This is an important development. An accomplished newspaper reporter is taking on a subject most accomplished journalists have shied away from for 50 years: the government’s compromised investigation of the assassination of JFK.
From the Atlantic Wire.
“Phillip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter and author of The Commission, an acclaimed and critical look at the 9/11 Commission Report, has promised us a new book that claims that “powerful” people had influenced the Warren Commission’s investigation and final conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing John F. Kennedy.”
In short, Shenon is doing individually what the Times never did institutionally: accountability reporting on JFK’s assassination.
The media release from respected published Henry Holt doesn’t say much more than that so, for now, Shenon’s background is the story. From Atlantic Wire:
“At The New York Times Shenon covered topics like the FBI, domestic terrorism, and the goings-on at the Justice Department. Most notably, he wrote The Commission in 2008, a scathing look into the 9/11 Commission Report. If that book can give us any clues into his JFK dissection, it’s that it won’t be a blaring conspiracy theory, but rather a more clinical and subtle dissection of the Warren Commission.”
Which is just what we need. Not another conspiracy theory (yawn) but rather a serious investigation. The failure of major news organizations like the Times and the Washington Post to investigate the JFK story is rooted in their symbiotic relationship in 1963. At the time JFK’s murder, the country’s leading news organizations had a relationship of trusting ignorance with U.S. national security agencies. The senior editors of these papers emerged from the same social and political milieu of senior officials in the secretive agencies and implicitly or explicitly trusted them. They were often friends. Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post, was social friends with James Angleton, chief of the CIA’s counterintelligence staff.
Yet at the same time, Bradlee actually knew very little about what Angleton did, which was no surprise. Even Angleton’s closest colleagues at the CIA didn’t know what he did. At the same time, some members of the Washington press corps did divine the hostility toward JFK — and the contempt for constitutional government — that pervaded the upper ranks of the Pentagon in the early 1960s. But the conventions of journalism made it difficult to tell that story in the print.
In 1962 two excellent Washington reporters, Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey, concluded that fiction was the only way to convey the totality of what they knew was via fiction. Their book, Seven Days in May, told the story of a liberal president facing down an incipient military coup by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was based on what they knew about JFK and the JCS and it went on to become a best-seller. JFK himself found the military coup scenario plausible.
When JFK was shot and killed under enigmatic circumstances in Dallas, the press corps’ implicit (and often explicit) trust in high-level Executive Branch sources virtually forbade independent reporting on the death of the president. Such high-level sources were, in the conventions of Washington journalism, key to understanding the workings of power. The idea that such sources might be compromised or self-interested or deceitful would not become common among Washington reporters until the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
By then, the journalistic generation that had covered Kennedy’s assassination and its confused investigative aftermath — Ben Bradlee, Dan Rather, Jim Lehrer — were committed to their initial uncritical endorsement of the Warren Commission. They were also uninterested, often rightly, in most of the conspiracy theories generated by a skeptical public. They were also aware that to take a critical stance toward the national security agencies about the causes of Kennedy’s death would stigmatize them in the culture of the elite newsrooms and hinder their ability to cover other stories and thus to advance their careers. The JFK story became taboo.
Shenon’s book is a small hopeful sign that this dynamic of journalistic denial has played out. We still don’t know what exactly happened on November 22, 1963, but we do know that the government’s official story was implausible and unconvincing. Explaining how that story was generated is one step toward the truth. I’m looking forward to Shenon’s book, even more than Roger Stone’s.
The book will be published in November.