In 1972, Richard Nixon told his security advisers, “Never forget—the press is the enemy.”
Historian Don Carleton, executive director of UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, begs to differ.
“We need to remind people of the important role news media have in what we know about the president and our government,” Carleton says. “Journalism is not some dusty remnant of the past nobody should be interested in.”
That’s the premise behind News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency, a collaboration between the Briscoe Center and the recently renovated LBJ Library. The inaugural exhibit in the library’s new temporary gallery, News to History chronicles 13 administrations—from FDR to Obama—that have spanned the last 80 years. Thanks to donated collections by famed photojournalists including Dirck Halstead, Diana Walker, and UT’s own Lucian Perkins, BA ’77, the Briscoe Center currently preserves the largest single collection of photographs of the U.S. presidency outside of Washington, D.C.—and some of its best holdings are now on display.
News to History, which debuted in February, utilizes the new U-shaped space to take visitors chronologically through the presidencies and the cultural events that impacted them. Juxtaposed alongside behind-the-scenes shots of America’s leaders are photographs of Marilyn Monroe, the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima, and a haunting shot of the UT Tower following the Charles Whitman shooting, among others. A mini-exhibit on the assassination of John F. Kennedy is especially popular, featuring a snapshot of Kennedy’s limo in Dallas just prior to the shooting and Jackie Kennedy accepting a folded flag at his funeral.
“Still photographs are etched in a different way in your memory,” Carleton says. “It gives you a moment to contemplate what you’re looking at—I can’t imagine these images ever losing importance.”
The exhibit also allows the Briscoe Center—a history research center and one of UT’s best-kept secrets—to show the Austin and UT communities the important work it’s doing right on the Forty Acres.
“We want people to know we’re doing this,” Carleton says. “We aren’t a big independent building like the Blanton or the Bullock. UT, through the Dolph Briscoe Center, is preserving this kind of history. And that’s something our alumni should be proud of.”
News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency will be on display at the LBJ Library through Oct. 1.
President Richard Nixon with press photographers, c. 1969-74. Photo by Dirck Halstead.