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Chapter 5 (part 2)

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 11 months ago

Comments and Discussion:

Add comments, notes and translations here.


A way to relate detalils-walking descripition-an observer was participating at the action and he used to decribe the mourning scenes in city's streets.

When dramaturgy and walking description declined,the breaking news became formless.


Photography gives at the readers a clear view of the news,but also relates past events.



Some visual motifs:

-> the cross-country train ride

-Lincoln and McKinley had funerals in Washington DC,but the burial took place in Ohio.

-> the grieving widow,the team of doctors and the body of the president

-> the oath of office

-> the news of the news represents the way news spread like a disease through the individuals




We can compare American experience with three examples in Italy:

the murder of Umberto I, King of Italy on 1900; the murder of Aldo Moro and the death of Pope John Paul II

The first died suddenly in Monza and was; Aldo Moro after 55 days of detention, the Pope after a very long period of disease, covered by the television.

I have uploaded some images:

- with respect to Umberto I, a drawing (photo 1) which depicts the moment of the death (he was murdered with four revolver shots by the Italo-American anarchist Bresci); the image represents the public point of view, without any specific details, nonetheless as an eyewitness account;

- as for Moro, the image of the “Il popolo”, the newspaper of the DC (photo 2) ; in my opinion, with regard to Moro affaire (photo 3), the most impressive photo is the one which shows the funeral, and the faces of the Italian establishment (unfortunately I cannot find it); the power without any power. These images reflect the dramatic moment of our Republican History.

- the Pope was an icon, but, with respect to his death, for the first time in the Christian history, the press has been allowed to depict the bare fact of the death (photo 4). This element –which did not diminish the sacredness of the Pope- corresponds to the features of the funeral, the first in modern times held in St. Peter's Square, striking in its simplicity. Consider this difference with respect to Moro funeral. In the more recent occasion there is another “actor”: the public which appears as crowds.

Nevertheless, there is a specific image which might remain as the icon and memento of the event: the Gospel, placed on the coffin and closed by the wind.

The Pope has been depicted also in a dramatic moment, when He was shot and seriously wounded by Ali ACGA. (photo 5).

In both occasions, the photos reduced the distance between viewers and the object, but, maybe, increased the charisma of the personage.


Oriana:I started my comment from the part entitled "The view from the grassy knoll". It is not in bold but it starts at the end of the fourth paragraph if I am right.

--The relationship between text and picture in newspapers was changing in 60 years a lot (from 1881 to 1963). Articles about presidential deaths were quite similar during the last decades of the nineteenth century. Then, pictures started to appear and emerge slowly into news pages and moreover, on this important occasion.

So, description of presidential deaths were above all based on text because editors were always underestimated pictures, from 1880 to the first decade of the twentieth century (they saw them as painting and they were not care their visual potential).

When Garfield was killed in 1881 and McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901, newspapers wrote long reports with long and detailed description about the death of both presidents without relevant picture about the subject written.

The articles written by journalists during that period of time was a kind of narration. It was neither

factual nor objective. It was more descriptive as if readers were reading a novel or as if reporters were really on the scene to see the real event: the assassination of the two presidents and their sufferance, the reaction of their body for the violence felt with all the consequences (doctors, last breath, last word just before dying, the funeral, the president’s wife etc.).

Something new and extremely important happened in newspapers for Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Pictures and photographic images became really important more than textual description in this event. Editors and journalists realized the importance of pictures and left the textual description about the assassination to the First Lady who lived close the death of her husband.

For the first time pictures, images and motion pictures were the best way to explain the tragic death of the president Kennedy also if a lot of people were present.

At the same time, although the images of the shooting were published on newspapers, journalists turned into textual description to describe what was happening in the hospital to save president life. Journalists were not there of course but they would continue to use text the narration way on this occasion, too.

Textual description were so important that for McKinley’s death indeed newspapers described his corpse, the colour of his face etc, instead Kennedy was remembered in his living appearance. So, the relationship between text and images changed a lot and was going on fast on those years.




Elisa: about Visual motifs

One of the main motifs was the cross-country train rice. This tradition began with Abraham Lincoln and continued for all the deaths in office except for one.

Garfield and McKinley died in Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York, respectively. They had funerals in Washington and then they went by train to Ohio for burial.

Harding died in San Francisco and was trained to Washington and then went on to Ohio.

All three took the same route from Washington to Ohio.

Roosevelt died in Georgia, had a quick ceremony in Washington and then was trained to New York for burial in Hyde Park.

Kennedy was the only one that didn’t follow this tradition. He flew directly to Washington for burial in Arlington.


Other common motifs were the grieving widow, the team of doctors and the body of the president.

The spouse of any president has always become a public figure and at the point of death the widows have typically remained mute. On the other hand, the team of doctors has always spoken with authority. At the moment of death, the president’s personal life is represented by the widow, while his body is represented by the team of doctors.


Another motif might be “the news of the news”. The observer disappeared from news report while the newspeople made of themselves another story.



Barbara : It is important to say the first events’ descriptions are very long, full of emotional details, dramatic. They were planned like a novel. In the book it is mentioned a particular way of relating details and used to describe funerals , it is called “ walking description”. Thanks to this technique readers could live again the event in question. With this form people, that didn’t see the event personally, had the chance to understand very well what happened in that moment.

When the portraits moved from art to news, both the image and its context changed as well.

The “walking description” technique declined and descriptions became formless. Reporters analysed more the events and underline the action. Pictures were less decorated and the new context emphasized the photograph.

Over the period, four visual motifs emerged immediately :

-the cross-country train ride

-the grieving widow, the team of doctors and the body of the president

-the oath of office

-the news of the news, that is the newspeople made another story.


To conclude, I want to remember a famous book “ As I lay daying “ written by Faulkner. An exemple of a tale about a journey through seven characters surrounded by a rebel nature.























Visual motifs

The process of change did not occur independently in either verbal or picture reporting but emerged from the interaction of the two. This process can best be seen by looking at recurring motifs that rely on conveying a visual impression. Reading images together with accompanying text made several motifs immediately apparent.


One was the cross-country train ride. The tradition began with Abraham Lincoln and continued for all but one of the deaths in office. Garfield and McKinley died after being shot and doctored in Washington and Buffalo, respectively. They had funerals in Washington, then went by train to northern Ohio for burial. Harding, also an Ohioan, carried the train ride to extremes. He died in San Francisco, trained to Washington in a cross-country marathon, and then went on to Ohio. All three took the same route from Washington across the mountains and mining country of West Virginia through the manufacturing region around Pittsburgh and into the rolling cornfields of Ohio. Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia, had a quick ceremony in Washington, and then took the train ride to New York State for burial in Hyde Park. Kennedy, breaking the tradition, flew directly to Washington for burial across the Potomac in Arlington.


Other common motifs were the grieving widow, the team of doctors, and the body of the president. The spouse of any president automatically becomes a public figure, but always of a particular kind: an icon of spousehood, required to live out the dominant notions of what a woman of her class ought to be. Especially at the point of death, the widows, while scrutinized and storified, have typically remained mute. By contrast, the team of doctors speaks with authority. Notably, the president's personal life, although always thickly populated, is represented in death by the lone figure of the wife, while his lonely body is represented through the multiple voices of a medical team. The doctors insert their expert vision into the public gaze, for which the president's corpse and his widow's grief are twinned objects.


The oath of office is yet another motif. In every case, the administration of the oath is dramatic, especially in contrast to the festive and elaborate ritual that typically accompanies the president's inauguration. The fact that the oath of office in such cases is an emergency measure makes it all the more exciting. Unlike death, which must occur in presidential surroundings, swearing in a successor can happen anywhere. Teddy Roosevelt, who succeeded McKinley, was hiking in the Adirondacks when the news came and took the oath after a hurried trip to Buffalo. Calvin Coolidge, who succeeded Harding, was sworn in at the family farm in Vermont by his father, who happened to be a notary public.


A final motif might be called the news of the news. In each case, the story was itself another story: the way the news spread like a contagion through the public, the way the news people covered it. Ironically, while the observer disappeared from the news report, the news people made of themselves yet another story. These motifs provide opportunities for divining what tasks the news in its various manifestations was expected to perform.

the view from the grassy knoll


A stricken president is always a big story. In 1881 the shooting of Garfield was told as an eyewitness account, full of dramatic detail. Similarly in 1901, when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley, an anonymous report in the New York Times, typical of the reporting style in that era, described the action after the shots rang out:


There was an instant of almost complete silence, like the hush that follows a clap of thunder. The President stood stock still, a look of hesitancy, almost of bewilderment, on his face. Then he retreated a step while a pallor began to steal over his features. The multitude seemed only partially aware that something serious had happened.

Then came a commotion . . . . (“President Shot at Buffalo Fair: How the Deed was Done,” Sept. 7, p. 1.)


In this typical piece of reportage, the story is told like a story. It flows in a narrative from beginning to end, following the sequence of events, at least after a brief summary lead. It is, moreover, written with the same range of observation found in a novel. The reporter feels free to report authoritatively the mental and emotional states not just of the crowd but of the President himself. To bolster his assessment, the reporter records the details of demeanor, such as McKinley's pallor, with the confidence of a novelist on one hand and an eyewitness on the other. The fulsomeness of detail in this four-column report implies at every point a reporter physically present and quite near the president at the moment of the shooting.


This kind of reporting has a clear task in mind: to recreate the scene of the crime for readers. Doing so is a subjective venture: the reporter offers an experience of events for the reader's appropriation. The report could not work if reporters limited themselves to verifiable facts and sourced observations. No way exists to verify “a look of hesitancy” or the multitude's merely partial awareness of the gravity of the moment. The reporter is telling the reader that this is what the reporter observed. Giving readers a compendium of others' observations would not have recreated the event for them, although a reporter might think that he or she was supplying the raw information to do so.


By contrast, the deathbed descriptions show the limitations of the fact-telling mode. Reporters actually witnessed none of the deaths, though they were always nearby, and always in a pack. Here, an anonymous eyewitness tells the story of Garfield's death:


Long Branch, Sept. 19. - At 10:35 o'clock, Dr. Boynton was sitting in the office of the Elberon Hotel talking with some newspaper men about the case. Suddenly a man's form appeared at the side-door and beckoned to the Doctor, who sprang to his feet and went outside. He returned in a minute and said, “The President is now sinking very rapidly.” At the same time throwing up his hands with an expressive motion. A dispatch was instantly sent to the West End Hotel, and in less than a minute 40 carriages filled with newspaper correspondents were dashing through the darkness in the direction of the Elberon. Hardly had Dr. Boynton disappeared than Capt. Ingalls, the commander of the guard, ran across the lawn. . . . In the meantime the newspaper men had swarmed into the hotel. For a short period they were compelled to remain in suspense. Then, at 10:33, Mr. Warren Young, the Executive Secretary, appeared. . . . He was surrounded by the eager crowd, whom he scattered like chaff by the announcement, “It's all over. He is dead.” Back at break neck pace the carriages flew over the shockingly bad road, and in less than five minutes a hundred dispatches were flashing the news to all parts of the country and the world. (“The First News of the Event: How the Newspaper Correspondents Got the Announcement,” Times, September 20, 1881, p. 1)


The story available for first-hand report consists of little more than “they told us this and we ran there, then they told us that and we ran back here so we could tell you.” Their physical absence did not prevent reporters from trying to recreate the deathbed scene with the same dramaturgy as a first-hand account, but they had to rely on others for details. The same Times correspondent described the death scene in a verbatim transcript of the doctors' press conference and followed up with a catalog of the people present, including an unattributed quotation from one of them:


Mrs. Garfield sat in a chair shaking convulsively, and with tears pouring down her cheeks, but uttering no sound. After a while she arose, and taking hold of her dead husband's arm, smoothed it up and down. Poor little Mollie threw herself upon her father's shoulder on the other side of the bed and sobbed as if her heart would break. Everybody else was weeping slightly.


Unlike the stories of the initial attack, these deathbed scenes did not usually succeed as dramatic accounts for two reasons. Not being present at the time, the reporters had to piece together the event from various sources and therefore had trouble conveying the experience of a first-hand observer. In this example, the source, expected to describe everyone's actions, does give a fairly compelling rendition of two of the actors, Mrs. Garfield and her granddaughter Mollie, but leaves everyone else “weeping slightly.” The Chicago Daily News report of Garfield's death (“It Is Ended: The Death-Bed,” September 20, 1881, p. 1) used contrasting excerpts from the Times and the New York Herald, consisting primarily of a catalog of those present: family and cabinet members, servants and doctors. This is only the cast. When it comes time to set the cast in motion, all they do is watch.


Even physical presence may not have allowed the reporter to overcome the banality of these deaths. All death is banal, but these deathbed scenes were extraordinarily lacking in drama or meaning. The dying presidents themselves said nothing memorable. Garfield's dying words were, “It hurts.” McKinley, according to the Daily News, said, “Good-by all, good-by! It is God's way! His will be done!” before lapsing into incoherent mutterings, thought to be snatches of the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee.” (Staff Correspondent, “Whole Nation in Grief,” Extra, September 13, 1901, p. 1). Harding, who died while his wife was reading to him from an article full of praise for his leadership, uttered these un-memorable dying words: “That's good. Go on. Read some more” (Associated Press, “Death of President Comes Suddenly as Wife Reads to Him,” Daily News, August 3, 1923, pp. 1, 3). FDR, who usually rose to the occasion, managed only, “I have a terrific headache” (Associated Press, “Last Words: I Have a Terrific Headache,” Times, April 13, 1944, p. 1).


In the Kennedy assassination, the photographic images of the shooting along with the endless simultaneous television coverage displaced the first-hand authored account. The moment of death was captured and conveyed first in photographs and then in stills from Abraham Zapruder's film. These canonical shots were perhaps not as lucid as one might suppose. They are not as graphic as the verbal descriptions of bystanders, for instance; nor are they as compelling as the photographic images of the various funeral observances to follow.


Moreover, while the photographic images displaced the verbal, they did not eliminate it. Both the Times and the Daily News reports of Kennedy's death were full of eyewitness accounts, by both reporters and bystanders. These carefully label the observer's subjectivity so as not to be authorial in the old sense. The single most gripping piece is an omniscient, objective account of the emergency room action when the president was brought in. The reporter was not in the room and does not proclaim an authorial presence, but in the best tradition of objective narrative composes a story full of drama and action, mostly involving the furious and heroically competent efforts of the medical team, culminating in the tragic moment when the First Lady bids the body good-bye:


Electrodes from the machine were attached to Mr. Kennedy's left arm. But the green pinpoint of light on the scope did not waver the tiniest fraction of an inch. . . .


Mrs. Kennedy stood up. Two White House aides stood on either side of her. She walked toward the cart where her husband lay. The aides stayed outside.


At the foot of the cart, Mrs. Kennedy stopped. The President's feet were flush with the end of the cart, uncovered by the sheet that had been pulled over his face.


Mrs. Kennedy reached out, touched the right foot then bent down and kissed it. Then she walked along the cart and stood by the President's right shoulder. . . .


The priest turned the sheet down.


Mrs. Kennedy bent over and kissed her husband's right cheek. Then she picked up his right hand, held it in both of hers, and pressed it to her left cheek resting it on her husband's chest her head on it, as the priest intoned, in Latin, the last rites (Bruce Miller, UPI, “Team of 15 Doctors Strove to Save Kennedy at the Hospital,” Times, November 30, 1963, p. 10).


This story gets told so well because of the authority of doctors. Because the setting is medical, the aura of science provides an incontestable verity despite the story's absurdity - all the action performed on a body that all of the doctors agreed had already died before they started. The medical setting also allowed the detachment necessary to convey such intimate details.


Doctors were present as interpreters or exhibitors of the president's corpse in all these deaths. In Garfield's case, the illness was so protracted that the team of doctors, quoted on a daily basis, became well known, almost like O.J. Simpson's legal team. So naturalized was the medical discourse that it comes as a shock to read a simple eyewitness description of the corpse:


The body is so greatly shrunken that artificial means had to be resorted to give the clothes an appearance of fitting. In addition to the natural shrinking from his illness, the operations connected with the autopsy has left the body in an even more emaciated state. A plaster cast was taken of his face yesterday, as well as of his right hand. In taking the cast of the hand it was somewhat discolored, so that his hand will not be seen. The effect of the oil used upon the face prior to taking the cast disfigured the features somewhat, and slightly altered the color of the face, so that the appearance is very much less natural (“The Last View,” from the New York Evening Post, in Chicago Daily News, September 21, 1881, p. 1).


The reports about McKinley's corpse also featured remarks on decomposition. By contrast, the presence of doctors allows one to forget that a corpse is gruesome. In the more recent deaths reporters refrained from describing the corpse. In Kennedy's case, reports repeatedly referred to his living appearance - his youth and vigor, his smile and stride. In the emergency room story, JFK is just a body made available for observation by doctors. The real drama comes from the evocative description of the very much alive Jacqueline Kennedy hailing this body as a dead person.

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