There could be little doubt of Oswald's guilt," wrote TIME two weeks after President Kennedy's assassination, and continued, "Lee Oswald was plainly a man of demonic frustrations and fanaticisms." Most of the U.S. press shared that conclusion, but the major job of reporting then shifted from journalists to the members of the Warren Commission. By the time Mrs. Marina Oswald testified, it had become even clearer that, as TIME said, "there was no dark conspiracy ... no plot." This week the Warren report massively confirmed these views.
While printing presses ran day and night to reprint the full document in various editions, our job was different: we went to work to excerpt the report, cull its most significant detail, and summarize its meaning in a special nine-page section.
The task began on Friday morning, 54 hours before the report's official release and less than 36 hours before this issue was to go to press. In the Indian Treaty Room of Washington's old Executive Office Building, advance copies were being handed out to the press from three pushcarts. Near the head of the line that had formed was John Brown, a messenger working for TIME'S Washington Bureau. He placed ten copies in a suitcase and headed for the airport. Less than two hours later, copies were turned over to a team assigned to prepare the special sectionNation Editor Champ Clark, Writers Marshall Loeb and William Johnson, Researchers Harriet Heck and Pat Gordon. They closed their doors and started reading the nearly 300,000 words.
About seven hours later, they were ready for a dinner conference with TIME'S managing editor. The entire section was written, edited, checked and in type not long after our usual press time on Saturday night. Weary Editor Clark and his colleagues found the project both exciting and haunting, for it revived the tragic happenings of last November with extraordinary immediacy.
Whenever TIME'S cover presents an unsavory or criminal character, a few of our readers protestand probably will again this week. This sentiment was typified when we ran a cover on Caryl Chessman, the convicted kidnaper and sex offender who had become the center of a major legal dispute over capital punishment. A reader then wrote: "How could you glorify such a despicable criminal?" Similar thoughts were expressed about Lee Oswald when TIME did a cover story on his wife. We acknowledge the readers' feelings that to be on TIME'S cover is a distinction quite different from being in a newspaper headline. And in most cases, our cover subjects have achieved importance by the good they have done. But there are those who achieve importance by doing evil, and neither the journalist nor the historian can ignore them. Lee Oswald is on TIME'S cover not to be "glorified," but to be examined and judged as a protagonist in a historical event.