Monday, July 02, 2018

JFK assassination and the failure of the US media

See No Evil

...You first wrote about JFK’s assassination for a Ph.D. thesis in journalism school. Why return to the subject now?

It wasn’t so much a return as it was an expansion and update of my previous research. The JFK assassination is is an ever-evolving puzzle as new bits of evidence have been released, most recently in April. That was supposed to be the “final” deadline for declassifying all relevant documents under the JFK Assassination Records Act of 1992

But President Trump, like others before him, tapped into the law’s major loophole by honoring a CIA request to keep hundreds of key documents under wraps in the alleged interest of protecting our national security and foreign alliances. For some reason, even 55 years later, this is more important than the public’s right to know.

Some of the still-classified evidence JFK researchers would like most to see relate to Lee Harvey Oswald’s alleged visit to Mexico City during the summer prior to the assassination. Oswald, or an Oswald impostor, showed up at both the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City that summer for reasons that would have painted him as a Castro and communist sympathizer. 

He sought a travel visa to Cuba at the Cuban embassy but was turned down. And at the Soviet embassy, he allegedly met with KGB station chief and suspected assassination specialist Valery Kostikov. However, most of Oswald’s associates in the U.S. were pro-Castro Cubans and/or U.S. intelligence operatives, a clear indication that he was working as a double agent. 

JFK researchers are anxious to see the surveillance tapes and listen to the phone taps at the two embassies to determine if the real Oswald made those appearances and what was discussed. Oswald’s whereabouts during that week are still a mystery.

Hundreds of records still sealed by the CIA are also linked to legendary spymaster and CIA chief of counterintelligence James J. Angleton or operatives who reported to him. It was Angleton’s counterintelligence staff that first drew government attention to Oswald’s alleged contacts in Mexico City, creating the impression that Oswald was a Soviet or Cuban agent. 

Many high government officials, including LBJ, feared this would lead to World War III if disclosed to the American public. Many JFK researchers call this Phase One of the cover-up. Phase Two occurred when the evidence was destroyed or manipulated to make Oswald look like a crazed gunman acting on his own.

Perhaps most tantalizing of all are the suspected documents related to George Joannides, the CIA’s chief of psychological warfare operations in Miami in 1963. Joannides supervised a group of Cuban exiles in New Orleans who publicized Oswald’s pro-Castro activities before and after the assassination. In 1978, Joannides deceived congressional investigators about his role with the exile group and, two years later, received a CIA medal for his service to the agency.

What makes your new book different than other books on the assassination?

As a longtime newspaper reporter, I’ve always been puzzled and disturbed by the fact that the news media in this country had done so little to investigate the JFK assassination and to question the findings of the Warren Report. 

I was even more disturbed—outraged?—after the mainstream media universally panned Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK about the Jim Garrison investigation in New Orleans, where the plot may have been financed and coordinated. Although I had found the movie to be too wide-ranging in its accusations, I admired Stone for having had the guts to bring to the attention of the American public the numerous flaws and distortions in the Warren Report.

When I was looking for a dissertation topic toward my Ph.D. in journalism in 2013, a friend and former colleague of mine suggested, “Why don’t you look into why the media crucified Oliver Stone for making JFK.” The dissertation was approved a year later in 2014. From there I knew I wanted to make it a book.

The result, See No Evil: The JFK Assassination and the U.S. Media, is the first book to take a comprehensive and analytical look at how the mainstream American media have covered the Warren Report and the myriad of conspiracy theories that have developed since the report’s release more than 50 years ago. “Covered” is hardly the right word, however. 

The mainstream media have collaborated, and continue to collaborate, in the cover-up by failing to take a critical look at the claim that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and by ignoring and even ridiculing more plausible conspiracy theories.

What’s the most convincing evidence that something is not right with the official Warren report story about how JFK was assassinated?

It depends on your expertise. If you’re a pathologist or expert in medical forensics, it’s the missing, distorted, and obviously falsified medical evidence from JFK’s autopsy. The original autopsy report was burned and destroyed. JFK’s brain is missing. Even his medical transport casket was dumped secretly at sea. 

A half dozen or more emergency room physicians, nurses, and Secret Service agents present at Parkland Hospital in Dallas when JFK arrived there insist to this day they saw an entry wound to his throat and a large blow-out at the back of his head, indicating a second gunmen from the front of his motorcade. Radiologists say it’s obvious that many of the X-rays and photos in the revised autopsy report were faked or altered to hide any evidence of an entry wound from the front.

For the lay person, here’s part of the cover-up that I find almost laughable for its brazenness. After the shots were fired in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963, dozens of spectators rushed toward the grassy knoll in front of JFK’s motorcade where they say they heard the source of the shots, possibly from behind a fence there. 

But the witnesses, including a sheriff’s deputy, were immediately stopped on the grassy knoll and prevented from going near or over the fence by men in dark suits who identified themselves as Secret Service agents. Why is that so revealing? Because the Secret Service said they had no agents in Dealey Plaza at the time—all of them were in the motorcade racing JFK to the emergency room at Parkland Hospital. No government official in any agency has been able to provide an explanation as to who those “agents” were and why they were there.

One of the things I find most interesting about your book is that there are some great critiques of corporate media and how it protects the status quo. How does establishment media work, and what’s an example from JFK’s assassination?

I borrowed my critique mostly from the seminal book Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. The authors point out that the owners of corporate media don’t have to intervene directly in the stories that their reporters and editors produce. Instead, the owners hire “right thinking” employees who mostly share their views and then apply the more subtle workplace pressures that can lead to promotion or demotion within the company. On top of that, the authors point out, elite journalists often travel in the same social circles and share the same interests as those in power.

Reporters who wanted to pursue the truth in the JFK case often had to leave their mainstream newspapers and magazines and work for themselves. Other journalists turned JFK researchers came up through the ranks of alternative or non-profit media. 

The list includes Jim Marrs, who left the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; Jefferson Morley and Carl Bernstein, both of whom left The Washington Post; Josiah Thompson, who quit working for Life magazine: Jerry Policoff and Anthony Summers, who had previously worked for public radio and TV; and David Talbot, who cut his investigative teeth at the alternative magazine Mother Jones.

At least two mainstream journalists helped sabotage New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into businessman and CIA informant Clay Shaw and his ties to Lee Harvey Oswald and CIA-backed anti-Castro groups. 

Life staff member Tom Bethal was assigned to work with Garrison in what Garrison believed would be a friendly story about his prosecution of Shaw. But Bethal handed over Garrison’s trial strategy, his list of witnesses, and their expected testimony to Shaw’s defense team. Newsweek reporter Hugh Aynesworth fed the same inside information to the intelligence unit of the Dallas Police Department...

It’s interesting to note that, in a recent interview with NPR, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh talked about the “self-censorship” all journalists face in determining what they can or cannot write about. As a young reporter in the 1960s, Hersh recalled overhearing a Chicago police officer at the police station bragging to his colleagues about murdering a black suspect. 

But when Hersh approached his editors about doing a story, he was told to forget about the incident because the newspaper staff would have hell to pay from the Chicago police and its supporters...

How has coverage of JFK’s assassination been different outside of the U.S.? 

Foreign media, with the exception of the most conservative newspapers in England and Australia, have been far more critical of the Warren Report and far more open to conspiracy theories. A good example was the critical reaction to Stone’s JFK. The U.S. mainstream media universally panned the movie even before its release and came close to portraying Stone as a traitor. 

But by and large, newspaper critics in other countries applauded the film. Why? Returning to the arguments of Herman and Chomsky, foreign journalists are not subject to the same pressures from American corporate owners and government agencies.

Given we now live in the era of “fake news,” what’s your advice about determining what’s credible in the media?

I try to look at coverage from all sides of the political spectrum, including Fox News, if only to be aware of the propaganda that’s being put out there. “Fake news” can easily be identified by visiting or or any of the Internet websites now vetting the news. By “fake news” I mean obvious distortions of the facts or even lies.

What’s harder to detect, however, is how the respected mainstream media—such as The New York Times or The Washington Post—also distort the news. In most cases, they do this by leaving out the background and context that would give a whole new meaning to the story. One of the best examples is the rush to war against Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2003. 

The mainstream media failed to question or look deeply into the false claims that Hussein was developing and stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. Even some in the CIA were questioning that claim (look into the whole Plame Affair, for instance). 

But the mainstream media fell for it hook, line, and sinker, as they usually do whenever there is some patriotic call to war. If you really want to know why we invaded Iraq, pick up Gary Vogler’s excellent new book Iraq and the Politics of Oil.

What one question am I not asking that I should be asking?

Why after 55 years are key documents related to the assassination of JFK still being withheld from the American public? After all, aren’t nearly all the key players and conspirators involved in the assassination long dead? Here’s my answer, and it’s one that many people shy away from discussing for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. 

I believe the cover-up continues because revealing the whole truth might implicate one of our closest allies—Israel. Let’s make clear that I am not talking about some widespread, insidious Jewish conspiracy that involves all Jews either in the U.S. or in Israel, past or present. I’m talking about a very select group of Israeli leaders and their intelligence operatives during the 1960s when the assassination occurred. Hear me out...

Israel and the Mossad had both the means and the opportunity to get involved in the plot through the auspices of CIA counterintelligence chief and infamous “super spook” James J. Angleton, a rabid anti-communist, a fervent supporter of Israel and, as the chief liaison to Israeli intelligence, someone who was known to use both Israeli and American intelligence operatives to achieve his aims. Angleton was so secretive and paranoid that he even had his own private network of communications separate from the rest of the CIA.

Nearly all credible JFK researchers believe that Angleton was at the very heart of the assassination plot. (Again, too much evidence to present here. Read the book.) Angleton hated JFK for any number of reasons—his willingness to negotiate arms control with the evil Soviets, his refusal to supply air support to the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, his open vow to break the CIA “into a thousand pieces,” his opposition to arming Israel with nuclear and American offensive weapons...

In fairness, there is no direct evidence pointing to Israel’s involvement in the assassination, but there are plenty of strong hints. First, some important background. Ignoring the oft-cited rule of investigative reporting—“follow the money”—not a single U.S. news organization has ever looked into the operations and funding sources of Permindex and its parent company Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC), a phony world trade promotion group and an elaborate ruse for laundering money that may have financed the JFK plot...

See also The assassination of JFK: Case not closed, which I wrote during the controversy about Oliver Stone's movie. And David Talbot on What really happened in Dallas.

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Van Ness BRT project "will be very exciting"

Photo: Paul Chin

Like his colleagues at the Chronicle, Carl Nolte usually supports whatever City Hall wants to do in the city (Passive-Aggression and the Chronicle), but one of the city's most important projects is getting on his nerves:

And just now may be the high tide, the zenith, of construction projects. The champion, of course, is the Central Subway, under construction for five years. The project costs $1.6 billion and will open late next year. Maybe. Second Street is also being dug up to make it better. But for the biggest pain in the neck, I vote for the Van Ness Avenue Improvement Project, which will transform the avenue by replacing the sewers and water mains, and then constructing two bus-only lanes down the middle of the street to make the buses run five minutes faster. When it’s done, Van Ness will have 210 new trees and other improvements.

That is, Nolte doesn't actually oppose the Van Ness Avenue Improvement Project; he's just annoyed that it's taking so long. He of course accepts the city's official terminology about all the "improvements" to city streets. (The Van Ness project is about improvements the same way the Masonic Avenue and Polk Street bike projects are "streetscape" projects.)


Construction material is stored in the street — on the west side of Van Ness from Bush Street south to the Civic Center — and in the center from Bush north. I counted 54 pieces of equipment, from drill bits to earth movers and small bulldozers parked on Van Ness the other day. It’s not possible to move the stuff when the day’s work ends, said Kate McCarthy, a public outreach officer for the project. So the equipment is there day and night.

Recall that McCarthy was hired by the city from the Bicycle Coalition, a favorite source of employees by the anti-car City Hall.

Kate McCarthy

The $520 million project, which began in 2016, is a year behind schedule and should be finished at the end of 2020. The reason, McCarthy said, was bad weather in the first year of construction and surprises under the street, a patchwork of infrastructure, some of it more than a century old, buried and forgotten. “There were a lot of utilities that were not identified,” McCarthy said. So it’s taken longer to rebuild Van Ness than it took to build the Golden Gate Bridge.

$520 million? Only two years ago, the project had a $223 million price tag!

But everything will be fine in the end. Take it from PR flack McCarthy: 

McCarthy said the disruption will be worth all the trouble in the end. “It will be very exciting,” she said. “It will restore the luster of a very important corridor in the city.”

Oh yes, all these "improvements" to city streets are wonderful, like that "exciting" Treasure Island project I wrote about the other day.

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