The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.



The Kennedy Assassination and the American Information Seeking Behavior in Crisis: A Critique of Marchionini’s Theoretical Model of Information Seeking. Draft 2

Hanem Ibrahim Professor Eino Sierpe ILS 537-70 Spring 2010 03/29/10

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc


Abstract This study is to critique Marchionini’s theoretical model of information seeking behavior, and examine the stress as an important factor that affects information seeking behavior of Americans after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. It evaluates Marchionini’s framework and the factors of his information seeking model which include: information seeker, task, search system, domain, setting, and outcomes. Results showed support to the impact of the stress factor on almost each of Marchionini’s elements of information seeking, and the importance of adding the stress as an essential factor when studying information seeking behavior especially after the crises.

Keywords: Information seeking behavior, Marchionini model, John F. Kennedy Assassination, crisis, stress.

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc Introduction The crisis is a situation or period in which things are very uncertain, difficult, or painful, especially a time when action must be taken to avoid complete disaster or breakdown. Throughout our lives we face that difficult time, we could overcome the stress and the pain to continue living the same way we used to it before, or we could be changed physiologically, or socially, during that hard time. We


could react or response differently, but certainly there will be impacts on our behavior or interaction with all what we could do when searching for solutions to our problem caused by that crisis. Seeking information has been discussed theoretically and practically, but not many studies concentrated or focused on information seeking behavior after the crises. This paper is an attempt to critique Marchionini’s theoretical model of information seeking behavior, and to examine the stress as an important factor in information seeking and its effect on information seeking behavior of the American after Kennedy assassination. Purpose and Description

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc Marchionini’s model in information seeking does not seem to address or account for the psychological processes and behaviors associated with information seeking under conditions of extreme stress. Marchionini does not mention stress as a disruptive factor in information seeking, that failure to account for this factor or process may have an effect on information seeking methods and its outcomes after crises. Therefore I’ll discuss the stress effects caused by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 on the information seeking behavior of Americans after that tragedy. Although Marchionini developed his model by discussing information seeking in electronic environment and the interactivity between people and electronic environments; I had to focus on the information seeking through that time when there was no electronic databases or online searching facilities; even the computer was not officially used to store information that could be retrieved to help in searching needs


for information on that crisis. In that kind of environment, where there was not much choices available for seeking information. I‘ll discuss how people developed these sources of information to help seeking more information, and how this crisis affect the methods followed by people to help them seeking for information, I’ll also discuss all the variables that could affect information seeking during the crises, and evaluate them towards Marchionini’s model. I’ll try to prove that the stress of Kennedy’s assassination affects the information seeker behavior of Americans, and there are differences between information seeking behavior under stress between people according to their position or their specialist. Marchionini and his Factors of information seeking Marchionini (1995, p.27) stated that information seeking involves a number of personal and environmental factors and processes. He also identifies information seeking as a fundamental human process closely related to learning and problem solving (p.6). Although Marchionini recognizes that nature has developed tools and methods to support information seeking, resulting in physiological and psychological abilities that are well suited to information seeking, but he only concentrated on the physiological abilities, and ignore the effects of the psychological variable among those who seek for information. According to Marchionini (p.32) information seeking involves interactions among several factors which include: information seeker, task, search system, domain, setting, and outcomes. He thinks

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc that information seeking depends on the interaction among these factors. This seems to be sufficient to examine information seeking in such environment when all these factors are exist to complete that interaction among them, but what if one or two factors are interrupted by any internal or external circumstances facing the information seekers, what is going to happen when there is no system to be searched if any disaster strikes? The information seekers in that time will have nothing to start with, everything will be in chaos, all these factors will be disturbed and there will be no interaction between them to help seeker search for information when they really needs. That happened during that time when President Kennedy was in Texas, minutes before the assassination; everything was fine for those who


were watching T.V broadcasting his visit live. They had no idea what’s went wrong, there was no way to answer this simple question “what’s going on?” The searching system was interrupted and no one knew what happened and how to get information. That made rumor which is not an element of information system to be the only way to know anything until they received that bad news. Their feelings and reactions towards that news were interrupted; there was no interaction between these factors when they searched for information about that tragedy. There was a stunned reaction to the assassination. Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early, and 54% of Americans stopped their normal activities on the day. In the days following people wept, lost their appetite, had difficulty sleeping, and suffered nausea, nervousness, and sometimes anger. The event left a lasting impression on many people (BBC News, 2005). The public's reaction to the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations are compared and contrasted ; the immediate psychological reaction of the public following both assassinations was crying, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, nausea, nervousness, and sometimes anger. The group reaction was similar to that of expressive crowds in which there are a desire to be with someone and in these cases to share the emotions of grief and bereavement. Both assassinations were followed by a search for witches in which the U.S. public felt that a master plot or conspiracy had led to the death of the presidents. The death of a powerful public figure in both assassinations created considerable anxiety in a public forced to recognize how thin the thread is that ties each of us to life. (Cox, 1980) So the environment of seeking for information is not

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc prepared for them to search for information. In Marchionini model, the information seeking process depends only on the strategic decisions that information seeker makes, and the interaction between the factors of information seeking which will cause the searching progresses(p.49), the environment of


searching in Marchionini model is ready as soon as the information seekers take the decision of searching for a solution for their problems, then there will be an interaction between them and the searching system, the setting, and the domain, to receive the results or the outcomes whenever they finish searching and that’s not the usually happened especially in crises times. 1- Information seeker: Marchionini’s framework for information seeking is human centered, where the information seeker is the most important and most complex factor. Information seeker is the one who defines the task, controls the interaction, assesses and determines when the information – seeking process is complete. Each information seeker processes unique mental models, experiences, abilities, and preferences, experiences to the information seeking process. (p.33) I agree with that idea that puts the information seeker on the top of any framework of information seeking, because all the other factors are set for them to process seeking for information, the cycle of information seeking starts with information seekers and end with them. The only obstacle is that Marchionini doesn’t give much attention to the stress factor that could have very much impact on human; it affects all other factors which information seeker interacts with them while seeking for information. Stress could have effects on the ability or the preference of setting the task, it could cause delay, or put much pressure on using searching system that could result the wrong outcomes which won’t solve the problem. The stress disturbs their way of processing information seeking through the regular or preference channels or information system. In this study information seekers include citizen and residents of the United States (public), Journalists or, media specialists, investigators, and Politics. These different types of information seekers have different motivation for seeking information about the assassination. The fact is that crisis made most of the people of the nation felt that they could join together (Greenberg & Parker, 1965). They all lived through that difficult time of the sudden death of their loved president; they shared the same feeling of sadness and sorrow. That

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc tragedy shocked them all, but each of them faced different kind of stress according to their positions or the roles they play in the society as we can see from the following. 2Task: The task as defined by Marchionini (p.36) is the manifestation of information seeker’s problem and it is what drives information- seeking actions. He points that task includes an articulation (question) and the mental and physical behaviors of interacting with search systems and reflecting on outcomes.


Marchionini didn’t explain how important is the stress factor on the expressing of the thoughts or feelings for information seekers. After the assassination of Kennedy, the stress of that crisis had different impact on all information seekers, public for example were eager to know what happened. And those who know what happened wanted to know why and how. Networks and journalists wanted to search for any new information that could be broadcast or published by their newspapers or magazine where they work. Investigators like Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Warren Commission, and police in Texas or other investigators needed any information that could lead them to the suspect, and evidence information that convict the assassin. While the government at the White House (Politics) wanted to know the whole situation so they could face the public who elected them and take the suitable decisions. Stress on each of them had different impact on how and when they will prepare for the next step. That stress affected the timelines offered for each of them to find the solution; they wanted to reach their goals in such appropriate time. We can imagine what could have happened if they didn’t find a suspect and the evidence that was needed to convict the suspect and avoid any threat could endanger the public safety in a national emergency. 3- Search system : Marchionini indicates that the search system is the source that represents knowledge and provides tools and rules for accessing and using that knowledge (p. 38) Although he includes Books, people, libraries and all other varieties of electronic information system among search systems, he focus on the electronic information system that would be suitable for seeking information that helps searchers in normal learning or educational environments. In the case of the assassination of J.F. Kennedy in 1963,

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc there was no electronic resources that could be searched for any information about that event, there is no computer, and of course no online access to any information system. Television was the most effective source of information to all types of the information seekers especially to the public (American Decades, 2004, p. 387) during five days of complete coverage started on Friday noon November, 22, 1963. The crisis obligation imposed networks to abandon entertainment programs and commercials and devoted them to the big story (Greenberg & Parker, 1965) in that time; the other media resources like news papers, magazines, radio, or telephone are very much involved in covering that event. But the most important source of information for those who were responsible of finding that news which broadcast in all these media were people; these people include suspects, victims, witnesses, photographers, law enforcement officials and investigators. Who’s who in J.F.K. assassination gathered biographies of


nearly 1,500 "essential people" connected to the Dallas tragedy, ranging from the President's widow to the writer of a self-published book alleging that a man with an umbrella used it to fire a paralyzing dart into the President so that he'd sit still while being shot (Benson, M, 1993) Beside that there are governmental documents which record information about the assassin. The information seekers under stress in the case of Kennedy’s assassination were all shocked and they were feeling the same sorrow and grief at the tragedy, that feeling motivated them to search everywhere to find any information that could satisfy their needs. When interviewing with one of those who lived at that time when Kennedy was assassinated(*1) she shared her experience at that time with me “ she was working at that day as telephone operator, at the phone company, she received many phone calls from regular people who were searching for any way to let them know what happened, their emotion and the stress they were facing made them just call the telephone company to ask the operator for any information about what happened” That explains how people under stress and need to solve their problems could think of any available resources even if it’s unusual. Mendelsohn (1964) found out that a great deal of interesting research into broadcasting's effectiveness as a result of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in November 1963. He pointed


* * The student just asked one of her friend that lived at that time and she just remembered what had been happened where she was working that day.

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc


out that a number of researchers were able to lay aside personal feelings and conduct research in the hope of obtaining some benefits from such a dire event. Mendelsohn's examined “two-step flow” theory of communication under the abnormal stresses of a developing public crisis. The two-step flow theory of communication as identified by Liu (2007). is basically a theory about opinion leaders and how opinion leaders influence the society. It describes how opinion leaders are influential more than predicts the extent to which they are influential. According to the theory, choice flows from the news media to opinion leaders (the first step) and then from opinion leaders to the public (the second step) That was happened in the case of the assassination of Kennedy the public were under the influence of the leaders who were using the media as a tool to shape the public opinion about what happened in the investigation of that crime, they were under the influence of the leaders and the media, so there was no way for them to search except what they were allowing them to search for the restricted issues not allowed to published by the media, and not allowed to be searched by public. That what had happened to the assassination records which will not be accessed till the leaders allow that. And that’s not discussed in Machionini model for information seeking, the information system in his frame is complete no censoring and all the information are prepared for the information seekers to search for. Spitzer (1964) did a comparison study between mass media and personal sources of information on the president assassination to examine seven separate investigations which focused on the assassination of President Kennedy, he found that the news broadcasting of the assassination reached all respondents at what is likely to be a more accurate portrayal of audience viewing and communicative behavior in emergent crises. 4- Domain: Marchionini identifies the domains as the body of knowledge, and they vary in complexity, specificity, similarity (p.45). In Kennedy’s assassination case, all Americans, despite their infrastructures, and under the stress influence caused by that crisis, were searching any source of information that could add any new information that solve their problems. There is no specific resource they prefer to seek information. American public for example watched television broadcasting, or turned on radios. And when they didn’t have access to T.V they read newspapers, magazines, or any published publications. But

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc


in Dallas Texas where the scene of the assassination took place, it was something different to those who were eye witnesses to that event. They were one of the sources of information for the investigators, those investigators according to their domain took that information from those who saw or heard the suspect firing that shots that killed the president, that information led them to catch the assassin in a nearby movie theater. Investigators needed evidence or"something issued” so they can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin, they knew from where to get this information, either by searching governmental records, or by questioning those who had any involvement with the suspect. Another example of the effect of stress of that tragedy on the information seeking behavior of journalism, and media correspondents, they tried very hard to look for any source of information that they could broadcast, or publish for the public on television or newspaper and magazines. No radio or television stations broadcast the assassination live because the area through which the motorcade was traveling was not considered important enough for a live broadcast. Most media crews were not even with the motorcade but were waiting instead at the Dallas Trade Mart in anticipation of Kennedy's arrival. So they need pictures or new text they could depend on for that, they found a solution on and the Zapruder’s silent 8 mm film which recorded 26.6 seconds before, during, and immediately following the assassination. That famous film footage was taken by Abraham Zapruder, an amateur cameraman, who wanted to record Kennedy’s visit to Texas for himself and for his grandchildren to share that day with him, but that film was one of the most important pieces of evidence of the assassination records file (1963). After Zapruder appeared on the National T.V to share his story while recording his film, the journalists were seeking for information to lead them to Zapruder himself to find a way to get that original copy of his film to publish its pictures in their newspapers. A reporter from Life Magazine won the race of owning the original copy of that film from Zapruder, and then the FBI as federal authority had the power to get that original copy to keep it with all the assassination records file in a secure place, that film in their domain could lead them to more information about that shooting (MPI Media Group,1998) So that film as one source of information has different value to information seekers as they working in different position, with different domains, each of them had the motivated by the crisis to search for information using it, regular people wanted to

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc


watch the last moments of their president, T.V wanted to broadcast that film to attract more viewers, and to build a trust between them and the public. Journalist found that film as source of original photos would document that event in papers, also to scoop some benefits out of that film, while FBI need to collect each piece of evidence to add it the file. The majority of American public at that time were not able to access any of the Warren Commission's records that were submitted to the National Archives in 1964 under a general National Archives policy, but after the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 and the JFK Records Act of 1992 about 98% of the Warren Commission records had been released to the public, but several pieces of evidence and documentation are described to have been lost, cleaned, or missing from the original chain of evidence(AARC Public Library Contents, 1988) So on the contrary of Marchionini theory (p.49) he thinks that the domain has a weak influence on the outcomes, but that is different from what might happen after crisis the domain of the information seeker in Kennedy’s assassination case had a great impact on each of the information seeking process. Not every one of them has a complete access to the records of the assassination, there are some restricted information for the public, or the media, but not for the investigators who according to their positions had the power of publicizing, or restricting the information, that has certainly influenced on the information seeking process, and the outcomes of this process. 5- Setting: Marchionini indicates that the Setting in which information seeking takes place limits the search process. In his point of view, there are physical settings: time, accessibility, comfort, degree of distraction and cost, and there are conceptual/ social components which include whether the task is done in collaboration or alone and with the information seekers’ physical and psychological states (p.46), but he only concentrated on the physical setting ignoring the great impact of the psychological states of the information seekers and its impact on the information seeking process. While studying information seeking behavior under the stress caused by Kennedy’s assassination, I found that crisis stress is an effective component of the psychological setting of information seeking. During crises time, physical

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc


condition of the seeker do not have that impact on the seeking behavior, it doesn’t matter if the information seeker is comfortable or not, while the time is important, because of the stress upon each one involve in a position that need to reach for the information needed as fast as possible, the cost didn’t matter in Kennedy’s assassination case, as I mentioned before there was a race to own a very important source of information like Zapruder’s film, and Life Magazine paid Zapruder for that film $150.000 (MPI Media Group,1998). Additional research from the Zapruder film determined the car's speed to specifically slow from 14.4 mph to 8.3 mph. See the "Limo Speed" notation, written on the upper right Main Street (Roberdeau, D.,1998) Marchionini states that psychological factors include a person’s self- confidence in an environment, which depends on the familiarity with the situation, or expertise in the problem area, the assassination of Kennedy was not expected, Kennedy was loved by his citizens, that crisis didn’t not experienced by most American in that time. The environment was not prepared for information seekers to start the process of information seeking. Outcomes: The outcomes for information seeking as Marchionini describes include both product and process, which produced resulted from information seeking action using information system, if all that goes well an outcome or set of outcomes will be attainment of the task’s goal of answering a question and on reflection the solution to the information problem (p. 47- 48) In crises times, the outcomes might not satisfying the information seekers. They might not solve the problems or the questions that need clear answers. In the case of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and after 45 years, there is no satisfying outcomes; there are no clear answers to who killed him? Was it Lee Harvey Oswald? Was he acting alone? In league with Castro? Was it anti-Castro Cubans? Russians? The C.I.A.? the F.B.I.? The Mafia? Were there other gunmen? A 1998 CBS News poll found that only 10 % of respondents felt Oswald acted alone. 74% percent believed there was a cover-up (CBS, 1998). Recent polls suggest that this is still the way Americans feel. Speculation over "what really happened" in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 is a national

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc


institution. Hundreds of books, films, television specials and websites have sifted through the minutiae of assassination evidence, suspicion and intrigue. Words like "magic bullet" and "grassy knoll" are part of the vernacular. Theorists have fingered suspects from the Mafia to the Cubans to the CIA to Lyndon Johnson and the Federal Reserve. An ABC NEWS poll (Langer, 2004).) was conducted by telephone on Nov. 5-9 in 2004. Among a random national sample of 1,031 adults, 68% of Age 18-64 Think that this case has unanswered questions remain, while 50% Age 65+ think the same, that means that more than 50% of the people who were there at that time of the assassination didn’t receive the outcomes that satisfy them, so searching for the clear answers to those questions is very hard, it’s not a research problem that students, or researcher trying to solve though practical process, or theoretical literatures, that they could find in the searching environment which Marchionini described in his model, information seeker under stress especially in crises time might not find the satisfaction outcomes in all the available resources , they might not be able to conduct searching on restricted sources of information, so they only could find the information that the authorities allowed for publicity, and that is not enough to satisfy them and solve their problems. Conclusion The information-seeking process after crises is much complicated than in regular times when everything is well set to process and interact among all information seeking factors. The stress plats an important role which affects the information seeking behavior. Human are very sensitive; the stress may stop them from processing information seeking, even if there are everything is perfectly waiting for them to move on. As we notice in this study, we found that the stress caused by the tragedy of the Kennedy’s assassination didn’t stop information seekers from interacting with all other information seeking process, but it had its effects on almost each of the factors of information seeking. Marchionini’s model of information seeking didn’t show much attention to that important factor. References Cited

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc AARC Public Library Contents (1988) ARRB Final Report. Retrieved on March 29, 2010, from:


BBC News (2005). 1963: 'Stunned into silence' by JFK's death. BBC on this day witness 1950-2005, Retrieved on March 29, 2010, from: Benson, M. (1993) Who’s who in J.FK assassination: An A-to-Z Encyclopedia. NY: Kensington Publishing Group. Retrieved on March, 6 2010, from : %E2%80%99s+who+in+the+assassination&source=bl&ots=xg60Tyifl8&sig=5X0sULU-HCH_G0ax2M67hlMFo3c&hl=en&ei=28TS825HsOe8Aa275WoBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CBYQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=&f=false

Cox, H (April, 1980) Mourning population: Some considerations of historically comparable assassinations. Death Studies, 4(2), p. 125 - 138 Greenberg, B.S. & Parker, E.B. (1965) The Kennedy assassination and the American public: Social communication in crisis. Stanford, CA: Stanford university press. Langer, G.( November 16, 2004). Legacy of Suspicion. ABC News. Retrieved on March21 2010, from Liu, F.(2007). Constrained Opinion Leader Influence in an Electoral Campaign Season: Revisiting the Two-Step Flow Theory with Multi agent Simulation. Conference Papers -- International Communication Association, 1. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database. Marchionini, G (1995). Information seeking in electronic environments. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Mendelsohn , H (1964) Broadcast vs. personal sources of information in emergent public crises: The presidential assassination . Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 8(2), 147- 156. Retrieved on Mar. 6,2010, From: MPI Media Group (1998) Image on an assassination: A new look at the Zapruder Film [DVD]

The Kennedy Assassination - Ibrahim-Hanem-02.doc


Posner, G (1994) Case closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of JFK. New York: Anchor Books. Murphy, J (November 21, 2003) 40 Years Later: Who Killed JFK?, CBS News .Retrieved on March21 2010, from Roberdeau, D. (1998) Dealey Plaza map. Retrieved on March 21, 2010, from Rose, Cynthia (Ed.) (2004) American decades: primary sources: 1960- 1969 .- Detroit : Gale, c2004. Spitzer, S. P. (1964) Mass Media vs. Personal Sources of Information about the Presidential Assassination: A Comparison of Six Investigations. Journal of Broad (45) collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/jbem9&div=12&id=&page= Zapruder, A (1963) [ Assassination of J.F.K 8 M.M film]

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