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/ Extramarital Affairs News / archive / 13th nov / TV marks the 40th year of Kennedy's death

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TV marks the 40th year of Kennedy's death - and explores his legacy

In the week leading up to Nov. 22, more than a dozen specials about former U.S. president John F. Kennedy will invite viewers to encounter him from every vantage point on the 40th anniversary of his death.

You can step back and survey his role in a powerful political dynasty on The Kennedys (PBS, Monday and Tuesday).

If for some reason you care, you can dally with admirers such as Donald Trump and Jay Leno as they describe their shocked reactions to that grim day in Dallas, on MSNBC's dumbed-down JFK: The Day That Changed America (Monday).

You can re-experience the tragedy by focusing on the journalists who originally reported it. Through their memories as well as with painstakingly compiled footage, CNN's President Kennedy Has Been Shot (Sunday) and PBS's JFK: Breaking the News (check local listings) track Kennedy's death, then, two days later, the killing of his collared murder suspect on live TV.

In the process, both programs document media history being made.

"With no preparation whatsoever," says Breaking the News narrator Jane Pauley, those long-ago newscasters mobilized "the most massive coverage of any event since the invention of television." They gathered the country in a video vigil. And created a model for cable news two decades later.

Between this pair of films, perhaps Breaking the News has the edge in conveying how journalists responded when a one-day story took on timeless gravity.

Particularly telling are extended excerpts that show Jay Watson, program director at WFAA-TV in Dallas, as he is pressed into unaccustomed on-air duty.

At one point, Watson manages to chain-smoke, monitor a telephone for updates, and interview Abraham Zapruder, who by chance had just made the most famous home movie of all time. "I got out about a half-hour earlier to get a good spot to shoot some pictures," he explains.

His 26-second, 8mm film - the only known visual record of the full ambush - figures heavily in a trio of documentaries that re-examine whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or as part of a conspiracy. And, befitting a debate that will likely never be resolved, the films arrive at differing conclusions.

Fox News Channel's JFK: Case Not Closed (Sunday) supports a conspiracy hypothesis. It disputes the "single bullet theory" and interprets an audio transmission from a Dallas police motorcycle as containing sounds from four gun shots, not three - which would prove the existence of a second assailant in Dealey Plaza.

But Court TV's JFK: Investigation Reopened (Wednesday) draws on high-tech analysis that accounts for how that single "magic" bullet might have plausibly travelled through Kennedy, then struck Texas governor John Connally in the front seat of their limousine.

This fascinating hour also means to debunk the police tape with techniques that suggest the "gun shots" are random noise - and the recording was made a full minute after the shooting was over.

Peter Jennings Reporting: The Kennedy Assassination - Beyond Conspiracy (ABC Thursday), provides even more elaborate computer simulations. This two-hour program reaches the same verdict: Oswald acted alone.

Not that any amount of evidence, one way or another, is likely to settle the question. Nor is this mystery ever likely to be pried loose from assessments of the thousand days that went before.

"Kennedy's legacy is defined in part by the manner of his passing," observes the splendid three-hour JFK: A Presidency Revealed ( U.S. History Channel, Sunday).

But before his fateful trip to Dallas, Kennedy faced the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union no fewer than three times. In the film, then Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara recalls an October night during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when he wondered if he - and by extension the human race - would be alive a week later.

And three times Kennedy would confront the prospect of sending federal troops to occupy southern states to protect the civil rights of black Americans.

During his brief presidency, Kennedy set the U.S. on a course for the moon. He altered fashion, refusing to wear a hat and wearing his hair longish by the standards of that pre-Beatles era. With his wife, Jackie, he was the arbiter of excellence, cool and glamour that helped "create an illusion that later became known as Camelot."

But in the meantime, he struggled with a remarkable variety of ailments and medications while maintaining a guise of health and vitality. He had a family the world admired, yet he lived a secret life of extramarital conquests.

Veteran reporter Hugh Sidey, who covered Kennedy for Time-Life publications, believes there was "a very good chance" that news of his indiscretions "would have broken wide open sometime in his second term, if not before, and he might have been forced out of office."

But, 40 years after Dallas, that's just one of countless "what ifs."

"He's frozen in our memories at the age of 46," says Kennedy biographer Robert Dallek. "So handsome, so articulate, so witty, so charming, so charismatic. He was a man of exceptional promise."

Another valuable program, The Kennedy Tapes Revealed (U.S. Bravo, Friday), draws on recollections recorded by Robert Kennedy, the fallen president's brother and attorney general, as an oral history after his death.

This intimate hour charts the Kennedy administration from Bobby's perspective, as well as hearing from other observers including Anthony Lewis and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., whom he had picked to interview him for his taped memoirs.

At times on the tapes Bobby Kennedy is brutally direct, as when he describes Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy's successor, as "a mean, bitter and vicious animal in many ways."

But even in these private reflections, he is protective of the brother he served so loyally, at one point dismissing rumours of Kennedy's trysts as "ridiculous, on the face of it."

The world knows better now. Even so, John Kennedy's "enduring appeal seems to transcend personal frailty," notes the History Channel's A Presidency Revealed. One reason? "He spoke of an America of tolerance, prospering in a world free from fear."

With Americans discovering new fears all the time, Kennedy may seem more appealing than ever.

Full credit for this news article goes to: CJAD, Canada

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