Why the liberal press ignored the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission

The Irish Examiner‘s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission report was more comprehensive than the Washington Post‘s and better informed than the Boston Globe’s and more penetrating than Time magazine’s. It seems for the American journalistic profession, the noteworthy fact that a majority of Americans still reject the Commission’s obsolete conclusions is no longer worthy of much reflection.

A friend asks, “Why the lack of U.S. coverage?”

The ever shortening-time horizons of the news business is a factor.

So is the fact that the profession is growing younger as social media takes on the functions of traditional journalism, and older reporters (who can recall the events of 1963) retire or get laid off.

And, let’s be real, it was a long time ago. The assassination of JFK is now as distant as the end of World War I was for me when I got my first full-time reporting job. I don’t recall caring much about the Treaty of Versailles.

But the JFK story is, shall we say, slightly more interesting and problematic than the Treaty of Versailles. As Antonio Veciana’s account of his relationship with David Phillips, the CIA man who used the name  “Maurice Bishop” shows,  the JFK story is still generating intriguing and important revelations.

Which is the core of the problem for the liberal press corps.

The biggest factor in the journalistic avoidance of the JFK story is that new and relevant information about the assassination is just too destabilizing for the liberal-minded people who run major news organizations and newsrooms in America.

I stress the politics of the profession not to demonize but to explain. I’m one of them. News professionals are mostly (with many honorable exceptions) liberal people who have faith in the efficacy of U.S. government and the integrity of the people who run it. While we are cynical about politicians, we are hopeful about solutions. While generally secular and prone to questioning authority, we are also believers in the idea that progressive change is possible and desirable.

In Washington, senior editors must also manage relationships with national security agencies to insure the kind of access that enables good reporting. (Access can also be inhibit good reporting but that’s another discussion.)

So when liberal-minded senior news professionals thought about the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission’s findings, they had to at least contemplate, ever so briefly, the possibility that most Americans subscribe to: that Kennedy’s political enemies killed him in broad daylight and got away with it. That is to say, they must entertain the idea that there are hidden power centers in America that are beyond the reach of law enforcement, Congress, and news organizations, and that in the case of the Dallas regicide our democratic institutions failed to control or detect them.

Outside of the Beltway that is a fairly common belief across the political spectrum. That’s why, among critics of the Warren Commission, you can find rightists (Roger Stone), leftists (Oliver Stone) libertarians (Jacob Hornberger), social conservatives (the late Mary Ferrell), and liberals (Robert F. Kennedy Jr.).

Inside the Beltway, where people (not just reporters) are invested in the efficacy and the integrity of political organizations (for both idealistic and self-interested reasons), the occasion of even considering that Kennedy’s assassination marked a massive failure of American democratic institutions induces the psychological phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance:” the experience of having two contradictory beliefs or values. The political system works despite its tragedies vs. The political system is fundamentally flawed, despite its accomplishments.

As Wikipedia tells us, “Leon Festinger‘s theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. When inconsistency (dissonance) is experienced, individuals tend to become psychologically uncomfortable and are motivated to attempt to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoiding situations and information which are likely to increase it.”

The 50th anniversary of the Warren Report is, among many things, a reminder that much of the country does not have faith in the efficacy and integrity of the federal government to provide an accurate account of JFK’s death. In other words, the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission’s report was a reminder to the journalism professionals that their perspective on this highly symbolic issue is not credible with most people. For us people who want to be, somehow, in the business of truth, that’s not a happy thought. So superbly talented and exquisitely liberal-minded reporters and editors avoided the subject.

Nothing new to say. I’ve already figured that one out. There’s no proof of conspiracy, so Oswald must’ve done it.

These are not very journalistic or logical thoughts (especially that last one) but, like all of us at one time or another, liberal journalists sometimes prefer internal consistency to contemplating the possibility that the giants of the profession (Bradlee, Rather, Woodward) might have missed a big story way back when. It is as understandable as it is self defeating. While most Americans think it likely that someone in a position of power used assassination to advance their goals in 1963, a declining profession is clinging to the obsolete story that one man alone killed JFK for no reason (and then another killed the first guy — for no reason). It is an odd faith. Or is it a symptom of decline?

In any case, experienced editors and reporters in Washington and New York live lives of stress, pressure, and constant criticism in the political here and now. They naturally seek to reduce the intellectual dissonance in their understanding of history. Not covering the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission was a way of actively avoiding a news story that might induce cognitive dissonance.









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