Ohio Journalist

Davis’ Presidential Press Core

By Mallorie Sullivan | Photo by Eli Hiller

(December 1, 2015) — Much like playing the lottery, the odds against covering many of history’s most noteworthy events duringthe course of a 40-plus year broadcast journalism career are astronomical.

In Sid Davis’ case, however, the odds seemed to always be in his favor.

And instead of collecting his winnings in one-lump sum, the Ohio University graduate received them in an annual payout over the course of his career.

This payout began almost immediately upon Davis’ graduation in 1952, when the Youngstown, Ohio, native began as a reporter covering city hall, law enforcement, and crime and courts for WKBN-TV, his hometown news station.

In a city known for its high crime rates, Davis’ beat never failed to provide the young reporter with interesting — and sometimes dangerous — assignments, the most notable being his coverage of the Mafia.

“I kind of liked the Mafia the best,” Davis said. “They became my friends.”

Although he enjoyed the rush of covering organized crime, Davis’ ultimate goal was to wind up in Washington, D.C. Because of his admitted lack of experience back then, however, he stuck around WKBN-TV for seven years.

In 1959, Davis got his big break in Washington as a White House correspondent for the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, where his first assignment was to cover Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev when he came to America. Before long, he was traveling alongside John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential campaign.

During the campaign, Davis spent eight weeks with the Kennedy clan and eight weeks with Nixon’s team.

Doing this, he was able to cover each campaign equally; however, he admitted to favoring the Kennedy side because of the attention Jack’s “war-hero” status, charisma and intelligence brought to the campaign.

And, luckily for him, he was able to continue covering the Kennedys: Davis was in Hyannis Port, Mass., when Kennedy received word he won the election.

Following the election, Davis covered everything from the youngest president’s oath of office, his involvement in the Cuban missile crisis and the consolidation of the National Security Council, all the way to his assassination in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963.

After Kennedy’s arrival at Love Field, Davis trailed the presidential motorcade by eight car lengths in a press bus into downtown Dallas, when he heard three shots ring out directly above him from the Texas Schoolbook Depository at about 12:30 p.m. CST.

“Oswald shot at an angle, so we heard the shots more clearly than the people upfront,” said Davis, referring to Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who is alleged to have singlehandedly killed President Kennedy.

In the moments following Kennedy’s death, Davis was taken back with two other reporters by a Secret Service agent to Love Field, where he witnessed yet another piece of history: the swearing-in of Lyndon B. Johnson aboard Air Force One.

“I didn’t have time to say, ‘Why am I here?’” Davis said. “I didn’t have time to reflect on what had happened.”

Although Johnson’s swearing-in may have been Davis’ first time on an aircraft with the new president, it certainly wasn’t the last time. Six months later, on May 7, 1964, Davis traveled back to Ohio University with President Johnson to kick off his “War on Poverty,” a movement that launched and expanded several programs aimed at helping America’s poor.

The Kennedy and Johnson administrations may have been some of Davis’ most memorable, but he was just getting started. The reporter eventually rose up to become Westinghouse’s Washington bureau chief, where he made trips with several more presidents to foreign destinations, including Europe, Latin America, Korea and the Soviet Union.

Davis’ career a later was punctuated by stints as vice president and Washington bureau chief at NBC News and program director at Voice of America. These positions gave him the chance to cover and direct coverage on politics and political crises, including Nixon and the Watergate scandal, the assassination attempts on Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, political conventions from 1960 to 1992, and the Gulf and Cold wars.

To many, Davis’ retirement from Voice of America in 1998 may have signaled the end of his winning career; however, the Ohio University alumnus, who was later honored with the L.J. Hortin Distinguished Alumnus Journalism Award and a spot in the school’s Communication Hall of Fame, has since spread his wealth of knowledge through workshops, seminars and talks, as well as through a visit to his alma mater in May to celebrate and reflect on the 50th anniversary of Johnson’s historic trip to Athens.

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