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Why the Media Want the Inquiries to End

November 21, 1993, Sunday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK Edition


BYLINE: John Klotz. 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 
State Assembly.

	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 President John F. Kennedy. In 
the face of ever deepening public skepticism toward the official 
version, The New York Times, CBS News, the Washington Post and 
other powerful and prestigious news organizations continued to 
charge reporters who had originally affirmed the soundness of the 
report with evaluating later challenges to it  - the most 
notorious being Oliver Stone's 1991 movie "JFK."      

     To the immense frustration of the media elite, the public 
flocked to "JFK." A new generation of movie patrons was seduced 
by a dark tale of assassination conspiracy.      

     The empire struck back earlier this fall. Gerald Posner's 
study of the assassination, "Case Closed," was widely trumpeted 
as finally proving that Oswald acted alone. In September, Tom 
Brokaw and the NBC News staff hailed the book for finally 
resolving the Kennedy mystery. U.S. News and World Report ran a 
cover story claiming that Posner had made an "unshakable" case 
against Oswald.  Random House, the book's publisher, took the 
highly unusual step of placing its own credibility behind the 
book's findings. It also invested heavily in the book's 
promotion, going so far as to place an advertisement in The Times 
eerily echoing handbills that dogged Kennedy in Texas: Robert 
Groden and other critics were "GUILTY" of misleading the American 
public. And last week Posner's research figured prominently in 
the PBS Frontline documentary, "Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?" 

	Appearing in today's issue of The Times is a review of 
recent assassination literature, including the Posner book, which 
it singles out for praise. An unsigned editorial note on the 
cover of the Book Review characterizes the fact that over 2,000 
books have been published on the assassination as "a devastating 
record of the lengths to which sensationalists have gone to sow 
suspicion, and editors and publishers have gone to profit from 
their wares." 

	The major organs of the media have tried desperately to 
reconstitute the moral authority of the Warren commission under 
the guise of "Case Closed."  It has been a hopeless task. When 
CBS News polled the public earlier this month, a record 90 
percent said they believed that Kennedy had been the victim of a 

	Given the maddening ambiguity of the forensic evidence, 
not to mention the elusiveness of a distant milieu populated by 
hoodlums, spies and zealots, the proliferation of possible 
answers to the assassination and the lack of definitive ones 
should not surprise. What does surprise, in light of all this 
uncertainty, is the media's haste to foreclose further discussion 
and the search for firmer proof.      

     By concentrating on the issue of Oswald's guilt, Warren 
commission defenders beg profoundly important questions raised by 
the commission's cover-up.  Much more than Oswald's culpability 
is at stake in the collapse of the Warren report. Swirling around 
Kennedy and Oswald was a whirlpool of sinister personalities and 
institutions 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 struggle between the official myth and the 
countermyth inevitably leads to the question of governmental 
legitimacy and media culpability for the horrors that have 
befallen the nation in the decades since Kennedy's death. By 
comparison, who killed Kennedy is almost an academic question at 
this point.    

     Last week, however, the media's facade of unity began to 
crumble. Newsweek and its sister publication the Washington Post 
finally broke with the ranks of Warren commission defenders and 
grudgingly conceded what critics had claimed for years: The 
commission conducted not an honest search for the truth but 
rather a carefully contrived effort to forge a soothing official 
story of the assassination  -  covering up, by both inadvertence 
and design, damning evidence of governmental misconduct. 

	The Warren report now resembles the legendary Vietnamese 
village that was destroyed so that it could be saved. According 
to the calculations of its long-standing defenders, the Warren 
commission report must die so that the lone-gunman theory and the 
phantoms it still masks can live. 

	When the Warren report was issued in September, 1964, the 
media greeted it with universal praise. Its most popular edition 
was published by The New York Times. The introduction, written by 
Assistant Managing Editor Harrison Salisbury, pronounced,  "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 
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." 

	It didn't work.  The Warren report, the public decided, 
was a coverup. 

	Oswald was the first critic of the lone-gunman theory. "I 
am a patsy," he 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 critique of the report and its 
lone-gunman conclusion. Lane paid a price for his effrontery  -  
"ghoul" was among the kinder epithets. 

	In 1967, CBS News sought to answer the questions again 
with a four-part study 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 "The Protocols of 
the Elders of Zion," a vicious anti-Semitic plot.      

     The '70s more than vindicated the critics. Several Watergate 
participants were linked to both the CIA and an amalgam of 
organized-crime figures and anti-Castro Cubans that swirled 
around the events of Dealey Plaza. Successive government 
investigations stunningly confirmed some of the worst suspicions 
of the independent investigators concerning the government's 
potential for duplicity and violence. 

	Barely noted by the media establishment were equally 
important revelations by reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate 
fame. Writing in the Oct. 20, 1977, edition of Rolling Stone, 
Bernstein documented the CIA's use of major media organizations 
to provide information and cover for wide-ranging espionage. 

	In 1991, months before the release of "JFK," a 
disgruntled Warren commission critic who disagreed with Stone's 
approach gave a copy of the script to George Lardner, a 
Washington Post reporter who covered the Kennedy assassination. 
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 New Orleans' District Attorney Jim 
Garrison's version of the countermyth. By the time of the movie's 
release, it had become nearly as widely ridiculed by the media as 
Garrison's 1968-69 prosecution itself.      

     On Friday night, CBS News, which shared investigative 
resources with both Newsweek and the Post (a questionable 
development in itself) emphasized 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 on the day of the 
assassination, he was standing by the triple underpass south of 
Dealey Plaza waiting for a film drop from a camera crew that was 
following the presidential motorcade. They were late.  Suddenly 
he saw the blur of the presidential limousine flash by and 
instinctively knew that something was wrong. Scrambling over an 
embankment, he gazed down into Dealey Plaza and saw the crowd of 
spectators running in panic.  Instead of descending into the 
chaos and trying to make sense of it, Rather ran back to the 
local CBS affiliate to break the story   -  whatever it was  -  
to the nation. 

	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 led down the path and then bushwhacked. 
What galled, though, was a series of obsequious Rather 
interviews.  Rather seemed blithely oblivious in the presence of 
inanity and evil. The inanity was Lyndon Johnson's protege Jack 
Valenti rhapsodizing 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 the Dallas airport. The evil 
is former CIA director Richard Helms offhandedly admitting that 
he concealed from the Warren commission crucial information about 
CIA involvement in assassination plots against Castro. They were 
secret, after all. Both Newsweek and the Post posited CIA fear of 
such disclosure as being at the heart of the Warren commission 

     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 
trafficking of its "assets" in the fight against communism. Those 
expedited 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 feast on leaks from the 
CIA questioning the mental stability of deposed Haitian President 
Jean-Bertrand Aristide. We learn that key members of the 
controlling military junta are in the agency's employ   -  and 
they, too, sell drugs.       The true measure of the Warren 
report's collapse is the time and space both CBS and Newsweek 
devoted to advancing the theories of "Case Closed."  This slight 
tome can have no greater claim to historical legitimacy than any 
other assassination book; future scholars will find "Case Closed" 
just one more addition to the voluminous literature of the 
assassination   -  and, one hopes, they will scrutinize the end 
notes with a critical eye. 

	Solutions to the Kennedy assassination proffered by the 
media must be taken with a grain of salt.  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 
news-gathering institutions.       

     The acceptance of the countermyth both baffles and enrages 
the traditional guardians of the public record.  The media return 
to the Kennedy assassination again and again, but the story won't 
stand still. No sooner does a new interpretation of the Offical 
Myth close the case than new evidence and analysis blow 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 ever again to determine the 
public's understanding of the assassination. The case will never 

	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 the whole truth of Dealey Plaza, but in the search 
for that truth lies our freedom. 

Newsday Illustration by Gary Viskupic- the CBS television station 
logo with JFK in its sighting. Photo- John Klotz


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