They don’t make many like Tom Wicker, 1926-2011
MONTPELIER, Vt. - On Nov. 22, 1963, Tom Wicker was in the first press bus following John F. Kennedy’s motorcade when the president was assassinated. Wicker, The New York Times’ White House correspondent, would later write in a memoir that the day was a turning point for the country: ‘The shots ringing out in Dealey Plaza marked the beginning of the end of innocence.’
“At that moment, however, all he knew was that he was covering one of the biggest stories in history. ‘I would write two pages, run down the stairs, across the waiting room, grab a phone and dictate,’ Wicker later wrote. ‘Dictating each take, I would throw in items I hadn’t written, sometimes whole paragraphs.’” . . .
“Gay Talese, author of the major history of The New York Times, wrote of Wicker’s coverage: ‘It was a remarkable achievement in reporting and writing, in collecting facts out of confusion, in reconstructing the most deranged day in his life, the despair and bitterness and disbelief, and then getting on a telephone to New York and dictating the story in a voice that only rarely cracked with emotion.’” (AP obit here) . . .
“The searing images of that day — the rifleman’s shots cracking across Dealey Plaza, the wounded president lurching forward in the open limousine, the blur of speed to Parkland Memorial Hospital and the nation’s anguish as the doctors gave way to the priests and a new era — were dictated by Mr. Wicker from a phone booth in stark, detailed prose drawn from notes scribbled on a White House itinerary sheet. It filled two front-page columns and the entire second page, and vaulted the writer to journalistic prominence overnight. . . .”
“Mr. Wicker had many detractors. He was attacked by conservatives and liberals, by politicians high and low, by business interests, labor leaders and others, and for a time his activism — crossing the line from observer to participant in news events — put him in disfavor with many mainstream journalists.”
—Robert D. McFadden, in Wicker’s New York Times obit, Nov. 25, 2011
• New York Times slideshow.
• Editorial Comment: A pretty good legacy for a journalist—on the front lines of huge events, reporting to the world, and attacked by critics on all sides, including journalists. Tom Wicker, an intrepid career with neither fear nor favor. Thank you.
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