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The Briscoe Center Acquires the Papers of Jules Witcover

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Jules Witcover Witcover's Notebook, June 5, 1968

The Briscoe Center has acquired the papers of legendary print journalist Jules Witcover, who remains an active political columnist 65 years after beginning his career. Witcover worked as a reporter for the Newhouse News Service, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun covering congress and every major election between the 1960s and 1990s. During 1968, he was an eyewitness to the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago. He later covered in detail the downfall of Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon.

“My general hope is that these papers can rekindle interest in that whole period,” said Witcover of the late 1960s and early 1970s. “Right now, 50 years on, there is a lot of interest in this period; it lies at heart of the time when I was most active as a reporter.”

Witcover’s career began in 1949, working for the Hackensack Star-Telegram, Newark Star-Ledger, Providence Journal and Syracuse Herald-Journal before joining the Washington bureau of Newhouse Newspapers in 1954. In that role he covered every major congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential campaign up until 1968. As a Pentagon reporter he traveled on official State Department visits, most notably to Europe in 1956 and 1958, where he covered the Hungarian Revolution and World War II refugee camps in Italy and Austria.

In one of the defining years of his career, Witcover was covering Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination when Kennedy was assassinated on June 5, 1968. Witcover was just feet away when he heard multiple pops “like a firecracker” before seeing a stricken Kennedy being attended to on the ground while a lone gunman was accosted by security personnel. In his 1997 book, The Year the Dream Died, Witcover recalled how he and other print reporters “scribbled frantically in our little notepads. Later, when I looked at what I had written, it was all an indecipherable garble. But what I saw and heard in those terrible moments was etched indelibly in my mind thereafter.”

“I still have dreams about it, I can still visualize the scene,” said Witcover in a recent interview with the center. “But I had no sense of danger whatever. I was focused on observing everything I could.”

Extract from Witcover’s research notes for his book The Year the Dream Died. Circa 1994.
Extract from Witcover’s research notes for his book The Year the Dream Died. Circa 1994.

In 1969 Witcover became a political reporter for the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times. He continued to cover elections in depth and was one of the reporters featured in Timothy Crouse’s 1973 book, The Boys on the Bus, which detailed the life of reporters on the road with political campaigners. Witcover moved to the Washington Post in 1973 and had a ringside seat for the Nixon administration’s descent into acrimony. Witcover later worked for the Washington Star and then the Baltimore Sun, where he was a columnist for over 20 years—published five times a week and syndicated across the country.

“The Jules Witcover Papers document half a century of American political history through the words and research of one of Washington’s most renowned reporters and columnists,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “You can attain a measure of how useful, detailed, and vivid Jules’s archive is by reading his books. Meticulously researched, they are largely based on the records he kept as a reporter and revisited as an author.”                                                       

Witcover’s papers measure over 100 linear feet and include manuscripts, research files, and correspondence related to his books 85 Days: The Last Campaign of Robert Kennedy, The Resurrection of Richard Nixon, and The Year the Dream Died: Revisiting 1968 in America. The papers also include hundreds of notebooks and cassette recordings featuring interviews with every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama as well as those with Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, George Wallace, and Hubert Humphrey. The collection will be available for researchers later in 2018.

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