The disturbing shadow of John F. Kennedy’s assassination remains visible in American politics and journalism.
Witness the appearance of Roger Stone, adviser to Donald Trump, at a symposium on Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans, which drew the attention of the New York Times (and the pro-Clinton attack group Media Matters.)
“At a time when talk of having lost the country is very much in vogue, along with deep suspicions of a powerful and secretive elite, the symposium seemed remarkably of the moment,” writes reporter Campbell Robertson.
Of course, reporting on how fears of secret power are driving the discourse of the 2016 presidential election is an eminently timely and worthy subject. But reporting is what Robertson failed to do. Instead of learning the latest JFK facts, Times readers were served a birthday cake.
For the editors of the Times, rightly worried about the possibility of a Trump presidency, depicting the “conspiracy theorists” who support him as a monolithic threat is a tempting editorial choice.
It is also a journalistic mistake. In seeking to capture how Trump and his advisers appeal to a fearful nation, the Times neglected to do its job: supply new and relevant information about topic of wide public interest.
Robertson reported that symposium participants expressed “general approval” for Trump’s baseless claim that Ted Cruz’s father was somehow involved in JFK’s assassination. It might have been worth mentioning that not a single credible JFK conspiracy author agrees.
Nor did Robertson note that Roger Stone’s “LBJ done it” theory of JFK’s assassination is rejected by most serious scholars, including diplomatic historian David Kaiser, Salon founding editor and best-selling author David Talbot, theologian James W. Douglass, and literary critic Joan Mellen.
Indeed, in her new book on LBJ, Mellen, a tenured professor of literature, demolishes one pillar of the “LBJ done it” theory. Using forensic science Mellen debunks the oft-recycled claim that the fingerprint of an LBJ associate was found in the Texas School Depository. In the context of Stone’s claims, Mellen’s findings surely qualify as newsworthy.
So too with Talbot’s latest book, The Devil’s Chessboard, which argues CIA director Allen Dulles was complicit in JFK’s assassination. The book was just reviewed respectfully by the Web site of the CIA itself!
Robertson quoted the host of a low-rated late-night conspiracy radio show? Why not ask Talbot, or some more credentialed source, for more informed perspective on fears of secret power in American life?
Instead of seeking balance and authority, Robertson and his editors made sure that Times readers saw a picture of birthday cake for Oswald, provided by Judyth Baker who claims–without evidence–that she was Oswald’s girlfriend.
JFK and the next president
More importantly, Robertson and his editors also missed the news.
As has been widely reported, the CIA is obligated by law to release 1,100 still-secret JFK documents by October 2017. In an campaign story, the Times certainly should have noted that President Trump (or President Clinton) will have to decide if the CIA can continue to conceal these records from the public view.
The cake, it seems, was tastier.
In a story about “suspicions of a powerful and secretive elite,” the Times might have mentioned that these “potentially embarrassing” JFK files concern undercover CIA officers who: 1) were involved in assassination conspiracies; or 2) informed about Oswald’s travels, politics,and foreign contacts while JFK was still alive; or 3) implicated themselves in JFK’s violent death.
By not reporting the facts, the Times overlooked one historical cause of JFK suspicion, as well as the contemporary actions of the secretive elite at the CIA.
All of which begs the question: why report on a birthday cake baked a dubious source but not on a key secrecy decision facing the next president of the United States.
Conspiracy theories in 2016
The biggest reason is Trump.
News editors and reporters who want to expose the fallacious conspiracy theories of Roger Stone and Donald Trump don’t want to give their authors any credence, even indirectly, by acknowledging the essential truth of what JFK “conspiracy theorists” have been saying for five decades: the fact pattern of JFK’s assassination is suspicious, if not disturbing, if not evidence of a unsolved crime.
At the Times, the partisan impulse in liberal culture controls the discourse: Better to avoid the JFK facts than to risk helping Trump. For a partisan organization like Media Matters, that is a perfectly defensible stance. Not so much for a news organization..
Another reason is personal.
Robertson did not fail to report because he’s a corrupt tool of the Clintonian global elite who wants to keep the secret of Bill’s love child. Judging by his articles, Roberston seems to be a versatile writer–a graphic artist and a theater critic as well as correspondent of the South.
But he has absorbed key lesson of the culture of mainstream news organizations:
To have an open-mind about the very real possibility that President Kennedy was ambushed by his enemies is an invitation to commit professional suicide.
Factually, the editors of the Times know full well that the possibility of a conspiracy in Dallas isn’t absurd. Savvy power players including Jackie Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Charles DeGaulle and Fidel Castro all came to believe it.
But professionally–at least for elite reporters and editors–one of the most plausible JFK scenarios is literally unspeakable.
News fit to print
So when Robertson reported on Roger Stone’s JFK fulminations, he had to avoid reporting new JFK facts, if only to protect his future as a journalist. That, too, is understandable, if not exactly defensible.
Let me add that I’m sure Robertson is sincere in whatever he thinks about the Dallas tragedy. I’m equally sure the editors of the Times are sincere in believing that, at this moment, the new facts of JFK’s assassination are less important than the old theories.
They are merely wrong–empirically and professionally.
Roger Stone’s conspiratorial rants are indeed “of the moment.” But so is the plain truth that the country’s newspaper of record needs to be reminded that the facts of the JFK assassination story are more important than the theories.
“Can’t imagine a more meticulous take down of the CIA’s decades-long subterfuge surrounding the assassination.”
Jefferson Morley’s new ebook, CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, available on Amazon, provides the fullest account of the role of CIA operations officers in the events leading to the death of JFK, with a guide to what will be declassified in October 2017.