Edward J. Epstein on the origins of JFK denialism

In the mid-1960s, Edward J. Epstein learned first hand the power of denial in the Washington press corps when it came to the story of  JFK’s assassination.

Edward J. Epstein, original JFK scholar

Epstein, then a graduate student at Cornell, took an interest in the assassination of JFK and set out to interview members and staff of the Warren Commission. He went on write three books about JFK’s assassination. He is now publishing excerpts from his journal of that period as “The JFK Assassination Diary.”

In an recent interview with Powerline, Epstein said:

“As these lawyers and Commission members were not bound by any secrecy agreement, as amazing as that might seem nowadays, why didn’t journalists from major news organizations seek out the same information from them? After all, in 1963, the Kennedy assassination was the crime of the century. Fifty years later, I still cannot answer this question.”

I think the most plausible answers is that. Journalists from major news organizations were not interested in reporting on the investigation of JFK’s assassination because they were incapable of imagining that the Warren Commission’s conclusions might not be accurate.

Most of those reporters were liberal, which meant they trusted the government, believed in its integrity, and competence. perhaps even idealized. Those who were politically conservative were, by nature, not suspicious of the CIA, the Pentagon and other defenders of U.S. national security.

Of course, by the time Epstein came to the JFK story, there was already evidence that both forms of trust were misplaced. Coming to the story with the detached attitude of a scholar, Epstein naturally had a critical stance.

Journalists immersed in the culture of Washington and New York news organizations had a different way of constructing truth. In their experience since World War II, the senior officials running the FBI, CIA, JCS and the Warren Commission were not only a reliable guides to the truth of the matter they were the only guide.

Unlike Epstein the independent scholar, they could not imagine that such officials could and would abuse their trust to protect their own institutional interests over the truth about the murder of a sitting president.  To admit such a disturbing possibility at that time, struck most of them as fundamentally irrational and small-minded, which is how they described skeptics of the Warren Commission.

The Washington press corps had no curiosity about the Warren Commission and how it came to its conclusions because reporters could not imagine that the interests of federal government agencies could diverge radically from those of the general public.

It was not until the 1970s with revelations of the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, illegal domestic surveillance programs, assassination plots, and COINTELPRO  that Washington reporters learned their confidence in the integrity of the federal government was misplaced, that their trust in Washington officialdom was a denial of reality.







  1. John . F. Kennedy’s assassination happened 50 years ago and a majority of Americans do not believe The Warren Commission Report. After 50 years of denials, free the files.

    “Sunny Day in Dallas” – Gerry Segal


  2. Mark Groubert says:

    Unlike Epstein the independent scholar, most journalists did not have James Jesus Angelton as their mentors.

  3. Ju Ju Wang says:

    Epstein is 100 years old but he makes a few good points. Nobody believes the Warren Commission report and practically nobody has gone after the “experts” who wrote the report, most of whom are now themselves dead. Gerald Ford was one of them, you know, the guy Nixon “appointed” as the vice-president? Nixon knew who did it. The new Roger Stone book will reveal all the secrets the government has been holding back from us for fifty years. Stone worked closely with Nixon and since he turned Libertarian he is spilling the beans on what he kept secret when he was GOP operative. Just as everyone secretly suspected, the evidence all points to LBJ and Stone did some exhaustive research to back up his assertions. No one will know for sure until the book gets released but it’s already #1 at Amazon.

    • Thomas says:

      Like I mentioned elsewhere I am looking forward to Roger Stone’s book but the hard sell is inaccurate. Today’s book rankings at Amazon have the book at #2,859 so there’s a long way to go to #1, which I hope it reaches if it lives up to the hype.

    • Photon says:

      But Nixon believed the Warren Report.

  4. Dan says:

    In 1963 journalism was still in the mode of taking handouts from the government and reporting them favorably. This has to be factored into the discussion. By the way, I recently saw a presentation on the death of FDR in 1945, and news of his death was handed by the White House to Miriam Smith to report to the world. Miriam Smith filed the first report of the Kennedy assassination from the motorcade in 1963.

  5. In the article you link to he says that the head investigator for the Warren Commission resigned after two days and then was replaced by Arlen Specter. Does anyone know who he was? Never seen that story before.

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