Robert MacNeil, co-anchor of the PBS news program, The MacNeil-Lehrer Report.
Robert MacNeil, co-anchor of the former PBS news program, The MacNeil-Lehrer Report.

Robert MacNeil, who served as co-anchor of the MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour on PBS for 20 years, spoke at an Upper School assembly today about how technology is changing the media business.

He described reporting on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and how he left a press bus full of reporters after he heard what sounded like gunshots. He found himself in a loud and chaotic crowd, with police running toward what became known as “the grassy knoll.” He didn’t know that Kennedy had been shot, but he wanted to call in the possible gunshots to his network. Searching for a telephone, he encountered a man leaving the Texas School Book Depository who pointed inside. Later, MacNeil learned that the man was likely Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s assassin. MacNeil was so intent on finding a phone that he didn’t look closely at the man’s face.

 “What if I had had a cell phone?” he asked. “What if all of us reporters on the press bus full of White House reporters had cell phones?” He said they might have stayed on their phones instead of getting off the bus, and would not have learned about the shooting until the bus was rerouted to the hospital where Kennedy died.

“So maybe I got a little more of the story that day,” he said, “because The New York Times reporter, Tom Wicker, who I knew well, asked me where the shots came from and printed it in the paper.”

MacNeil was the inaugural speaker in the Rick Bates ’57 Speaker Series, which was established by the Class of 1957 to bring a distinguished expert in the field of journalism, publishing, and/or related media to the campus.

Members of the Riverdale community can watch the video with a password.