I’ve always felt that the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles may have been a more sadistic blow to our country than the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, roughly four and a half years earlier.
ABC was the only network that stayed on the air continuously as events transitioned from election results to a breaking news event. Shortly after 3:15am Eastern time on June 5, 1968, the network was just returning from a B.F. Goodrich commercial and was about to sign off for the evening at approximately 19 minutes into the clip – the very moment RFK had been gunned down. For several moments, the John Phillip Souza march “The Thunderer” is heard.
Howard K. Smith is seen taking phone calls at his desk on the left, and a crowd forms in the upper right part of the screen by the wire machines above the “Race to the White House: California Primary” graphics. (Bill Lawrence is on the right side of the screen, whom ABC used as a political analyst.)
As the music re-cues a minute later, an announcer informs the audience to “Please stand by.” A minute later, the music stops and starts again, this time the announcer hints something serious is afoot by saying, “Please stand by for a special report.” Smith is seen furiously writing down notes and fielding a few more calls. About four and a half minutes into a static shot of the studio and the nearly continuous music, Smith returns to break the news at about 3:20am:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve kept the air on because we’ve heard an alarming report that Robert Kennedy was shot in that ballroom in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. A very loud noise like a clap of thunder was heard, a small explosion. We waited to see what it was, and then came a report that Senator Robert Kennedy was shot. We will bring you more news as we learn it.”
The details came forth in the following minutes and hours. RFK would cling to life for a little over a day before dying in the wee hours of June 6, 1968. I wasn’t alive when it happened (I came into the world three years and three months later), but it had to have been a cruel blow to the country – and I’m sure many wondered in the 50 years that have now proceeded the event what would have happened had RFK not been fired upon.