Are We Standing On The Next Grassy Knoll Of Journalism?

This blog post originally appeared on the LandisCommunications blog LCInsights on May 8, 2017.

By David Landis, President, Landis Communications Inc. (LCI)

I recently returned from the global gathering of our PR affiliates — this time in Dallas, Texas. Our Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) conferences are always inspiring sessions where PR pros from around the world meet to discuss trends, business practices and business development.

But often it’s what happens away from the conference that has the most impact. That happened again when I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, the site where John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated.

I was 7 years old and in second grade when JFK was shot. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. Our teacher, Mrs. Dobrokin, came to tell us, “the President has been shot,” and they sent all of us home from school to watch the story unfold on television. It would be the first of many historical moments in our country’s history to play out tragically in the media.

At that moment, we immediately changed from a country full of optimism and hope to one of cynicism and fear. And there would be no turning back.

Visiting the museum 54 years later, I was still overcome with emotion. But something else happened. The Museum seeks, in its own words, “To be an impartial, multi-generational destination and forum for exploring the memory and effects of the events surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy, through sharing his legacy and its impact on an ever-changing global society.” In other words, to do what good journalism does: inspire critical thinking.

As I meandered through the Museum, I came to realize that what we now accept as fact may or may not be factual. For instance, did you know that Lee Harvey Oswald was known to be a terrible marksman? Why was Jack Ruby conveniently at the scene when Lee was arraigned and why did Lee have so little protection? How could the bullet from Lee Harvey Oswald have missed the first time but have hit its target on a subsequent try when the President was so far away? If Lee shot President Kennedy from the Sixth Floor of the Texas Book Depository while the car was heading away, why did the wound indicate the shot came from elsewhere? Why on that day did the President decide to ride in an open-air convertible? And why does the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald — holding the supposed weapon — look like it was photo-shopped, even way before we’ve ever heard of that word?

Good museum experiences — like good journalism — motivate us to dig deeper, ask the hard questions, think critically and ultimately expose the facts. Those tenets are now more important than ever, especially when we have a President and his PR spokesperson coining the term “alternative facts.”

Ultimately, well-researched journalism — and critical thinking — are essential to our democracy. We need to remember the lessons of the grassy knoll, continue to support legitimate journalistic investigation, be thoughtful and never settle until we find the true facts.

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below or email me directly at:

The Sixth Floor Museum has an admirable program to help continue to educate our young people — and it deserves our support. It’s called the History Relevance Campaign (HRC). It began in 2012 with a series of conversations about why history — both knowledge about the past and the practice of researching and interpreting the past — was marginalized in our country. Children are not expected to learn it in schools, community leaders rarely look to it to inform today’s decisions, and national leaders select and distort facts to support their positions. The HRC believes that history ought to play a greater role in the lives of our communities and nation. To support this program, click here.