Meet the Press   |  November 17, 2013

The shot heard 'round the world: Panel on JFK's assassination

A Meet the Press roundtable looks back to their memories of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy Jr.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> what you can do for your country.

>> this week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of john f. kennedy . the country and the world stood still on that afternoon of november 22nd , 1963 . with the perception of time, how might the country be different had jfk lived? back to talk about that is host of msnbc's " hard ball ," the elusive chris matthews , and tom brokaw who wrote the documentary called "where are you?" welcome to both of you. i think this really gets to where were you --

>> you can hold it up.

>> i've been looking all week long the transcripts to the documentary. steven spielberg , who you talked to, talks about the reaction of his mother. watch.

>> my mom was in the kitchen and she was sobbing at the kitchen table, and she was alone in the house. i remember putting my arms around my mother and she turned around and just embraced me. she was just holding onto me and she was shaking, and she was sobbing.

>> the before and after.

>> i think steven's mother was probably around john f. kennedy 's age. he was 16 at the time so she identified with him. this is a man, i think chris will agree with us, who arrived at the perfect moment in american politics for all his qualities. it was the television age. it was the end of the eisenhower -truman-fdr era. he came from this toothless family who was out there sailing every day and working hard to get him elected. there were a lot of john f. kennedys. he was the wealthy playboy, the iconic character. but he was also a reckless man. he came in with the cold war era . and when he left the presidency in a violent way in dallas, it was still a work in progress , david. his numbers had gone up, but that was primarily because of the cuban missile crisis . but there was a lot of work still on the table. no civil rights bill, no tax bill had gotten passed, and what were they going to do about vietnam ?

>> we'll get to that in a minute. chris, for me and my generation, i liken it to the before and after idea of 9/11. that's what i identify with. was it still different than even i can imagine?

>> tom said it well, before and after. i can't put the death of john f. kennedy and the autopsy pictures and the tabs running now with the life he led right up until the bullets. i wrote my book blinding myself on purpose to what happened to him so i could write about his life. what i worked on certainly was a playboy. all these things, totally true. but i tried to work on the working politician who was trying to get something good done for the country. that one part of it was truly idealistic. he was trying to figure out the politics in texas. do you want to know why the daily press was so important in dallas, why was ft. worth still a yellow dog democrat ? he's studying these questions and trying to get answers like tip o'ne'neilo'neill, trying to get things out. he needed taxes, he needed georgia, probably. just a couple weeks before he got killed, he's on the phone with dick daley trying to not be too perfect on the civil rights bill. he was working in philly to try to get the vote there. he was really a working politician, as you said, delayed with civil right but trying to get things done. so when he died, he was still thinking how do i get this bill through and how do i get reelected?

>> i mentioned the what-ifs as such a student of history. he campaigns against eisenhower as being soft on communism, eisenhower , the great general. what does he do in vietnam ?

>> remember the inaugural speech, let the world go forth, a new generation willing to meet anywhere in the pursuit of liberty. what does he do about vietnam ? that's an unanswered question in my mind. i talked to all of his principal advisers before he died. he was playing the hawkish line right before his death. he said he believed in the domino theory three weeks before he died because he wanted to get through '64. he was going to run against barry goldwater . the spread of communism is hard to describe to a current generation. it was a palpable fear throughout this country, democrats and republicans alike. at the same time, he was in on the assassination of the museum. we took out a leader and that country was a cia coup. my guess is he would have continued for a while but not near as long as liyndon johnson.

>> you hear him talk about the death of museum, and he feels bad. kennedy sent bad cables over there. he sent bad information that led them to believe they could get away with it. but i tell you one thing, the day he died in ft. worth at that breakfast, he said, the day we leave vietnam that government falls. he was as hawkish as he could be until the end. then you sit back and say, wait a minute, would he have put half a million american troops in and mimicked the french, knowing that disaster would come, if we turned it into an american war ? i don't think he would have done it that way, but who knows.

>> where were you the day jfk died airs friday on nbc on friday on nbc at 8:00 p.m . he wrote the forward to the book. you can go to flipboard to find it.