[Original copy submitted to Newsday for OpEd piece published Sunday, November 21, 1993. Pu

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[Original copy submitted to Newsday for OpEd piece published Sunday, November 21, 1993. Published piece available only in graphics format = a TIF of a xerox. As published piece was 1/3 shorter but carried reference to NY Times Book Review of 11/21/93] WHY THE MEDIA WANT THE INQUIRIES TO END "Media return to the Kennedy Assassination again and again, but the story won't stand still. The case won't close." by John Klotz For three decades the major organs of the American media have been as one voice in their support for the Report of the Warren Commission and its conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone unassisted assassin of John F. Kennedy. This week that facade of unity began to crumble. Perhaps it was the persistent rejection by the public of the theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman, maybe it was a final dawning of the truth, or perhaps too, it was simply the competitive pressures. The Warren Report now resembles a legendary village destroyed during the Vietnam War - so that it could be saved. Warren must die so that the lone gunman theory can live. When the Warren Report was issued in September 1964, the media greeted it with universal praise. The Report's most popular form was a cut-rate edition published by the New York Times. The introduction written by Assistant Editor Harrison Salisbury pronounced historical verdict of the Times: "No material question now remains unresolved as far as the death of President Kennedy is concerned." To critics of the Warren Commission, Salisbury flashed a contemptuous warning: those who spread irresponsible rumors about the assassination were either self serving, seeking to sow distrust and confusion among the public, or intent on conveying to foreign countries the "image of a violent America, helpless in the face of dangerous forces." Thus the Times not only established the Warren Report as the official myth of the assassination, it forewarned critics, that any attacks on this Holy Writ would be dealt with as subversive assaults on the sanctity of the state itself. It didn't work. Despite the threats of the Times and other organs of the media establishment, a counter-myth of conspiracy took root and grew: dark, evil forces, perhaps elements of the government itself, assassinated Kennedy because he posed a threat to the established order. The Warren Report was a cover-up. Oswald had been the first critic of the lone gunman theory. "I am a patsy," he had responded when asked if he had murdered the President. After his death, other critics emerged. Mark Lane sought to represent Oswald's interest at the Warren Commission hearings. After the Report was issued, he published Rush to Judgment, a best selling critic of the Report and its lone gunman conclusion. Lane paid a price for his effrontery - "ghoul" was among the kinder epithets. Other critics emerged. Eventually there were hundreds of books and thousands of critical magazine articles. Then Hollywood weighed in. In Executive Action and The Parallax View, tales of assassination by official action were spun. By June 1967, less than three years after the Warren Report had resolved "all the material questions" public opinion polls showed that a majority of Americans believed that Jack Kennedy had been a victim of a conspiracy. CBS-News sought to answer the questions again with a four part study of the Warren Report. But to build a reasonable defense of the lone gunman theory, CBS was forced to repeat under its own auspices, many of the forensic studies conducted by the Warren Commission. Nonetheless, the network affirmed the findings of the Warren Report. The last program of the series ended with the normally sober Eric Sevareid comparing Warren Commission critics to advocates of the "Proto- cols of Zion," a vicious anti-Semitic plot. In 1968, New Orleans DA Jim Garrison indicted New Orleans business man Clay Shaw of charges the he plotted to assassinate Kennedy. Shaw's principal accomplice was alleged to be David Ferrie, a strange, eccentric pilot who had died in the middle of the Garrison investigation. Shaw's acquittal in 1969 and the derision that rained down on Garrison's head, dealt a temporary setback to counter-myth advocates. Then came Watergate. The seventies more than vindicated the critics. Several Water- gate participants were linked to both the CIA and an amalgam of organized crime figures and anti-Castro Cubans that swirled around the events at Dealey Plaza. Successive government investi- gations stunningly confirmed some of the worst suspicions of the independent investigators concerning the potential for duplicity and violence by the government. Barely noted by the media establishment were equally important revelations by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. Writing in the October 20, 1977 edition of Roll- ing Stone, Bernstein documented the CIA's use of major media organizations to provide information and cover for its wide- ranging espionage. According to Bernstein, the two most valuable CIA media "assets" were the two leading media exponents of the Warren Report: CBS-News and the New York Times. They weren't the only assets, a 1976 CIA memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church listed hundreds of covert media contacts and Bernstein's sources told him there were many, many more. Pressure from then CIA Director George Bush and Ex-Cia director Richard Helms convinced Church to abandon the investigation of the CIA's media contacts. The Church Committee contented itself with a devastating report on CIA assassination plots against foreign leaders. But a subcommittee led by Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania began to pry the lid off the darkest assassination plot of all -- the murder in Dealey Plaza. Schweiker's efforts were among the fac- tors that led the House to appoint a Select Committee on Assassi- nations. That Select Committee found that there was an assassina- tion conspiracy and laid it essentially at the doorstep of organ- ized crime. Just as critics have the lone gunman had run amok destroying many of the factual premises of the Warren Report, critics of the Select Committee savaged a key part of its evidence - a dictabelt that was said to record at least four gunshots in Dealey Plaza. Yet, the Select Committee confirmed the controversial single bullet theory. The counter-myth that organized crime had done it with the possible connivance of some anti-Castro Cubans came near to official acceptance. This explanation did not directly challenged official legitimacy. Time-Warner's Arts & Entertainment Network gave free play to investigative reports supporting that conclu- sion. Last year, however, Oliver Stone's movie JFK focused on the alleged involvement of the CIA and other government agencies in an assassination conspiracy and cover-up. Once more, legitimate authority was implicated. In 1991, a year before the movie's release, a disgruntled Warren Commission critic who disagreed with Stone's approach gave a copy of the JFK script to George Lardner, who covers national securities matters for the Washington Post. Lardner was a witness to the perceived folly of the Garrison investigation and claims to be the last person to have seen assassination suspect David Ferrie alive. Pouncing on Stone even as he was directing the filming of JFK, Lardner launched a scathing critique challenging Stone's right to produce a movie memorializing Garrrison's version of the counter- myth. By the time of the movie's release it had become nearly as widely and universally ridiculed by the media as the Garrison investigation itself. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association visited the controversy. Essential to the Warren Commission finding that Oswald was a lone gunman was its finding that only three shots were fired and that one of those, a single bullet inflicted multiple wounds to Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally. The location of a wound in the back of Kennedy was critical to determining the trajectory of that supposed bullet. The records contemporaneous with the autopsy of Kennedy including an FBI report, autopsy photographs and death certificate that all demonstrate a wound in Kennedy's back below his shoulder line, well below the wound to his throat. The Sunday following the assassination, the same day Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered, Commander James J. Humes, the physician in charge of the Bethesda autopsy, burned his notes and redrafted his report, describing the back wound as being in the base of the neck, somewhat higher than the throat wound. Based upon the fabrication that Kennedy was wounded in the "back of the neck," the trajectory of the single bullet was then traced to the Texas School Book Depository. Although JAMA claimed the exoneration of Dr. Humes and his associate Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, but in a lengthy JAMA inter- view, the autopsyists continued to prate of a "wound in the base of the neck." Although touted uncritically by the much of the press, the JAMA report was just so much more nonsense. To the immense frustration of the media elite, the public flocked to JFK. A new generation of movie patrons were introduced to a dark tale of assassination conspiracy. This year, the establishment counterattack continued. Earlier this fall, Gerald Posner's study of the assassination Case Closed was widely trumpeted by the media as finally proving that Oswald acted alone. U.S,News and World Report published a special double issue memorializing Posner's closing the Kennedy mystery. The New York Times' reviewer hailed the book as an "elegant" solution to the mysteries of Dallas. Random House, the book's publisher invested heavily in the book's promotion, going so far an adver- tisement in Times eerily echoing Dallas. Robert Groden, Jim Marrs and other critics were "Guilty" for deceiving the American pub- lic. The "magazine" programs of the major TV networks were also unrelenting in their praise of Posner and scorn for those who did not understand that their cause was finished. In an unrelenting barrage of propaganda, the major organs of the media tried des- perately to reconstitute the moral authority of the Warren Com- mission under guise of Case Closed. But, it was a hopeless task. Case Closed was only a modest commercial success and when CBS- News polled the public earlier this month, a record 90% believed that Kennedy had been the victim of a conspiracy. Last week, Newsweek, and its sister publication the Washington Post finally broke with the ranks of Warren Commission defenders and confirmed what critics had claimed for years: the Commission conducted not an honest search for the truth but rather a care- fully contrived effort to forge a soothing official story of the assassination, covering-up, by both inadvertence and design, damning evidence of governmental misconduct. Strangely, last Friday night, CBS News which had shared the same investigational resources with both Newsweek and the Post chose a different approach. CBS focused its attention on the lone gunman conclusion of the Warren report and soft-pedaled the grave question of the Warren Report cover-up. From the beginning the Kennedy Assassination has been Dan Rather's story at CBS. Half past noon, the day of the assassina- tion, he was standing by the triple overpass south of Dealey Plaza, waiting for a film drop from a camera crew that was fol- lowing the Presidential motorcade. They were late. Suddenly he saw the blur of the presidential limousine flash by and instinc- tively knew that something was wrong. Scrambling over an embank- ment he gazed down into Dealey Plaza and saw the frenzied crowd of spectators running every which in the panic. He turned his back on the mob scene and raced back to the local CBS affiliate. Instead of descending into the chaos and trying to make sense of it, Rather raced back to break the story to the nation - whatever it was. On Friday's CBS Reports was in one part a clips piece from past reports. Once again, unsuspecting witnesses of shots from the grassy knoll were lead down the path and then bushwhacked. What galled though was, a series of obsequious Rather interviews. It was Edward R. Murrow as played by Sammy Glick. Rather seemed blithely obliviousness in the presence of profound inanity and evil. The inanity was Lyndon Johnson's protege Jack Valenti rhapsod- izing about his mentor's "brilliant" decisions in Dallas in the aftermath of the assassination. In the Post, Johnson crouches in terror on the floor of his limousine, speeding to the relative safety of Love Field. The evil is former CIA director Richard Helms offhandedly admitting that he concealed crucial information about CIA involvement in assassination plots against Castro from the Warren Commission. They were secret, after all. Both Newsweek and the Post posited CIA fear of such disclosure at the heart of the Warren Commission cover-up. The true measure of the Warren Report's failure is that both CBS and Newsweek devoted so much time and space to advancing the "persuasive" theories of Case Closed. This slight tome can have no greater claim to historical legitimacy than any other assassi- nation book and it is "persuasive" only to those who don't check his endnotes or have spent the last three decades in a hermeti- cally sealed jar. Future historians and scholars will find Case Closed just one more addition to the voluminous literature of the assassination - and hopefully they will check the footnotes. The task of substituting Case Closed for the 27 volumes of the failed Warren Report is hopeless. As Lyndon Johnson would say: "That dog won't hunt." The public won't buy it, and in the rigor- ous competitive atmosphere of commercial television, even the networks are turning away from the cherished lone gunman theory of their own news departments. In September, Tom Brockaw and the NBC news staff had hailed Case Closed for finally resolving the Kennedy mystery. Last Monday night, NBC presented a Fatal Deceptions, a made for TV movie telling the story of the assassination from Marina Oswald's perspective. Her Lee Harvey Oswald was no lone gunman but rather a spy who chose to remain in the cold. The fatal deception was conspiracy. [According to the ratings, Fatal Deception was more widely watched than CBS Reports] Similarly, on Tuesday night, Hard Copy, the CBS magazine program presented the startling hypothesis that Oswald had con- fessed to a cell mate in Dallas that he and Jack Ruby were in- volved in running guns together. By concentrating on the issue of Oswald's singular guilt, Case Closed advocates beg profoundly important questions raised by the Warren Commission cover-up. Much more than Oswald's culpa- bility is at stake in the collapse of the Warren Report. The struggle between the official myth and the counter-myth inevi- tably resolves to a question of governmental legitimacy and media culpability for the horrors that have fallen upon the nation in the decades since Kennedy's death. Swirling around Kennedy and Oswald was a whirlpool of per- sonalities and sinister forces that were intent on dominating the course of American policy in the Cold War. It was these forces that the Warren Report hid from public view. The counter-myth holds that Kennedy would have withdrawn from Vietnam. Johnson loyalists demur, claiming that Johnson only did what Kennedy would have done. Perhaps the best way to resolve the issue is to note briefly the very different approaches between Kennedy and Johnson during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We know now that the Russian commanders in Cuba had tactical nuclear warheads and blanket permission to use them should the United States invade. That's precisely what the Pentagon was urging Kennedy to do and that was the course of action supported by Johnson in the crisis cabinet. It may well be that Kennedy's greatest act of courage was not in standing-up to Kruschev, but in standing-up to the Pentagon. In Oliver Stone's counter-myth, that Kennedy courage led to the grassy knoll. Many of the same phantoms who lurked in the shadows of Dealey Plaza, reappeared in Vietnam where the CIA ran the Operation Phoenix assassination program. In the Golden Triangle area of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, the CIA expedited the drug traffick- ing of its "assets" in the fight against Communism. Those expe- dited drugs were bound for American Streets. In both Central America and Afghanistan, the recruitment of CIA assets and the expansion of the drug trade went hand in hand. And now there's Haiti. The media feasts on leaks from the CIA questioning the mental stability of deposed Haitian President Aristede. We learn that key members of the controlling military junta are in the Agency's employ - and they, too, sell drugs. The Pentagon having taken measure of Clinton on the issue of gays, the CIA now seeks his measure in Haiti. Solutions to the Kennedy assassination proffered by the media must be taken with a grain of salt. There's a conflict of interest. Admission of the cover-up is admission that the great- est names of contemporary journalism failed their greatest test. Anthony Lewis, Tom Wicker, Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite all avert- ed their gaze from the real horror underlying Dallas. They did so then and they continue do so now because to admit that such evil could manipulate the course of government is to question the very legitimacy of the government and the nation's established insti- tutions such as CBS-News and the New York Times. Men and women who have built distinguished careers in the service of the estab- lishment, dare not bring down that temple on their heads. The duty of the media is to question, but so much of the legitimacy of authority is involved in the questions raised by the counter-myth and cover-up that the media long ago surrendered its critical facility. The acceptance of the counter-myth both baffles and enrages the traditional arbiters of history. The media returns to Kennedy Assassination again and again, but the story won't stand still and no sooner does a new interpretation of the Official Myth close the case, then new evidence and analy- sis blows it open again. What Newsweek has realized and what CBS refuses to accept, is that blind faith in the discredited Warren Report has undermined the media's authority to ever determine the history of the assassination. The case will never close. The Warren Report lies in ruins, the victim finally not of its enemies, but its friends. The road to free inquiry lies open before us, no longer barred by sanctified official myth. We may never know all the truth of Dealey Plaza, but in the search for that truth, lies our freedom. Let us begin, anew. (John Klotz is Editor of the City Sierran the quarterly journal of the New York City Group of the Sierra Club and former counsel to the Committee on Ethics and Guidance of the N.Y. State Assembly.)


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