November 15, 2013

Amid JFK assassination chaos, a young reporter kept his cool

Fifty years later, the Maine resident says it was a struggle to do his job while full of sadness.

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — Bill Lord sits in his basement watching a video clip of an ABC television broadcast from 50 years ago. It shows a young reporter interviewing the homicide detective who was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald at the moment Jack Ruby stepped out from a crowd and fired a single shot at Oswald.

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TV reporter Bill Lord, who now lives in Maine, interviews Detective James Leavelle, who was escorting JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald when he Oswald was shot.

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JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, escorted by Detective James Leavelle, is shot in Dallas.

Additional Photos Below

Just two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with the nation’s mood a mixture of mourning, confusion and hysteria, the reporter in the Dallas studio appears as cool-headed as any veteran TV newsman in an era when news was expected to be delivered in a flat, direct manner.

Lord, his eyes fixed on the black-and-white clip, is awash in emotion as he anticipates every question and watches the clear-spoken reporter coax the detective into providing details of the fatal shooting that day in the basement of Dallas police headquarters, where the reporter himself was close by.

“I give that kid a B-plus,” Lord says of the reporter, adding that his steady on-camera demeanor hides feelings of fear and overwhelming sadness.

That kid was Lord, when he was 25.

Bill Lord, who grew up in Saco, had an uncertain future with ABC News before that November day in 1963. That summer, American Newstand, for which Lord was a correspondent for two years, had been pulled off the air.

His solid reporting in the days after the assassination was a turning point for his career at ABC, propelling him up the ranks and into key off-air jobs, including stints as executive producer of “Good Morning America News,” “Nightline” with Ted Koppel and “World News Tonight” with Peter Jennings.

But in the days after the president’s assassination, Lord wasn’t thinking about a promotion. Instead, while reporting amid chaos, he tried to avoid any career-killing blunders. He tried to report only what he knew for certain, while maintaining his composure during live appearances on national television.

“It was such a depressing experience for all of us,” Lord said. “It just kept getting worse. It was bad enough the president of the United States is killed. Then the assassin is killed. The emotion was so heavy for all of us.”

SPRINT TO THE SHOOTING SCENE

Lord was in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated, working as a field producer for Bob Clark, ABC’s White House correspondent, who was covering Kennedy’s campaign stops in Texas.

When Kennedy was shot as his motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository, Lord was two blocks away in the tape room of WFAA, an ABC affiliate. The station was first to break the news of the shooting, interrupting a rerun of “Father Knows Best” with a bulletin.

After hearing on a police radio that shots had been fired, Lord ran to Dealey Plaza with a cameraman to interview witnesses. When he got there, he saw people pointing to the upper floors of the Texas School Book Depository.

“It was a horrifically emotional scene,” Lord said. “People were crying. People were stunned. People were angry. It was chaos.”

At the time, no one knew that the president had been hit, except for a few witnesses who had seen a bullet hit the president’s head.

Clark had been riding in a press car in the motorcade. After the shooting, that car followed the president’s convertible as it raced to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

“The president was lying in the back seat of the limousine, his head cradled in the first lady’s lap,” Clark reported in his first phone dispatch to the network. “At this stage there was no official word as to whether Mr. Kennedy was still alive. But he lay motionless on the back seat of the car for some two minutes while a stretcher was wheeled out from the hospital.”

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Bill Lord of Kennebunkport was a reporter for ABC News and reported from Dallas when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lord is photographed in his Kennebunkport home on Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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A screen shot shows Bill Lord reporting from Dallas on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. “It was such a depressing experience for all of us,” Lord said.

Courtesy Bill Lord

 


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