Zapruder Nation

Originally published in November 2013 for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Reposted now to coincide with the release of previously withheld files on the assassination.

It is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The resultant reverence, pain and doubt have remained in the American psyche since November 22, 1963. It was a turning point for history, media and public relations. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan considered the Kennedy assassination and aftermath definitive of his concept, the global village: “The Kennedy funeral, in short, manifested the power of TV to involve an entire population in a ritual process.”

Media became omnipresent within minutes of JFK’s death, a constant we take for granted today. Paradoxically, there was a gap in coverage: the actual assassination in Dealey Plaza. There were no TV cameras along the limousine’s Elm Street route, although they were in place two days later at Dallas Police Headquarters where Jack Ruby ambushed Lee Harvey Oswald.

The best record of John F. Kennedy’s assassination came from Abraham Zapruder, a spectator filming the President with an 8mm camera, the “posterity device” of the time, associated with countless Thanksgiving dinners and school plays. Wired calls Zapruder’s half-minute filmone of the 20th century’s earliest and most significant pieces of user-generated content.”

One man had to be improbably in the right place with the right technology to make the world witness to the death of a President and the transition of eras. Today, we are all Zapruders, ready to record and even broadcast history. Nobody has to wait for the film to develop. Nobody has to wait for Walter Cronkite to remove his glasses and make an official announcement.

Authority became dreadfully mortal and chronically mistrusted after November 22, 1963, after Zapruder’s film created more questions than answers. Media and public relations both grew to fill the void of there being no more “final word” from our leaders. Technology has vaulted ahead to relieve the pundits and practitioners of the final word as well. Mobile devices outnumber and outpace minicams. The man/woman on the street crafts the message.

Fifty years ago, triggers squeezed in Dealey Plaza–rifle and camera–destroying what we knew and how we came to learn it. Today, the Zapruder nation, the well-equipped global village, is ready to give the final word–again and again and again.

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Remembering My Mother, Elinor Hager, 1939-2013


My mother, Elinor Hager, on the set of Adam at 6 A.M. in 1969, one of her earliest screenwriting credits

My mother, Elinor Hager, passed away on October 21, 2013. A screenwriter for nearly 30 years, she was my teacher in communication, creativity and critical thinking. She always told me how proud she was of my teaching career. Everything I am and aspire to be comes from her.

Proverbs 6:20 (NIV)

My son, keep your fathers command and do not forsake your mothers teaching.

I study under my Heavenly Father, working to uphold his commandments. And I studied under my mother, Elinor Hager. I will never forsake her teaching.

Life with Mom was an education, an eccentric, delightful state of constant learning. No subject was off limits. No person or situation was insulated from her outrageous humor. Mom consumed the raw material of the world around her, fueling the imagination that generated a livelihood for her family, an identify for herself, a legacy for all of us who remember her.

My mother’s teaching…

As her eldest child, I became her apprentice. Mom’s love of science fiction became mine as we watched first-run episodes of Star Trek. I acquired her taste in music when she excitedly returned from the record store in 1967 and sat us down hear to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Her respect for history and human events became clear when she woke me late one June night, led me to the television, and told me Bobby Kennedy had been shot. I needed to see. I needed to listen. I needed to learn. And I did, with Mom at my side.

My mother’s teaching…

As I sought my own voice as a writer and musician, I sought her counsel and approval. The critiques were pure if sometimes painful. Mom said that she cared for me too much to lie. The lessons and the love were just as pure.

The apprentice became a partner in screenwriting. It was the era of electric typewriters and stove-top popcorn. I contributed an action scene here, a plot twist there. Eventually I moved to the higher levels of character development, longterm story arcs and dialog.

My mother’s teaching…

To me, everything is a script. It is the framework Mom used to think, to write, to entertain, to achieve. It has been my guiding premise, the approach I take in everything I create today from a press release to a syllabus. I ask myself: Do we have authentic dialog? Will people believe in what I’m saying? Will they come back for more?

That’s why Mom’s passing is so hard. It constitutes lousy screenwriting by my standards–poorly structured, poorly timed, no dramatic farewell. But it’s not up to me. The Lord called my mother home is His good way and His good time. Fade out.



Clouds part as we glide over the Hollywood Hills. PAN myriad houses clinging to the slopes until one small, perfect split-level home fills the screen.


The camera’s view ascends the stairway leading to the split-level. Someone is coming home.



Jesus opens the front door and ushers Ellie inside.


The shag rug is deep. Captain Kirk issues commands from the console TV. A crowd murmurs and an orchestra tunes up before the Lonely Hearts Club Band begins its fanfare. 


Ellie gives her special, knowing laugh, reserved for the rare moments when someone has actually figured her out. Jesus leads her to the dining room table. 


A Smith Corona thrums against the wooden tabletop. Eternal stocks of Jiffy-Pop popcorn and Eaton’s Corrasable Bond typing paper wait by the machine. Ellie takes her seat and launches into her next story. She looks back at the front door and smiles. 


Jesus ushers in a newcomer, the son, just a boy in bangs and bellbottoms. Jesus steps away as the son runs toward his mother. 


                    Mom, I didn’t get to say goodbye.


                    Say hello instead.

The son hugs his mother.


                    Get the door.

The son reopens the door for the children, grandchildren and loved ones coming to see Ellie, to hear the stories and learn the lessons, all per the script.

                                               FADE TO BLACK:

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Voice of America, Voice of Russia

The New York Times presents Russia’s “New Theory of War” centering on information. News bureaus RT and Sputnik advance the Kremlin’s agenda and support viewpoints of both the extreme right and left around the world with the identified purpose of undermining the opinions and authority of moderates. Adding to these overt outlets, Russia makes heavy use of Internet “trolls” and proxies to advance fake news and other content supporting strategies of disinformation and destabilization of leadership considered hostile to the Putin regime.

In 2004, I wrote an article for AdWeek about the need for a Department of Communications, establishing a cabinet-level presence to centralize and intensify America’s communication efforts. Some may argue that such a department could become a propaganda machine at odds with independent media. One thing is clear: Russia is waging an information war and they are winning.

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