Mossberg recalls the assassinations of the late 1960s.
Question: Where are you from and how has that shaped you?
Walt Mossberg: I’m from Warwick, Rhode Island. I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, but I grew up in Warwick. Well Warwick, like a lot of places in New England, is very old. It dates from the early 1600s, the mid-1600s.
But it was a place that was relatively low population until right after World War II. I guess it’s the second biggest city in Rhode Island and the major suburb of Providence. Much housing was built, and schools were built after the war.
I was born in 1947, and my family moved out there, I think, in ’50 or ’51. And it was kind of a new world, even though it was a very old place. But the new subdivisions, and the new housing, it was kind of exciting, and they built a lot of new schools and so forth.
And I am a New Englander. I root for the Red Sox, and have since they were terrible. And I carry with me a lot of those New England values.
Question: Who influenced you?
Walt Mossberg: Well John F. Kennedy. Our whole family just totally idolized John F. Kennedy. And he was probably the biggest deal. That and a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll stars in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll because I was right at the right age for that to come along.
In terms of a mass public figure, it would have been John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Those were huge influences on me.
Question: What was it like living through the assassinations:?
Walt Mossberg: Well it was horrible. I think if you talk to anybody my age – and I am a baby boomer, second year of the baby boom – it was awful. I was in high school. They announced it. They closed the school, and it was a sort of shattering. I had a very happy childhood in the suburbs. My parents were not rich. They were totally just working class folks, but we believed – and I still do actually; but the American dream was a big deal to us. And the fact that he could be shot and killed, the President of the United States and particularly this guy, who we had been so excited about.
You have to understand I remember my entire extended family gathering to watch the Kennedy-Nixon debates as if it was a football game. And we were all rooting for Kennedy. This was an electric event. And for him to be murdered only a few years later was an incredibly depressing thing.
And then in 1968 when I was in college, and I was, you know, marching against the Vietnam War and marching on Civil Rights demonstrations and things like that, for Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy to be killed was; I was horribly depressed. I could remember thinking about, “Geez, you know, can you even live in this country?” it was so awful. It was just awful.
If you’re a journalist, your job is to question authority. And certainly the entire political climate in which I grew up, culminating really in Watergate, by which time I already was a journalist. But that whole feeling that the government and authority could not be wholly trusted, that there was something noble about questioning authority; played heavily into my attraction to journalism, yes.
Recorded: Nov 13, 2007.