Reporters involved in the initial coverage of the assassination repeatedly asserted their credentials as the definitive eyewitnesses to history in the coming years, particularly as other groups began to challenge their professional authority. The first challenge came from biographers and historians, who felt that the journalists had become too caught up in the immediate chaos of unfolding events to offer anything more than a partial and subjective account. The second challenge (the subject of Chapter 5) came from amateur investigators who felt that the accounts produced by journalists – and of course official government inquiries had failed to consider the tantalising clues to a vast conspiracy; in other words, in focusing on their status as on-the-scene eyewitnesses they had missed the real story which was hidden from immediate view. This chapter examines the popular histories, memoirs and biographies written in the five or so years after the assassination, and then turns to the later revisionist attacks on those elegiac accounts of the life and death of JFK. It also explores how the assassination has been dealt with by professional historians, including debates about the role of the death in shaping our sense of the meaning of the 1960s (is November 1963 when it all began to go horribly wrong?), and the role of counterfactual speculations about the significance of the assassination for the story of the Vietnam War (had he lived, would Kennedy have withdrawn US troops?).
The question of who is best qualified to tell the story of Kennedy's life and death has been debated heatedly ever since November 1963. While journalists were asserting their credentials, those who had been part of Kennedy's inner circle kept alive the flame of his memory and burnished the public perception of him in a series of memoirs, biographical tributes, and histories. Kennedy insiders such as Arthur Schlesinger, Theodore Sorensen, Theodore White, Ken O'Donnell, and even his secretary Evelyn Lincoln all produced memoirs in the half decade after JFK's death. Most of these accounts understandably touch