Morning Joe sat down with author Jeff Greenfield on Tuesday. Watch the video and read an excerpt of the book.
Excerpt of IF KENNEDY LIVED
By Jeff Greenfield
Reprinted by arrangement with G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company Copyright 2013 by Jeff Greenfield
Just after 11:00 a.m. central standard time, a twenty-nine-year-old reporter for the Dallas Times Herald walked to a fence at Dallas’ Love Field and picked up a telephone linked by an open line to the paper’s downtown office. Normally, Jim Lehrer covered the “federal
beat” —the FBI, IRS, courts, that sort of thing—but with the President coming to Dallas, and with the tight deadlines of an afternoon paper, all hands were deployed for the visit. Lehrer was to follow the motorcade through downtown to the Trade Mart, cover Kennedy’s speech, and follow the motorcade back to Love Field, where Air Force One would depart for Austin and the big fund-raising dinner.
On the other end of the phone was Stan Weinberg, the rewrite man who would turn Lehrer’s observations and notes into the finished story.
“Look,” Weinberg said, “I’m going to be writing this story under a lot of pressure later. Do they have the bubble top on the President’s car?” The rain that had been falling all morning in the Dallas‒Fort Worth area was on the minds of more than just the President.
“Well, I don’t know,” Lehrer replied. “I can’t see his car. Let me go look and see.”
He walked down the ramp where the President’s limo, a highly modified deep-blue 1961 Lincoln Continental SS-100-X, was parked, and where Forrest Sorrels, the Secret Service agent in charge of the Dallas bureau, was standing. The bubble top was still on the car.
Lehrer and Sorrels were familiar to each other, so the reporter approached the agent, saying: “Rewrite wants to know if the bubble top’s going to be on or not.”
“Don’t know,” said Sorrels, and called out to a subordinate. “Why don’t you check downtown, see if it’s still raining.”
It was a matter of the purest chance. On another day, a small, insignificant shift in pressure of wind would have moved the bad weather out, and sunshine would have broken out over Dallas. “Take off the bubble top,” Sorrels would have told his men, and the President and Mrs. Kennedy and Governor and Mrs. Connally would have been driving through downtown Dallas at high noon in an open car, waving to the cheering crowds that lined the streets, crowds pressing in, slowing the motorcade down, the open convertible giving everyone in the crowd—anyone looking out a building window—a clear, unobstructed view.
But on this day the weather did not change. On this day the answer that came from downtown was: “Still raining here, and no sign of clearing. Better leave it on.”
“All right,” said the chief. “It stays on.”
And Jim Lehrer walked back up the ramp, went over to the fence, picked up the open line, and told Stan Weinberg what he’d learned.
“The bubble top’s staying on.”
No one—not Weinberg, not Lehrer, not Sorrels, not one of them—gave it a second thought . . . for another hour and eight minutes.