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“Oswald’s Been Shot” – A Tale of Two Photos

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

oswaldshot1Here’s a Calbuzz Classic, from the 2013 memory file, to commemorate once again the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the most tragic and consequential political event of our lifetimes. For those of a certain age. the live coverage of that wretched weekend began a string  of televised cultural horror shows that, for now, ends with the election of Donald Trump. As the saying goes, he’s no Jack Kennedy.

It’s often said that the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a major league fastball, an act that provides a batter about six-tenths of a second to see the ball, decide whether it’s a strike and then to swing at it.

Given that, it seems about time that photojournalists (average salary $53,750) start getting paid more like ballplayers (average salary $3.2 million).

That conclusion emerges from recalling how two local news photographers performed in the white-hot spotlight of history 50 years ago, when strip club owner Jack Ruby gunned down alleged presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in the underground parking garage of the Dallas Police Department.

oswardshot2Six-tenths of a second, in fact, is precisely the difference in the timing of two great photographs taken of the event, one by Dallas Times Herald photographer Robert H. “Bob” Jackson (above), and the other by the late Ira Jefferson “Jack” Beers of the Dallas Morning News (left). Beers’ image captured the instant before Ruby fired, Jackson’s the impact; Beers’ photo for the morning paper went around the world first, distributed by the Associated Press, Jackson’s was published a few hours later, and won the Pulitzer Prize.

In baseball terms, Beers had hit a double, while Jackson launched a grand slam deep into the upper deck.

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat

The bittersweet tale of the two photographers, two cameras and two images made on Nov. 24, 1963 was told splendidly a few years ago by Michael Granberry of the Morning News, a lovely story that became an instant classic amid the canon of assassination journalism.

timesheraldWhile the career of the widely feted Jackson soared, Beers never stopped blaming himself for missing the shot of a lifetime; sick with depression and heart disease, he died at 51.

From that moment on, Mr. Beers “never had as much confidence in himself,” says his daughter, who describes him as “feeling let down. Not by anybody in particular. More by fate, I guess. He always felt like, ‘Why have I had to struggle so hard to finally get the picture and then not get it?’ “

Scott Sommerdorf, a major league photographer and Chief Calbuzz Photo Editing Consultant, explains some of the technical differences between the two photos this way:

“Timing, and composition come into play in assessing these two photos,” he said. “An old phrase; ‘If it’s not good enough, you’re not close enough” is applicable here.

morningnews“(Beers) is  just not close enough to fill the frame – one of the things we always look to do. Jackson’s shot is tighter and gives us more impact when we can read the faces on the men in this frame.

“We could improve Beers’ photo with a crop to make it tighter, but Jackson’s is still superior because of his slightly better timing,” he added. “Of course neither photographer could have planned for this, but Jackson’s timing was much better. Jackson’s is one of just a handful of classic photos we can all easily recall, and the timing is the key to its power.”

What the news business is really like: It’s a plain fact that reporters are different than normal human beings, due to their lack of what we might call the Basic Human Decency and Sensitivity Gene.

So behind the scenes, the events of November 1963 — as horrible and tragic as they were for President Kennedy’s family, the nation and the cause of world peace — were for Beers, Jackson and the staffs of both Dallas papers one helluva’ hometown story, an occasion for their day-to-day caustic and aggressive competition against each other to be elevated to an unprecedented level of ferocity.

Bob-Jackson-at-Barry-Whistler-Gallery-in-Dallas_140053A rare glimpse of that hard-core newsroom perspective may be found in “JFK 50,” a one-hour, online documentary prepared by the Morning News, the only surviving paper in Dallas, as part of its weeks-long spectacular coverage of the anniversary.

“And then we were getting the reports that we’ve got a helluva’ photograph,” recalls Jim Ewell, a reporter for the morning paper, “That Jack Beers had got the world breaking photograph of Ruby shooting Oswald.”

Jackson remembers feeling deeply anxious upon his return to the Times Herald newsroom, unsure of what he captured in his camera of the Oswald shooting:  “Jack Beers’ picture was already on the wire,” he says in the documentary, “and there was a little group of people out at the wire machine looking at it and they called me over and said ‘Do you have anything as good as this?’ And I said, ‘I’ll let you know after I run my film.’” (Photo above © Allison V. Smith)

(Memo to the pre-septuagenarian crowd: once upon a time, long before pixels were invented, photos were taken with something called “film” that was “developed” in a “darkroom” using baths of chemicals and water. But we digress).

castleberry_photoTake that, you bastards: Jackson again: “So it was a pretty tense moment. So I went in, ran my film and (the photo editor) was standing right outside the door. I remember holding up the wet negative, you know and looking at it, and it looked sharp, that was the first thing, it looked sharp.”

Reporter Darwin Payne was one of those hanging around the newsroom, desperately hoping that Jackson had something better than Beers: “There it was, in the water, I guess that’s what it was, cleaning off some of the chemicals, and I said ‘there’s the Pulitzer Prize winner.’”

Vivian Castleberry, one of the few women writers on the paper and the story, recalls the moment she saw the photo this way: “All of Dallas could have heard the screaming from that room when he developed that picture and the image came out of what he had.”

Jackson: “And I remember lettin’ out a yell of some kind and so we made a wet print…and carried it out to the newsroom and then we realized we beat the Dallas News.”

nschiefferhatA footnote to the story: Bob Schieffer, now a CBS-News honcho, but then a grunt reporter for the Forth Worth Star-Telegram, remembers that his editors grabbed the Beers photo off the AP wire and quickly slapped it on the front page of his paper:

“And I grabbed a bundle of those papers myself and took it down to Dealey Plaza and sold them, started selling them, like a paperboy down there ‘cuz this was such a huge scoop,” says Schieffer, “and what made it such a sweet scoop, there was such competition between the Dallas News and the Star Telegram in those days, we were on the streets of Dallas with the Dallas News picture on our front page, on the streets of Dallas, before the Dallas News got their first edition out.”

God we love the news business.

P.S. Another good yarn about a great journalistic performance on 11/22/1963, h/t Rob Gunnison.

Op Ed: Young Man’s Hope for Spirit of California

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

goldengateWhile your aging Calbuzzards are feeling pretty downcast and pessimistic about the future of the state and the nation under the Trump Regime, we’re delighted to offer a brighter vision of Thanksgiving from one of our smart, young contributors.

By Patrick Atwater
Special to Calbuzz

On Tuesday Nov. 8, Californians voted in record numbers to reaffirm our commitment to freedom, openness and really just basic human decency.  This fundamental difference in values offers an alternative future for America and indeed the world.

Civilizations succeed when they open themselves to new ideas and new people from new places. There is nothing great in closing off a country from the world.  Simply compare the backwardness of inward-looking medieval Europe – filled with castle walls – to the flourishing in the open minded Renaissance.

appleproductsWe are the world As an alternative to a walled off America, California builds bridges to every corner of the globe.  Every iconic Apple product says “designed in California,” and Hollywood movies inspire millions.  That open and imaginative attitude is exactly what the world needs to build a bright future.

Today, Californians work to automate driving, pioneer personalized medicine and colonize Mars. Under Gov. Jerry Brown’s leadership, California’s economy has growth to the sixth largest economy in the world, and our once-troubled state finances have stabilized.

Yes, California still has its share of problems.  Housing costs prohibit all but the creative elite from affording life in too much of coastal California.  Too many of our roads are chock full of potholes. The quality of too many of our kids’ schools is too often a function of the zip code they live in.  And a lingering drought challenges us to do more to prepare for an uncertain water future.

potholesCommon sense pothole repair Yet fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with California that cannot be addressed by what is right with California.  Gov. Brown’s call for common sense reforms could lower housing costs. New sensors can map potholes radically more affordably and comprehensively.

The web can connect students with opportunities unimaginable a generation ago and help us move beyond our one-size-fits-all public education system. And new data technologies enable new ways to measure and thus better manage California’s precious water resources. 

Today there is a global crisis of confidence in our basic public institutions. Meanwhile, ultimately none of those promising pilots linked above are certain.  Ultimately, they simply highlight a new frontier for public problem solving. Of course, the pioneers’ journey by land and sea to California was far from certain as well.

patrickatwaterToday’s challenges offer a golden opportunity for Californians to bring that pioneering spirit to bear on our pressing public problems.  America – and indeed the world – needs nothing less from California today.

Patrick Atwater is an author, entrepreneur and frequent Calbuzz commentator.  He currently runs a big water data project to prepare California to adapt to our historic drought and whatever the future holds. 

 

Herr Trump’s Conflicts of Interest Already Starting

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

trumphoteldcBy Dick Polman
From NewsWorks.org

Two months before the inauguration‚ henceforth to be known as Enthronement Day, the craven corruption has already commenced.

Foreign diplomats intend to line Donald Trump’s pockets by staying at his new D.C. hotel, in order to win favors for the nations they represent. They’re not even subtle about it. One of them says: “Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor’?”

“His city.” Gee, I always thought it was our city.

We The People‘Emolument’: not a moisturizer. I had long been led to believe, by the Trump campaign and its voting minority (at this writing, 1.7 million fewer voters than Hillary’s campaign), that the Clintons’ alleged mixing of private business and public service was veritably satanic. And yet here we are, suddenly poised on the precipice of an unconstitutional kleptocracy.

If you don’t understand what’s going on, check the dictionary definition of the word emolument: “A salary, fee, or profit from employment or office.” Then take a look at what the Founding Fathers wrote into the U.S. Constitution. Section 1, Article 9 specifically bars all federal officials — no exceptions — from profiteering while in office. Conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, who profess to revere the literal language of the document, might want to read this slowly for full comprehension:

“… no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatsoever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

trumpeyesLost in transition. Translation: Unless Trump speedily puts his business empire in a blind trust, to be administered by a trustee with no family ties — a move he has refused to contemplate — he will likely be violating the Constitution on Day One of his enthronement. But don’t take my word for it. Trevor Potter, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission, frames the issue in language that even the dimmest trumpeting troll should be able to process:

“The founders of this country were greatly concerned about foreign attempts to influence our government. They feared that kings or potentates would make generous gifts to our president in an attempt to sway U.S. policy, so they wrote into the Constitution the emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from receiving any personal financial benefit from a foreign government…

“Some foreign businesses and foreign leaders will want to cozy up to the Trump family, because that is how they are used to doing business and conducting foreign policy. The children will get a raft of proposals for new hotels and golf courses and other investments in places that will offer very favorable terms: cheap land, no red tape in the permitting process, low-interest loans for construction, a guaranteed large management fee in return for the Trump name on the new enterprise …

“This is a colossal mistake. It will produce conflicts of interest of an unprecedented magnitude…We will look like the very sort of kleptocracy we criticize in corrupt dictatorships elsewhere.”

hamiltoncastThe Hamilton distraction. Trump claimed back in August that “the Clinton Foundation is the most corrupt enterprise in political history” — yet here he is now, on the cusp of institutionalizing pay-to-play profiteering on a global scale. In open defiance of constitutional norms, he even met last week with three India business partners … and yet, public reaction runs the gamut from silence (congressional Republicans) to numbness (most people). And a lot of Trump critics simply prefer to be distracted by his petty tweetstorms about “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Life.”

Granted, some former White House ethics lawyers, from past Democratic and Republican administrations, warned Trump in a letter last week that profiteering is unAmerican — “You were elected to the presidency with a promise to eliminate improper business influence in Washington. There is no way to square your campaign commitments to the American people, and your even higher, ethical duties as their president, with the rampant, inescapable conflicts that will engulf your presidency if you maintain connections with the Trump Organization” — but hey, who cares, right? The holidays are coming, and there’s lotsa football.

Plus, we have Reince Priebus, the incoming Trump aide. On CNN yesterday, Jake Tapper hit him with the biggie: “As White House chief of staff, you’re supposed to look out for any political or ethical minefields. Is it seriously the position of the Trump transition team that this is not a huge cauldron of potential conflicts of interest?” Priebus replied: “Obviously we will comply with all of those laws and we will have our White House counsel review all of these things.” Yeah, sure. Unless Trump puts his empire in blind trust, Priebus’ assurances are worthless.

HamiltonNo checks and balances. And with the GOP in charge on Capitol Hill, don’t expect anyone to probe Trump by invoking the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. I suppose that could change, if or when his conflicts of interest flagrantly undercut the national interest. But for now, the party’s House sleuths are more likely to investigate the free-speech behavior of the “Hamilton” cast.

Oh, speaking of Alexander Hamilton, here’s something he wrote in 1788 — an eloquent warning about pay-to-play corruption in government: “In the general course of human nature, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will.”

dickpolmanIt’s right here in the Federalist Papers. And it turned up in a 2013 tweet … from Donald Trump.

Dick Polman, former political writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, blogs at  www.newsworks.org, where this column originally appeared.