There's a time and a place for live-tweeting, and it might not be fifty years after an event. On Friday, the nation commemorated John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated at the age of 46 by Lee Harvey Oswald, exactly fifty years ago. To this day, JFK remains one of best-loved American presidents. Kennedy is known for his youthful charm, his popular policies, and a life cut short by a shooting that devastated America. But amidst the commemoration Friday, one thing felt off: for reasons unknown, outlets like NPR, CBS, and the History Channel are marking the day by reenacting the gunning down of JFK on Twitter.
This doesn't make a whole lot of sense to us. Firstly, JFK was popular for the choices he made during his life: why are news outlets celebrating him by painstakingly reliving the hours after he was shot dead? Secondly, Twitter was not even slightly around in 1963, so why are we applying a completely modern phenomenon to a great American tragedy? The whole thing doesn't exactly cheapen Friday's commemorations, but it doesn't feel completely appropriate, either. Is it that Twitter is such an integral part of how we live now that we feel the need to apply it to all of history?
The History Channel is a more obvious news outlet to faux-cover the fifty-year-old shooting. After all, this a channel dedicated to reliving history, and perhaps it's an interesting experiment to examine how Twitter would have been used if it was around in 1963. NPR is exhaustively live-Tweeting from its @todayin1963 handle, which might be a little much, but kind of makes sense. The whole point of @todayin1963 is to report events in 1963 as if Twitter were around then, after all.
But when CBS live-tweeted about JFK's assassination, the whole thing became strange, and even a little crass.
On CBS News' JFK channel, to which all of its live-tweets link, the page reads: "When President John F. Kennedy was shot in 1963, CBS News went on the air - and stayed there for four days. Watch the original reporting here, as it happened." CBS' agenda for Friday is as follows.
Not to put too bleak a spin on it, but CBS is probably aware that this isn't a half bad PR move. After all, in an age in which traditional journalism bastions are quickly losing their stronghold on popular media, what better way to reaffirm your your position as a prominent, age-old news organization than by pointing to a major American event and driving home the point that you were there fifty years ago?
And there's another issue. CBS' agenda for the anniversary of JFK's shooting is back-to-back coverage of his death, not his life. Marking a fallen president is one thing, but zoning in on the fine points of his unexpected death for an entire day? Spending the day recalling the high points of his life is par for the course for an obituary, a remembrance service, or a commemoration — but CBS isn't doing that. The whole thing feels frankly macabre.