On the day President John F. Kennedy was shot, Mal Couch (ThM, 1964) was in his fourth year at DTS. He was also working as a television reporter, cameraman, and assistant editor for WFAA-TV, an ABC affiliate. “I was to meet the President at the airport,” he recalls. Couch was then to “follow his motorcade through the streets of Dallas, attend the luncheon in his honor, and follow him back to the airport for his departure.” One month before the president’s Dallas trip, the FBI had screened news reporters in Dallas, and several days before the event Couch learned he was assigned to film the president’s arrival—his biggest assignment ever.
Having begun with WFAA during his high school years when he sold several filmed news stories to the station, Couch had eleven years with the ABC affiliate.
He recalls the beautiful weather and the roar of the crowds that November day. “I managed to get alongside the car for some close-ups,” he said. “Then the motorcade began to roll. I was riding in the fifth car behind the President’s with Bob Jackson of the Dallas Times Herald and the photographers from the other networks. Like the president, we were in an open car.” The convertibles slowed as they neared the city and the record number crowds grew more dense, surrounding the president and reporters in a flurry of confetti.
When the cars turned right to go down Houston Street, the cameramen relaxed and put down their cameras. Couch recalls, “I remarked, ‘Boy, what a beautiful day for a parade! Everything is going perfect, too.’ Hardly had I finished when we heard a sharp crack. It sounded like a motorcycle backfiring, or a firecracker. Then a second or so later, another crack. People began to run and scream. The reporter next to me jabbed me in the ribs. ‘Look!’ he yelled, ‘Up in the window! A rifle!’ He was pointing straight in front of us to the Texas School Book Depository Building. There, on the fifth or sixth story, I saw about a foot of a rifle being drawn back into a window.”
The car carrying Couch and his fellow newsmen turned sharply down Elm Street. “I began taking pictures of the people running, falling to the ground, and screaming,” he said. “Many of them fell as I aimed my camera at them, perhaps thinking I had a gun.” One of his photos showed a policeman running toward the car with his .45 pulled, pointed right at his camera (and thus his head). “‘Get down!’ he yelled, ‘Get down!’”
When the car slowed enough, the reporters jumped out and raced back to the scene. “I started toward the building where I had seen the rifle in the window,” Couch recalls. Later he hitched a ride to Parkland Hospital with a young driver, but they were stopped by a police blockade. So they walked on the expressway, passing crowds still unaware of what happened and waiting to see the president. ABC aired Couch’s footage from coast to coast over the next few days. Then most of it was turned over to the government, and WFAA-TV did not keep a copy.
Because Couch was one of only four persons who saw the rifle, the Warren Commission asked him to provide testimony. Their final report quotes much of what he had to say.
“One thing that impressed me in the days that followed the assassination of President Kennedy,” he said, “was that so many people … walked around the city in a daze. They had no connection with life, it seemed… [But] my personal faith [was] in Jesus Christ and in a God who controls the affairs of men.”