As the lone New York Times reporter in Dallas when John F. Kennedy was shot, he chronicled the assassination that changed the world -- and the media
Tom Wicker, who died Friday of an apparent heart attack at age 85, was one of the most significant print journalists of the 20th century. He was a reporter, a pundit, an author of many books, a longtime bureau chief of The New York Times, a contributor to The Atlantic, and an outspoken critic of journalism itself (as well as a frequent target, the Times candidly noted in his obituary, of many of his own critics in and beyond the media).
To reporters and journalism professors, Wicker's legacy is a vast and varied one. But to the American people, indeed to the world, he will forever be known for his work over a four-day stretch in November 1963, when he covered the assassination and then the burial of President John F. Kennedy. The man was in the right place at the wrong time, you might say, and he performed brilliantly during the story of his lifetime.
The story long ago passed into lore. Wicker was the lone Times' reporter on the trip to Dallas. He was in the motorcade when the president was shot. He stoically reported the events -- the first of their kind ever to be broadcast on television news. Much in the same way that the shooting quickly elevated local reporter Dan Rather toward his 40-plus years of success at CBS News, the Kennedy assassination helped make Wicker a huge force at and for the Times.