Burriss: Do you remember the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 3:04 pm
By LARRY BURRISS
In this day of almost instantaneous news coverage, it's hard sometimes to realize it was 53 years ago Thursday, October 22, 1962, that the world was poised on the brink of nuclear war, and how much different the news business was then.
But what may be even harder to imagine, is what it was like to sit through a crisis without knowing what was really going on. After all, we've had a whole generation grow up with instant news and analysis. And for a society now used to on-the-spot coverage of events, what must it have been like to be on the brink of annihilation, and have no idea when or if it would come?
On that evening in October, President Kennedy, on live television, announced a quarantine of Cuba. The move was in response to the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba by the Soviet Union.
But 53 years ago, there was no CNN or MSNBC, and earlier in the day the President had fooled the entire press corps when he flew back from Chicago, supposedly because of a cold. Today, of course, such a move would be all but impossible.
Then, after the announcement of the blockade, the President and his advisors went into a series of secret meetings while our parents readied bomb shelters and stocked up on water and canned goods. The next day the quarantine was all everyone talked about, but actual news was non-existent. Of course, there were only three networks then, and commentary was pretty much limited to talking heads.
In fact, the only real media involvement came when ABC news correspondent John Scali secretly met with Alexander Formin, a representative of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. Scali, it turns out, was passing messages between Kennedy and Khrushchev.
For the next two weeks we lived with the threat, but live coverage was non-existent, satellite transmission a long way in the future, and reporters were much more willing to simply take a government handout.
Today, of course, we can get live reports from the battlefield, and even from the rooftops of the countries we are fighting. But 53 years ago we were in the dark, and those flickering black and white images did little to allay our fears that doomsday might very well be upon us.