Forty five years ago, the U.S. and the Soviet Union nearly went to war over the placement of missiles in nearby Cuba. Kennedy told the television audience that he would “…regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The crisis was abated when an unconditional Soviet withdrawal was negotiated.
Soundbites from the Archive of American Television:
Max Schindler (Director, News)
“We all knew that something was happening because people were being called away from parties here in town. Very high placed government officials were being called away. We knew it was serious when they started showing pictures of missile silos opening, we thought Washington would be, probably a prime target because it was very serious. Here was this young President Kennedy facing off with Nikita Khrushchev. And I guess he wanted to push to see how hard he could get this young president to back off. Kennedy said the missiles had to be taken out of Cuba, Khrushchev said nyet, no way. And there were Russian ships steaming toward Cuba, or as Kennedy used to say ‘Cuber.’ It was kind of a scary time, and I don’t know how it was around the rest of the country, but in Washington it was very scary. My daughter had just been born a couple of months earlier, and because of a death in the family, she hadn’t been baptized and I came home one night and my wife said to me I baptized Maggie in her crib, she was that scared that we were going to have a nuclear war at that time. So it was a very scary time here in Washington… The coverage was all kind of secretive. We followed a lot of government officials around and tried to get information from them, but it was very hard. It was a very trying time, but they didn’t want to give any information out so, even though we had camera crews at the White House, and State Department, and the Pentagon and all over, we didn’t really get much out of them. They played it pretty close to the vest during that time and I can’t say as I blame them.”
Click here to watch Max Schindler’s entire 6-part Archive of American Television Interview.
Schindler talked briefly about his early years as a cameraman/production manager in local television in the 1950s. He described his entrance into network television in the 1960s on David Brinkley’s Journal, as an associate director. He spoke of his transition to director and talked about coverage done for several of the important news events of the day, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War. He described directing news coverage following the Kennedy assassination and capturing the images of the President’s coffin being placed onto Air Force One and the newly sworn-in Lyndon B. Johnson coming out to speak his first words as President. Schindler described covering other ‘60s events including Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. He described in great detail, his two-decade long association with Meet The Press, which he began in 1965. Schindler described preparing for the show and talked about several of the guests who appeared as well as describing the moderators on the series. Schindler described his work from the 1970s to today covering such events as the Watergate scandal, the returning of the hostages from Iran, and Papal visits to the U.S. Finally, Schindler described the work he has done as a Washington director for the Today show, which he has done from 1975 to the present day.
Bill Monroe (News Correspondent)
“We didn’t quite know what was going on… Gradually it came into view. We took what we could find out from the White House and Kennedy used the media to get across the points he needed to make as the thing developed.”
“One time I was at the White House as a producer of a speech that Kennedy gave that was on all three networks. And he told us to give him at the end of the speech a one-minute cue… He was going to improvise the last minute. He felt that reading something, although he was good at it, is not as effective as if he talk[ed] to [the viewer] directly. And he wanted to finish one minute improvised. Most Presidents don’t have the nerve to do that… He was supremely confident about his articulateness and his ability to handle television.”