“When The News Went Live” :: George Phenix

I watched Booknotes on C-SPAN2. Steven Phenix tipped me off to this program and I thank him for it. Steven did not ask me to write about this, but I can’t help myself. The story is so compelling. The program, and the book, might even be sub-titled, “The day that changed the world.”

Turns out, Steven’s father – George Phenix – is one of the authors of “When The News Went Live: 1963“. I used that link to buy the book and can’t wait to read it.

Editor’s Note: I realized that I failed to list all the authors. Sorry about that.

They are: Bob Huffaker, Wes Wise, Bill Mercer and George Phenix.

George Phenix had been at KRLD TV 3, the Dallas CBS affiliate, for about six weeks when he was sent out on an assignment. This was the day (November 22, 1963) when John F. Kennedy made his fateful trip to Dallas. George met the plane at the airport and filmed the Kennedy’s as they exited the plane. Then, the motorcade left for their trip through Dealey Plaza

Later, George was waiting for the Kennedy’s at the Dallas Market Center, where JFK was scheduled to speak. He learned of the shooting. His youth may be what helped him pull off some impressive reporting. George grabbed a seat in a military officer’s car as he left the Trade Mart for Parkland Hospital, he began a ride that would end with him filming some of the most famous news footage in history. He reacted on impulse.

At Parkland, George broke from the crowd of reporters outside the hospital and went inside to get the only good film of Jackie Kennedy leaving the hospital. But it was his next filming assignment – two days later – that would change his life most dramatically.

George Phenix was in the garage of the Dallas jail when Lee Harvey Oswald was being taken through his ‘perp walk’ … that now common place experience of alleged criminals, the perpetrators, being walked past the press. George did not realize it, but Jack Ruby was actually standing right next to him at that time. As Oswald was being brought out, Phenix started filming. Ruby stepped out – right into the frame of George’s camera – and shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

Think about it. How many times have we seen that film? Six weeks on the job. George Phenix is quite amazing. Forty years later, he tears up during the C-SPAN presenation. That speaks to the intense emotional impact this event had on these gentlemen. One actually refered to how they had all – in one way or another – been sort of running from the event for the past 40+ years.

Thank you, Steven, for sharing the story. I know you are proud of your Dad. I know he is proud of you. George pointed out Steven in the audience during the program. 🙂

For me, it brings back so many memories. I was in pre-school at that time. I remember my parents coming to get me as all parents were coming and taking us all out of school. People were crying. I don’t know why I remember it so well, because I was all of about 5 years old. The more I think of it, part of the reason may be that my mother grew up in Fort Worth. The event shook her, and my father, to the core. But, that day – as the title of the book above says – was the first day when Americans (actually people all over the world) changed their ‘news habits’ and looked to television. The day truly changed the world. The change started there and George Phenix was a part of it.

0 thoughts on ““When The News Went Live” :: George Phenix

  1. Bob Huffaker

    Working with George Phenix to write When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963 was as much pleasure as working with him four decades ago to cover news. Phenix is a talented and principled journalist. He is the founding publisher of Texas Weekly, the state’s premier political newsletter, and he has served the cause of truth and justice all his life. As a young journalist covering the JFK assassination, George Phenix was as brash, resourceful, and savvy as any street reporter I’ve known. His film of the Oswald shooting was one of TV’s first sequences to be used in what we now call the “instant replay.” When the News Went Live is earning praise from both reviewers and other readers, and I’m honored to have George Phenix, Wes Wise, and Bill Mercer as my co-authors. Thanks for your comments about the book. Glad you enjoyed the read.

  2. Robert

    Thank you, Mr. Huffaker. The program was a delight to watch. I wish I had recorded it, but I’m looking into acquiring a copy from CSPAN now.

    All four of you gentlemen are wonderful role models for our students. I’m glad I learned of the show and the book.

    All the best!


  3. Bob Huffaker

    Many thanks, Robert. When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963 is close to our hearts, and we’re grateful for its reception by historians, universities, and journalists as well as general readers. We intend the book to chronicle the entire JFK assassination story as well as our long-ago chapter of broadcast history. I’m glad you enjoyed the read, and I hope that the book will set records straight among younger readers who’ve been confused by such fictions as the Oliver Stone movie. Bill Mercer still teaches at UNT, where I got my graduate degrees, and I was an English professor for a long and delightful time. Warm greetings to you and your students. We four are honored by your kind comments.

  4. Bob Huffaker

    When the News Went Live: DALLAS 1963
    Taylor Trade Publishing, ISBN 1589791398

    . . . a riveting account not only of the assassination but of TV’s transformation into America’s most dominant news source.
    William Endicott, The Sacramento Bee

    Here, finally, is the view from the street about November 22, 1963. This reporters’ account of the Kennedy assassination brings to full focus the personal anguish as well as the professional pressure endured that day by those who could not take the time to cry. This book will become part of the real and permanent history of a dark day for America.
    Jim Lehrer, The NewsHour

    The first accounts of how the Kennedy assassination happened came from the local radio and TV reporters of Dallas. For the first time, some of the best of those reporters tell the gritty tale of how they did it. The story they tell is riveting, insightful and filled with new detail about that awful weekend that changed America.
    Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent

    People often ask me “what it was really like” to be in Dallas on the day Kennedy was shot. . . . When the News Went Live provides an eloquent answer to that tough question, as four newsmen who were there, on the ground, tell how it “really was” through their eyes and ears.
    Dan Rather, CBS News

    This book has more legs than the Rockettes. The slim page-turner possesses a crisp, objective quality that, like a good movie, never stops moving.
    Kent Biffle, The Dallas Morning News

    This work brings immediacy and intensity to events that shook the nation. You are there with the four, on the streets, at the hospital, along the flower-strewn Grassy Knoll the day after, in the jail as Oswald is paraded for the press and then for murder live on TV. Interwoven with this is the perspective of forty years from men grown old, who still live with November 1963. Sterlin Holmesly, The San Antonio Express-News

    The integrity and dedication of these four veteran journalists is impressive, as is their ability to make a 40-year-old event come alive again.
    Publishers Weekly

    . . . a fast-paced recounting of what they witnessed. . . . It concludes with two thought-provoking chapters about the business of news and its uncertain future. Recommended for academic and public libraries devoting space to journalism.
    Library Journal

    . . . a first class account of a tragic historical moment that still has an impact on our nation.
    Ken Judkins, The Lewisville Leader

    When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963, a thoughtful and fast-moving book by four former Dallas broadcasters, is earning widespread respect of journalists and other readers who praise its depth, authority, and readability. This compelling first-person account is being touted as perhaps the clearest view yet of the JFK assassination and its aftermath. From separate and interwoven viewpoints at the center of that tragedy, four authors show what really happened, how they covered the stunning events for the nation, and how radio and television news has developed through the decades, both technically and ethically. The book is already in its second printing.
    The tellers of this vivid tale, Bob Huffaker, Bill Mercer, George Phenix, and Wes Wise, reported for the Dallas CBS affiliate KRLD Radio-TV News, one of America�s largest and best equipped news operations. They worked with Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite, and CBS News in bringing Texas news to the nation. When broadcasting JFK�s Dallas visit suddenly evolved into reporting a worldwide tragedy, they kept as calm as possible, to encourage the world to remain sane.
    In the center of that crisis, they earned the nation�s highest honor for their on-the-scene reporting, presented by the Radio Television News Directors Association, which wrote, �KRLD deserves the highest praise for the manner in which its personnel moved without a moment of hesitation from what was to have been normal coverage of the arrival, presentation and departure of the President, into fascinating, elaborate, complete and deeply detailed coverage at the local level of what has to be easily the story of our modern lives.�
    Bob Huffaker broadcast television�s first murder when Jack Ruby shot Lee Oswald. He broadcast the motorcade and the Parkland Hospital scene, interviewed the slain assassin�s mother, covered Jack Ruby�s trial and finally his death, having conducted an award-winning courtroom interview with Ruby. He earned the Ph.D. and was an English professor until 1980, when, as investigator for the Texas Legislature, he exposed his university for falsifying class records. This year the university, now Texas State University, placed him in its Star hall of fame for defending press freedom when he headed its student publications committee in the 1970s.
    Huffaker was an editor for Texas Monthly, Studies in the Novel, Studies in American Humor, and Modern Humanities Research Association. His book John Fowles is cited as seminal scholarship about the novelist, and his work has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, The Dallas Observer, True West, Senior Advocate, and Texas Parks & Wildlife.
    Bill Mercer stood vigil at Dallas Police headquarters and confronted Lee Oswald in a midnight press showing, where he informed the assassin that police had charged him with the president�s murder. Among flowers at the assassination site, Mercer reported words of sympathy on wreaths�and on the minds of those who gathered in grief at JFK�s murder. Voice of the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, University of North Texas, and the Cotton Bowl, Mercer is honored in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame, Texas All-Pro�s Hall of Fame, and UNT Athletic Hall of Fame. He also gained fame as a wrestling announcer and wrote a history of the Navy LCI: World War II combat landing craft on which he served in the Pacific.
    George Phenix has spent his life in press and politics. After leaving KRLD News, he was lobbyist for the Texas Municipal League. He wrote speeches and television shows for a number of politicians including Governor Preston Smith and Congressman J.J. Pickle. After four years as Pickle�s aide in Washington, he returned to Texas as Executive Assistant to US Senator Lloyd Bentsen. Phenix published weekly newspapers around Austin and for more than two decades has published the premier newsletter Texas Weekly, which he founded.
    Wes Wise, as president of the Dallas Press Club, escorted Adlai Stevenson at the press conference before later filming the night�s attacks upon the UN Ambassador. He helped prepare JFK�s security for the next month�s Dallas visit, broadcast the motorcade and the scene at the Trade Mart, encountered Jack Ruby the day before Ruby shot Oswald, waited at the county jail for the aborted Oswald transfer, and testified in the Ruby trial.
    Wise was a well-known baseball announcer for Liberty Broadcasting System in the 1940s and 1950s. He wrote for Sports Illustrated, Time and Life, winning Southern Methodist University�s Southwest Journalism Forum award, among others.
    Wise was elected mayor of Dallas in 1971 after four years as councilman. He was president of the Texas Municipal League and board member of the US Conference of Mayors. In five years as mayor, Wes Wise helped Dallas overcome its tarnished reputation. He not only reported this segment of history; he made some of it himself. As a reporter, he set records straight; as Dallas� first independent mayor in decades, he helped the city toward racial equity, guided it through desegregation and the uneasy Sixties, fought to memorialize JFK�s life and death, and helped pulled the city up from international disgrace.

    Taylor Trade Publishing, October 2004. ISBN 1589791398
    Contact: WhentheNewsWentL@aol.com

    Publicist: Tracy Miracle 301 459-3366 ext 5622

  5. George Phenix

    First – many thanks for helping get word around about our book. We hope it will contribute to history, and to better understanding of those days. I genuinely appreciate your kind words.

    Actually, I never thought I received recognition for my work and it’s more than gratifying to have it come at this late stage of my life. I was surprised when I choked up on the CSPAN program. But it was all I could do to hold on.

    My son, Steven, said you might be interested in having up visit with your students. The answer is yes. All along, we had hoped this book would prove valuable to J-schools. Just let me know.

    And thanks again.

    George Phenix

  6. Michael Norton

    I watched the program on C-Span 2 this morning and it was excellent. I’m 51 and I’ve been haunted by 11-22-63 since I was 10. I’ve added the book to my wish list on Amazon. Thanks to the authors for recording this valuable information for history.