks, David. Great comparison with today’s unpredictable media landscape and the quest for truth in journalism. The Sixth Floor Museum sounds powerful and fascinating. If I’m ever in Dallas, I know where I’ll be heading for an outing.

  2. Learning about the JFK assassination was one of my favourite topics in history at school. It’s a fascinating case and I don’t know if we’ll ever truly know what happened!

  3. As a native Texan JFK’s assassination was an event that has fascinated me for years. I’ve visited the grassy knoll area several times and encourage anyone who visits Dallas to check out the Sixth Floor Museum. Just be prepared to leave with more questions than answers.

    David C.

  4. Was pleased that several PRGN members took time to learn about the Kennedy assassination and, of equal importance, the work of the Museum to keep discussion going on the topic while visiting our city.

    I’d been struggling to understand why Dallas — which had hidden from the incident, in many ways, for a long time — has more recently started to get more comfortable talking about this piece of history. I think your point, David, may be the Why — stimulating open discussion and respectful debate on a difficult topic… something of which we can use much more in our world today.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Blake. Respectful discussion should always be our top priority in a democratic country. Glad to visit your beautiful city and thanks for hosting all of our global PR partners. Cheers, David

  5. Amazingly today, with billions of cell phones and who knows how much other surveillance, we still struggle to gather and know all of the facts. That’s all the more reason we need a free media with quality editorial oversight and investigative resources.

  6. Ever since I saw Oliver Stone’s “JKF” I’ve been fascinated by what transpired after the Kennedy assassination. This summer, The National Archives is set to release the last remaining top-secret files surrounding the investigation – exposing the possible involvement of Cuba and Mexico. What comes out of those classified records could ultimately change history.

  7. Thanks David for this useful reminder about truth as an essential pillar of trust in democracy. Alternative facts will be killing democracy if we do not stand against this insidious poison. Freshly elected President Macron said he’d base his action on always saying the truth, appealing to the intelligence of the people. Hopefully, he will be given the full support he needs to move ahead facing reality. I’d like to be 100% sure that people won’t blind themselves to reality.

  8. David, great stuff. I also remember Kennedy’s assasination … I was at the tennis club playing when it happened. Everything stopped and I wasn’t even in the US!
    I think it took a few months for everyone to start asking questions about the fabrication around the story and from the very beginning no one believed that Jack Ruby just happened to be there.
    The sad truth is that human beings don’t want to learn from history because they’re all too busy telling it the way it suits them best depending on who’s side they’re on. Everyone knows history repeats itself, but no one takes any notice or wants to learn from this. Political assasinations were OK in Roman times..I mean everyone had a hand in them. Today we look on in horror, nothing changed and we didn’t learn the lesson.
    The word ‘fact’ needs to have various defining endings or beginnings… like ‘factsome’, factless, factgood percentage, experimented fact, triedoutfact…. The truth is, fact has lost its cedibility or it has now been pointed out to us that the word never had any in the first place.
    I one hundred percent support journalists who try to do their job well through serious investigation and critical thinking, but it’s a dangerous job and not everybody is prepared to do it.
    Democracy is a wonderful word, but one does feel rather cynical about it as we have more and more transparency in our systems, a good amount of which is thanks to good journalism.
    Here’s to brave journalism and the men and women who are prepared to stand up for what they believe to be right.

    1. Sheena, I couldn’t agree more. Despite the cyclical nature of the world, people do not tend to learn from history. We must continue to support legitimate journalists who search out and showcase the real facts and we should never just resort to easy answers. Thanks for reading. Cheers, David

  9. Very relevant Blog David… and the points you raise are important. The media is in a state of flux re finances , directions and ethics… we need to watch and support the ( independent) watchmen….

    1. Thanks, Evelyn. We not only have to keep a watchful eye, we must continue to demand that journalists be the watchdog of democracy. And we must insist that our elected officials do their jobs with facts (not opinions) to guide them. Cheers, David

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