Annals of avoidance

Time Cover
How to miss the point

This cover of Time magazine from the 25th anniversary of JFK’s assassination illuminates the peculiar practices of journalists on President Kennedy’s death.

The normal journalistic aspiration is to report news facts on a subject of interest, sift out the less important and lead with the most important, and then put try to put the facts in context.

Of course, there is no such thing as “objectivity.” Journalists bring to bear the usual range of human passions and prejudices to the task. Editors must respond to the publishers who pay everyone’s salary. And news organizations must reach some kind of working relationship with government agencies in order to do their job in reporting on them. But the aspiration to overcome such compromises in service of reporting the news was — is — central to the journalistic enterprise

This Time magazine cover shows a team of highly paid journalism avoiding this aspiration.

It is true, there was a new book in 1988 that argued Lee Oswald was trying to kill Gov. Connally, but this book was not based on any new facts. Time was trying to meet reader interest in the JFK story without reporting new facts. The magazine’s editors sought to appeal to the public’s perennial dissatisfaction with the not-very-credible official story while avoiding the reasons for that dissatisfaction. To a public hungry for a more credible explanation of Kennedy’s death, the newsweekly offered an even less credible one: that a lone nut killed JFK — by accident. This idiosyncratic claim has never amounted to much; I’ve never met a historian, journalist, or informed citizen who believes it.

Why do otherwise skilled journalists would abandon their usual practices when it comes to the JFK story? I think the answer is that the alternative — continually reporting on the government’s lack of credibility on a central event in American history — is too destabilizing. Factual pursuit of the JFK story indicates a lack of faith in the efficacy and credibility of government that journalists, usually liberal in their outlook and politics, bring to the job.

A demonstrated willingness act on this lack of faith, in turns, undermines the implicit understanding between Washington-based news organizations and the federal government, especially national security agencies, that enables them to work together. For journalists, the less hazardous path is to avoid the intractable and disturbing mass of JFK facts in favor of coverage that reassures readers and sources alike that all is well.








12 thoughts on “Annals of avoidance”

  1. The deterioration of the Fourth Estate can’t be over stated, can it? But focusing on Time, Inc. and the choice to push the myth about Connally to the front page in 1988 should probably include discussion about its founder, Henry Luce. From his obituary published in the NY Times, March 1, 1967:

    “. . . He was a stanch Republican, a defender of big business and free enterprise, a foe of big labor, a steadfast supporter of Chiang Kai-shek, an advocate of aggressive opposition to world Communism. He was also an Anglophile, but he believed that “the 20th century must be to a significant degree the American century.”

    AND “Mr. Matthew’s 1960 autobiography found Mr. Luce secretive, not always aware of other people, yet a good editor and a man who could be answered back. Nonetheless, Mr. Matthews faulted Mr. Luce on the question of fairness, asserting that “the Presidential campaign of 1940 was the last one that Time even tried to report fairly. . . . . In 1952, when it sniffed victory in the air at long last,” Mr. Matthews wrote, “there was no holding Time. The distortions, suppressions and slanting of its political ‘news’ seemed to me to pass the bounds of politics and to commit and offense against the ethics of journalism. The climax was a cover story on Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate, which was a clumsy but malign and murderously meant attack.”

    While the publication was in the throws of its sale to Warner Communications in 1988, I wonder if Henry Luce’s influence was still felt.

    East-Texas timber company, Temple-Inland owned shares in Time, Inc. and provided the publications with most of its product for decades. T-I was founded by Arthur Temple, Jr. who was an early employer and political godfather of Charlie Wilson who is alleged to have virtually single-handedly armed Afghan tribesmen (with the help of CIA agent Gust Avrakotos) against the Russians. Wilson is said to have acted at the behest of President Zia of Pakistan, home base of Bank of Credit and Commerce.

    Arthur Temple shared board memberships with R. R. Herring in Houston, husband of hostess extraordinaire, Joanna Herring who had been a member of the Minutemen from the time that she was in high school. Joanna is said to have enticed Wilson into the Afghan arms project on her own accord. It would be interesting to read how Time, Inc. covered particular that history.

  2. “Why do otherwise skilled journalists would abandon their usual practices when it comes to the JFK story?” – because it has been politically and socially unacceptable to tell the truth about the JFK in elite circles for 50 years – Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly just being the latest examples.

    The truth of the JFK assassination is that the government and the outside shadow American government murdered John Kennedy and covered it up. And the VP President Lyndon Johnson was a key player in this treason. I also think Cuba policy was a big reason for the murder of JFK.

    Every newspaper and every history and political science department and every university and college has been an accomplice in the cover up of the JFK assassination. Elite peer pressure is the reason why; an inhibition to avoid, ignore & not deal with JFK truth. JFK truth is discrediting to our national narrative.

    It is like finding out and admitting that Santa Claus is cannibalistic serial killer. That’s a bitter pill for a 9 year old kid and his parents to take.

    JFK assassination truth is like a Claymore mine blowing up American exceptionalism, something that Sean Hannity & Chris Matthews cling to – we are better than everyone else. Our poop doesn’t stink; we can lecture to other countries & cultures about democracy and critique them from our vaunted position of not changing power like a banana republic…. Which is *exactly* what happened on 11/22/63.

    I suggest downloading a copy of Newsweeks’ 11-22-93, 30th anniversary special of the JFK assassination. It is at this link along with many other fine and rare books on the JFK assassination:

    So check it out. The elite media, CFR types and academics sure cling to their fantasies. However, Simon & Schuster, a heavyweight publishing house, picked up James Douglass’s “JFK & the Unspeakable” so there is a crack in the dike & some water is starting to trickle out.

    How many more years/decades before the embankment gives way on JFK truth? You will know it when a sitting US president admits to truth in the JFK assassination.

    1. How many more years indeed.

      We’ve done this before. How many years after the extermination of the Cherokee did we finally acknowledge the US government’s role in the ‘Trail of Tears’? Or acknowledge slavery? Or the internment of the Japanese-Americans during WWII? It’s not that the USA is all bad, or all good, but that we are imperfect, and capable of horrific deeds just as other nations are. The sooner we own up to our misdeeds, the sooner we can move forward. This cover up of the JFK assassination has got to end, so we can fix the problem of entrenched secret power, painful as it might be.

    1. The autopsy physicians were military doctors. Rank = lieutenant colonel. Stover, who oversaw the Bethesda operation, was a full colonel.

      In the autopsy room were various multiple-star generals.

      In the military, rank controls. Humes or Boswell want to do X. A higher ranking officer says, “Don’t do X.” Humes or Boswell complies.

      Just that simple.

      1. You’re leaving out RADM Calvin Burrel Galloway.

        Reports pertaining to the chain of command during the autopsy vary, and the issue has been debated ad nauseum; Was Kennedy’s personal physician Burkley in charge, issuing directives pursuant to the Kennedy family’s wishes? Did Admiral Galloway acquiesce in every instance? Or was Galloway following orders from his immediate and/or ultimate superior Robert McNamara who was with Jacqueline Kennedy on the 17th floor of Bethesda or was someone functioning in between?

        I find it hard to believe that a career naval officer like Galloway would have broken from the chain of command when he tampered with the autopsy report which initiated the controversy over the throat wound.

        The Secretary of Navy post had been in a state of flux for a least a month when Fred Korth resigned abruptly and Kennedy appointed close friend Paul Fay as interim. If Fay was emotionally ineffectual that evening, could the procedures at Bethesda have been influenced by a holdover from the controversial Korth, or the impending appointment of Paul Nitze by McNamara (assuming that Johnson was intending to honor Kennedy’s deal with McNamara which afforded him final choice of appointees)?

        It seems to me that the “official” cover-up on a Federal level began at Bethesda.

  3. Re Connally as target: It’s within the realm of reasonable possibility that John Connally was a target. Getting him out of the way and distracting his wife opened up various clear lanes of fire toward JFK.

    1. To say that Connally was “a” target is plausible. The Time article contended that he was “the” target. That isn’t plausible.

      1. Jeff,

        I get your point and understand “Time’s” agenda.

        The killers wanted JFK dead. Not wounded. Dead. They wanted a kill zone that would match up with three bullets. They could control the autopsy.

  4. Eric Hollingsworth

    I had a friend who was into the assassination back then. I had never thought much about the assassination, but I had to laugh when he showed me newsletters that detailed the people who had “mysteriously” died in the 25 years since the assassination (can anyone explain how you can tell if someone died from a karate chop?), or people emerging from decades of fearful silence to tell their amazing stories. Time was probably just following a trend. Unfortunately, the trend ultimately resulted in the McAdams website.

  5. I remember this magazine issue grabbing my attention 25 years ago. Selling JFK, be it assassination, sex scandal, or other aspects of the family seems to be a lucrative enterprise. I’m sure that played into this being on the cover. It got my attention.

    I agree with you that there seems to be a dread among journalists to dig into suspicion of our government, so they ignore it or make fun of it. I would also add that (I think) CIA isn’t stupid: they plant people in newspapers, magazines and the broadcast media who are sympathetic to their world view. I think this operation had a name: Mockingbird. I don’t know how widespread their people are (or if they really are) in the media, but it doesn’t sound completely bogus as a possibility.

    One sure-fire way to attack inquiry is to ridicule it and muddy the waters by putting up complete b.s. like this idea. But again, it could also just be academic laziness operating as well. I’ve always said that besides math and basic literacy, the most important thing our schools could be teaching our young people is critical thinking. I recently heard investigative reporter Sy Hersh on CSPAN saying the same thing.

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