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Dan Rather's JFK special debuts

Newsman Dan Rather will tell his story of

Newsman Dan Rather will tell his story of the assassination President John F. Kennedy through a special on AXS TV. (Credit: Getty Images, 2011)

Dan Rather, one of the great anchors of television history, covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy for CBS News in 1963, though he would not officially join the network (in the Washington bureau, where he'd make some more history of his own) for a year. As such, Rather was present at the founding, as it were -- the founding of modern television journalism, when a major breaking story necessitated coverage that would last wall-to-wall as it were for days.

I have a couple of clips, on the jump, from his AXS TV special on that day, which airs Monday night. "My Days in Dallas: A Remembrance With Dan Rather, an exploration of the shooting on Nov. 22, 1963," will air at 8 p.m. (AXS is not carried on Cablevision, but it is available through DirecTV, channel 340; Dish, 167; Verizon, 568; and AT&T U-verse, 1106.)

Rather relayed a story about the Zapruder film during a conference call last week -- it's slightly edited for content, as the saying goes. He made no mention of the request, actually demand, that Don Hewitt made of him that day -- that he was to track down Abraham Zapruder, slug the guy, steal his tape, and return it after everyone at CBS had seen it. Hewitt called Rather back an instant later, realizing just how insane the request was, telling him to stand down.


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Here are Rather's recollections:

"Well, I was among the first -- I think among the first two [to see the Zapruder tape]. Dick Stolley of Time Life Magazine also viewed it as did a few others I think, but I was among the first. Well, obviously in the wake of the president's assassination, as reporters and particularly television reporters, we wanted pictures. We figured the best we could do was get people with still pictures, keeping in mind how few families as I say had home movie cameras. But someone mentioned to a policeman they thought they'd seen a man with a home movie camera. The policeman talked to somebody else and eventually it reached my ears and our CBS news team in Dallas which I had gathered being in charge of the coverage.

"We heard about Mr. Zapruder. We tracked him down and found him. We were not the only ones but we were among the few. It's true that he had a Kodak film camera and normally, it would take three to four days to get the film processed. Mr. Zapruder was convinced that he had filmed the entire assassination. We had no way of knowing it, but he seemed so confident that we, among others, played a small role in helping him get the film to Kodak and get it processed overnight, if you will.

"The next day, Mr. Zapruder had engaged an attorney. I was in the attorney's office when the attorney said here's what we're going to do. We're going to put this film up, you’re going to see it one time and one time only. And then after that, we will entertain bids for buying rights to the film.

They put the film up in a makeshift room up on the wall and there it was. I was absolutely drop-jawed and bug-eyed at the whole thing. I mean, the assassination is laid out in front. It didn't last that many seconds but wow, it really knocked you back emotionally. But I didn't want to wait and hang around the lawyer's office. Our broadcast point the local station, the CBS station was only a few blocks away. I raced out of there and shouted something like I'll come back and talk about the money later.

But I had a story and I went to our broadcast facility and to the best of my memory operating only from memory, I described once what I'd seen. The powers that be in New York asked me to repeat it a second time which I did. And then I went back to the lawyer's office and by that time, Life Magazine had made what the lawyer called a pre-emptive bid to the film. It was sold to Time Life. Now, as a result of that, the public in general did not see the Zapruder film for years. I think a lot of people are not aware of this that Life Magazine chose to run still pictures taken from the moving images.

  And the clips. Newsday app readers please go to Newsday.com/tvzone to view ...

Tags: Dan Rather Axe TV , "My Days in Dallas: A Remembrance With Dan Rather , an exploration of the shooting on Nov. 22 , 1963

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