On Assignment

Published: March 26, 2018

By Jim Lichtman
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One of the most unforgettable and tragic news stories of the last 60 years took place on November 22, 1963.

I never saw it until years later because I was sitting in my High School Homeroom class in New Rochelle, New York. It began with a sober voice over announcement by Walter Cronkite.

“In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.”

A short time later, as recalled on CBS Sunday Morning, Cronkite is broadcasting live from the CBS News room showing the afternoon audience a black and white wire photo of the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas. An hour later, “the most trusted man in America” is back to deliver the news that an anxious public was dreading:

“From Dallas, Texas…. The Flash…. Apparently Official. President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time…. Some 38 minutes ago.”

Back then they were called News Bulletins – a rare and serious announcement — unlike today’s Breaking News which seems to happen every 30 minutes.

Ever the professional, Cronkite removed his glasses between reading lines, knowing how critical his words were and yet, how clear and concise they needed to be.

Looking at the video, (everything’s on YouTube these days), Cronkite was visibly shaken. He takes the few moments he needs to compose himself, because he knows better than anyone, that this is a story that must be reported as clearly, factually and objectively as possible. He then clears his throat, adjusts his glasses before updating the public about Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

Every summer, the CBS News anchor would leave for vacation, but he had an unique way of announcing it: “I’ll be on assignment,” he would say before announcing his stand-in.

For years, I was young enough to believe it until I discovered two things: his sly smile as he finished that sentence; and the fact that his 64-foot yacht was named, Assignment.

Now, I am neither the ethical equivalent of Cronkite nor going on vacation, but I will be taking a 2-3 week leave for a project that requires my focused attention.

In the meantime, this observation –

As I write this, hundreds of thousands of people, initiated by young people under the banner, March for Our Lives are marching in hundreds of cities across the country. From Washington DC to Los Angeles, all are showing up and speaking out for a change in gun laws in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed last month.

As a Washington Post editorial (Mar. 25), aptly put it, “Spring is traditionally a time when schoolchildren come to the nation’s capital to learn about their government. But on Saturday it was the students — tens of thousands of them from all across the country — who did the schooling…”

A handful of students – Jaclyn Corin, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Alex Wind – spearheaded the movement to speak out against gun violence and are calling on lawmakers for stricter gun control measures.

This is not a Second Amendment v. Gun Control debate. This is about the positive force of young people motivated to do the right thing in demanding specific action by lawmakers concerning common sense gun legislation.

Will officials listen?

Looking through the program notes for a concert I attended last week, I was struck by an advertisement for a non-profit.  I’ll leave you with these words that, I believe, summarizes wisdom all of us should consider.

“We can all do good. But together, we can do better.”


  1. I wonder about the boat name ‘Assignment’ — other sources have it that Mr. Cronkite named all his boats ‘Wyntje’… just sayin’


  2. I always learn something new from you, Jim. When I have been “on assignment,” and have gotten away for some space, I always come back with new perspectives. We marched with the young AND OLD last Saturday. I cried with their pain but I am optimistic we are discussing gun rights in new ways!

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