There is a lot of talk now about the supposed explosion of fake news on the internet.
The New York Times has taken the lead here, and connected the alleged fake news websites with some kind of vague, unsubstantiated allegations about Russian support for the destabilisation of the American Republic.
Deeply irresponsible reporting, and in fact the New York Times (along with the Washington Post) has been in the vanguard of one of the fake news scandals of the century: the cover up of the truth behind the Kennedy assassination.
Robert Hennelly and Jerry Policoff have written an essay that looks at the disreputable role that the American media have had, against all the forensic evidence, of perpetuating the lone nut myth. They call it a “travesty” and a “disgrace” and the cover up has continued to this day – 53 years after the assassination. What are the media afraid of? Are they doubling down on the lie about Kennedy because they fear that, with the truth exposed, their past mendacity with harm their credibility – a credibility already harmed, in many internet circles, by their extremely biased reporting of the recent US elections? Maybe there was a national security or other reason in the beginning, but now they have to brazen it out to maintain their own diminishing reputation. It has taken on its own momentum.
The duo write that original truthful reporting on the Kennedy assassination has been almost entirely left to alternative weeklies, book publishers and documentary makers. People further from Washington and power than the daily news media. However, according to a CBS/New York Times poll an astonishing 77% of the population still rejects the Warren commission’s findings. It is a bit like how Donald Trump still managed to win the US election despite having the entire news media against him. Some lies are just so blatant, I suppose. But maybe the figure would have been even higher had the media not lied about the Kennedy assassination whenever offered a chance?
So how exactly has the media’s Big Lie about the Kennedy assassination manifested itself? The writers looked at Village Voice magazine investigation into the subject. The magazine – an alternative New York ideas and arts magazine – singled out the New York Times, Time-Life, and CBS as being particularly egregious in the cover up. The Washington Post too. A few days after the murder the Washington Post called for an independent inquiry into the assassination. However, the piece was pulled on the recommendation of the Justice Department. The whole White House approach was codified at around this time under the theme of cover-up.
Nicholas Katzenbach, the deputy attorney general, wrote a memo to the White House and urged the following: the the public must believe it was Oswald, that he had no confederates, and that if it had gone to trial he would have been convicted. (Actually, he probably wouldn’t.) “Any speculation about Oswald’s motivation ought to be cut off,” he wrote in the memo.
So the Washington Post was put under pressure almost immediately. NBC were targeted too: according to one message of 11 December 1963, Edgar Hoover, FBI chief, signalled that the NBC had given robust assurances that it would not deviate from the FBI line.
The New York Times got an exclusive heads-up on the findings of the Warren Report, and endorsed its findings effectively in a glowing front page report. The NYT then co-published a book called The Witnesses, which selectively picked out testimonials of witnesses to the Warren commission. “Accounts of witnesses whose testimonies deviated the slightest from the official story were simply edited out”, write the two authors. In other words, the book publishing arm of America’s newspaper of record doctored the witness testimonies to favour the Lone Nut theory. For example, one witness who said to the Warren commission that he had seen two men in the sixth floor and his references to shots coming from the front did not get his say in the book. In that newspaper, there followed years of negative reviews of anyone who presumed to question the official story. Life magazine was another truth-denier: the magazine dealt with the problem of Kennedy’s throat wound coming from the front when Oswald, allegedly stood firing on the sixth floor at the back, by miscaptioning its preselected stills from the Zapruder film in special December 1963 issue as having Kennedy falsely turning his head while waving so that he exposed his throat to a gunman standing at the rear. This was not true: while Kennedy did indeed do a right turn to face the crowd, he did not crane his neck 180 degrees to face the book depository. That much is clear when you see the whole Zapruder film. The Life team got away with it because no one had access to the Zapruder film, because Life’s president – a man with a past working for the Deep State – had bought the film and had it locked away in a safe in the magazine’s offices.
In 1970, Jim Garrison’s account of the assassination was initially given a not completely negative headline by the New York Times. It read “Who killed John F Kennedy” Two final paragraphs at least gave a semblance of openmindedness. “But until somebody explains,” wrote the reviewer, John Leonard, “why a loner like Oswald always had friends and could always get a passport–who can blame the Garrison guerillas for fantasizing? Something stinks about the whole affair.” But within hours these paragraphs had been deleted and the headline changed to the more neutral-sounding “Shaw Garrison affair”.
One of the most egregious examples of news rewriting came when Life magazine ran a story in its 2 October 1964 edition that had actually them breaking and resetting the plates twice, an expensive choice to make. The first version had a picture – one of the frames of the Zapruder film – where JFK slumped to the side, that suggested that he had indeed been hit from the front. The caption said that JFK had been shot in the side and caused a massive wound. A bit ambiguous. A second version followed later, a bit better. The third version replaced the picture with one where JFK’s head exploded – not exactly clear from where the bullet came – but now with a crystal clear caption that in explain, in Warren committee approved fashion, that, “The direction from which shots came was established by this picture taken at the instant the bullet struck the rear of the President’s head and, passing through, caused the front part of his skull to explode forward.” This was wrong since we now know that the back of president’s head exploded and brain matter hit the motorcycle cop to the rear left.
The head jerked backwards in the full Zapruder film finally made public years later and the famous shots of Jackie scrambling over the trunk to retrieve a shard of JFK’s skull was because the shot had come from the front and exited through the back of the skull, sending shards of skull in a backwards direction.
To repeat: That is why Jackie scrambled rearwards onto the trunk. Because the shots came from the front.
Here are more examples of media complicity. In 1964, Dan Rather, the famous CBS news anchor who in those days was a young reporter for CBS in New Orleans, was shown the film quickly – on a handcranked 8mm machine – and told the world the president’s head shot forward with considerable force. It did, in reality, do the exact opposite: sideways and backwards. At around the same period, Time magazine dismissed the author of one of the earliest cogent books refuting the Warren Report, Thomas Buchanan, with the remark that the man had once been a member of the American communist party and had been fired by the Washington Star because of it – and so obviously couldn’t be trusted. The typical kind of ad hominem attack used by critics who don’t want to engage in the argument. The New York Times seemed briefly to back away from its pro Warren commission stance in 1966 but, according to one of the investigative journalism team members who had been tasked with turning over unturned rocks, there were a lot of leads in the end the newspaper’s editors chose not to pursue.
In 1966, Life – then a considerable culture and media force in American life – actually published Kennedy researcher Josiah Thompson’s critical expose of all the flaws in the lone killer case – he later published Six Seconds in Dallas, one of the seminal books – but the window of free inquiry was soon closed when the group editor of Time Life, pushed into a corner, decided that the whole group’s publications had to have the same editorial line – and that editorial line would be the pro-Warren stance of stablemate Time magazine. Life reporter Dick Billings was told that it was not Life’s function to investigate the Kennedy assassination, and his team of digging reporters was abolished.
Josiah Thomson, formerly of Billings’s team, decided to go out on his own. While he had laboriously assembled slides of every single frame of the film, he was not allowed by the Life group to use the slides in his book – in the end, despite considerable pressure from the magazine group – Random House did go ahead with the book, with artists’ renditions of incriminating Zapruder frames, and the public could one of the first true insights into the reality of the Kennedy assassination. Time inc took the young Thompson to court for copyright infringement – and although the media behemoth lost the right to ban the publications of the drawings, Thompson lost all his income from the book on lawyers’ fees to defend his case.
In 1967 CBS chose to make a documentary series about the assassination. People were using phrases like “magic bullet” for the first time. The television company certainly pulled out all the stops. The problem is, they undermined honest journalistic inquiry by favouring the predetermined Warren commission conclusions at every turn. They tried to see whether Oswald really could have fired three shots in six seconds. But again there were methodological problems. CBS employed a rifle that was faster than Lee Harvey Oswald’s. They hired 11 crack shots from the U.S. Army; they fired 37 firing runs of three shots each. The results were dispiriting to supporters of the Warren commission. The marksmen had faster guns and time to practice whereas Oswald had to get his shots off the first time. The marksmen averaged one hit per three shots; while seven of them didn’t manage a second hit at all, The mediocre rifleman Oswald is supposed to have achieved two hits on his three shots without prior practice.
Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchorman, intoned pompously afterwards that the results probably supported the Warren commission but really they didn’t. CBS solved the problem by not showing results that contradicted the thesis they wanted to promote. So they did not in fact publicise the target accuracy statistics. Internal documents examined later by investigators showed that enormous pressure was put on the TV stati on by members of the Warren commission, John McCloy, who had high positions in the American establishment – chair of the Ford foundation, head of the Chase Manhattan bank, chair of the World Bank.
Nothing better illustrates the TV station’s complicity with the establishment than the treatment handed out to Orville Nix. The FBI instructed all camera laboratories in Dallas to turn over film shot that day to the agency. Nix was called first by the lab and willingly drove to the FBI to hand over his camera and film. They kept the camera for six months and when they returned it, the expensive item was broken. In 1967, Nix returned dutifully to the re-enactment carried out by CBS in the Dealey Plaza. When his turn came to re-enact what he saw he on every occasion insisted that the shots came from the grassy knoll. But the director always said “cut” that that point and insisted he give his answer again. They went through that six or seven times until Nix finally gave the correct answer: the Texas Book Depository. The producer said: “That’s what you needed to say.”
Nix was so furious at the way the TV team had treated him that he was hitting the steering wheel all the way home. The next year, when he was asked to testify in the Jim Garrison case, he refused, citing fear of his life. Nix’s daughter in 1988 tried to get the original copy of the film back from UPI. But while there are rights had lapsed they did not possess a copy of the original film so she went to the National Archives, where the Warren commission officially had deposited all the material from their investigations. But it wasn’t there either. Finally she received an apology from the official in charge of the second Congressional investigation in 1978. Maybe it went missing; maybe it was deliberately lost. Lost, because it would have revealed embarrassing information about gunmen on the grassy knoll because Nix’s film was potentially the most damaging material to the Warren commission case of a lone gunman? The CIA maintains thousands of files on the Kennedy case that have nor been put in the public domain. So while the failed dictatorships of Eastern Europe opened up all their file for the general public. American democracy still retains its secrets. And the most respected newspapers in America still stick to the official fiction Lee Harvey Oswald was the gunman in the assassination of the century.