Ending a journalistic taboo: Former New York Times reporter takes on JFK

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 FBIdomestic 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.

James Angleton
James Angleton, chief of counterintelligence in 1963

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.




14 thoughts on “Ending a journalistic taboo: Former New York Times reporter takes on JFK”

  1. This is another Castro did it book wrapped in the failure of the Warren Commission gift paper. Nice try. When will they stop? So many different ways for them to package the same old story. He tracks a 70 year old woman who claims to be Oswald’s lover – I assume it is little Sylvia from the Cuban Embassy – but she denies it when author arrives and confronts her according to Jill Abramson of the NY Times. Author now uses all of “our” research in order to sell the book to “us” and still try the Castro did approach. Bob (I gave Oswald’s mom a ride) Shieffer has author on this upcoming weekend on ‘Face The Nation’ so apparently CBS is buying into this full bore. Story: Warren Commission lawyer met Castro in a fishing boat for three hours off the coast of Cuba and guess what – he denied killing Kennedy!! Haw. Haw. Nice try. Promoted on CBS national News tonight. They want Castro before he dies. LOL. They want Oswald in Mexico City soooo bad. They want him getting the visa sooooo bad. Alas poor Hoover saw through it and we have the Hoover memo and the tape to LBJ via phone claiming it was an imposter on the phone tapes and the photos – Hey if it wasn’t for Hoover being dicked over by the CIA we would never know this and the plot might have worked. Maybe Hoover was an American hero after all? Food for thought.

  2. One only has to stand on the spot in the street where JFK was shot and look up at the window he was shot from to know that Oswald could have been and was the only shooter that day. Did at least one other person help him get to that point on that day? Perhaps, but not in any significant way.

  3. Mainstream journalists are not weak, nor pressured by their bosses from doing the right thing. Mainstream journalists are FRAUDS. They are accessories to the state crimes they collaborate in, and they literally lie to millions of Americans every night, practicing the worst psychological warfare imaginable.

    To the man above who thinks 911 truth advocates have gone too far, but JFK is just enough conspiracy for him — I encourage you to look at the wider context of your culture. After all, do you not live your life against the backdrop of our social consensus reality? Would you not say, if asked, that you believe in the good, in a Platonic sense? Do you not want to seek wisdom, truth, love, and live your life among others who also share such ideals?

    Without invoking the tired old arguments about where we draw the lines and boundaries between the obvious and the absurdly impossible, I will offer only that the chief problem — in my opinion — is a spiritual one. Far from being a metaphysical topic reserved only for the naive, I have come to learn what spirituality really is. And as many have testified, it is not so easy to articulate with words, because it is in essence part of the ineffable. But I will tell you this… I can see things now that I could not see only four years ago. I was a smart man just four years ago, well read, experienced in life, and yet, there were notions that lay beyond my mind, and countless assumptions I did not know I was taking for granted in my perceptions and thinking.

    To go from being completely conditioned in how we think to being freed to actually think and see for one’s self — this is a gradual process of growth. Spiritual growth. I have a brother who will roll his eyes every time I even bring up JFK, or anything uncomfortable… that’s okay… That is where his spirituality is with regard to material of this nature.

    I mean no disrespect to the author of this site when I questioned it’s tonality, and perhaps the Pepsi story is foolish, but worth posting to prove the point that it was foolish? I do not think it is so foolish. Perhaps one could argue methodology, and countless other things, but I hardly think any sincere opinion that attempts to unleash truth through relevant information or subjects is foolish. I may disagree, but I am glad there are a bunch of people thinking every which way but loose. There are some who refuse to hear any mention of Israel with this crime, because of the political volatility of making such claims. But if a man has an angle he wants to introduce, and he is of sincere and good will, I would hear him out. I know of a very prominent researchers who would not engage any narrative of this sort a priori.

    Vince Salandria spoke of a similar self-censorship that exists within most people. It is amazing too. You can have prominent leaders of the peace movement, or talk shows hosts like Amy Goodman, intellectuals like Chomsky; they might speak on and on about drones, the NSA, human rights, US imperialism, and all that hell we all see everyday. And yet, which of them would trace the past decade’s erosion of civil liberties to its catalyzing inciting incident — a staged terrorist attack that was used to psychologically condition America and provide the rational for every horror that was to come, including over a million murders. A million murders, but Amy Goodman won’t say what any 12 year old boy in Nebraska knows is obvious. Chomsky still can’t bring himself to get straight on JFK. And that was another inciting incident that led to war, bloodshed, misery.

    My point is this — the world is changing, if you haven’t noticed. And whatever that polished corporate model of “journalism” that we all thought was the news is, it is not going to survive in an information rich, connected, pluralistic world. One can always dance like a trained seal for the controlled network while they still have their drones aimed up our Mercedes tailpipes, but how long do we think that will last? The world is falling apart at the seams, literally. Infrastructure just falling apart. Gangsters rule.

    And people still use the term “conspiracy theory” in the same way the CIA intended when they first coined the term to use through their mockingbird assets. And it has been one of the most successful and devastating mind control programs to ever infiltrate our language and culture.
    Sandy Hook, Boston… You can think what you want, or not think at all, or change the subject. Yet, if you open your spirit, you can actually start to see… and it is so clear… so very very clear… crystal clear.

  4. George Simmons

    Even after 50 years, mainstream journalism in the USA is too weak and timid when it comes to investigating new leads on the JFK assassination.

    No doubt that journalists are put under pressure by their bosses to avoid the story.

    Jefferson Morley will understand this more than most.
    The Washington Post refused to publish his story regarding Jane Roman in the news section, but published it as an opinion piece instead. He was also advised that his interest in the assassination would not be good for his career.

    I have always believed that the truth regarding the assassination can be found. However, it is clear that the media have no desire to find it. It really is a national disgrace.

    1. I don’t think I’m going out on any kind of a limb by saying that CIA has infiltrated the mainstream media over the years, and that they are pretty good at embedding themselves into news media: print, tv, radio, and other electronic media. There’s a name for the program: Operation Mockingbird (well, it once was the name during the Cold War–I don’t know what they call it now). The Washington Post has intelligence leads for stories that would dry up pretty fast if the wrong sort of reporters started snooping around and revealing national security secrets, as well as old damaging information that would compromise existing elite infrastructure, such as CIA and NSA, just to name a couple of old institutions. However, sometimes things do get to print as news, such as the 2001 Washington Post story that told of then-new (to the reporter) acoustics studies which leaned very heavily toward a second shot from the front of the Kennedy motorcade, from the infamous ‘Grassy Knoll’. Salon.com has excellent reporting on the JFK assassination as well. It’s not a complete lock down, but it has been pretty effective over the years (CIA manipulation) at confusing the public and muddying the waters.

      Here’s an interesting tidbit about media manipulation that I came across while reading about the late Phil and Katherine Graham, owners of The Washington Post:
      “You could get a journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a month.” – CIA operative discussing with Philip Graham, editor Washington Post, on the availability and prices of journalists willing to peddle CIA propaganda and cover stories. “Katherine The Great,” by Deborah Davis (New York: Sheridan Square Press, 1991)

  5. eugene f parte

    Jimmy Files aka James Sutton told the full story of what occurred on Nov 22nd 1963 but he is seldom mentioned in the literature or documentaries on the death of JFK. His testimony fits perfectly with every other piece of information which has surfaced since the assassination but for some reason most authors and film makers disregard his story. Why is this? I have no doubt whatsoever that he was the gunman who shot JFK from the “grassy knoll”.

  6. Larry Hancock

    Gerry McKnight’s Breach of Trust is an excellent analysis of the investigative failings of the WC, in a large part due to his study of the actual FBI “expert” witnesses offered, and the cautious management of the evidence presented the the Commission – not to mention horrible failures like their handling of the ballistics expert panel study on CE399.

    However Shenon’s work on the 911 Commission has its own strengths, he was absolutely deadly in his deconstruction of how the Bush Administration tried to stack the deck and point towards Iraqi sponsorship or at least involvement in the attacks. In doing so he did a great job of exposing political manipulation of government investigations – but he did so only with the cooperation and assistance of some of the 911 commission staff. Not sure if he can do the same after 50 years with the WC but his apparent angle of showing manipulation of the commission itself is certainly a worthwhile one – especially if he somehow manages to dig as deeply into it as he did in the 911 book.

  7. Did you say that we need another serious look at the Warren Commission, as if every scholarly effort to date is compromised by adhering to the absurd Orwellian linguistic cage of “conspiracy-theory”, even if in fact JFK was killed by one?

    I would think the YAWN might accompany such a work, since there really isn’t much to break down anymore in that fraudulent investigation. I can think of a thousand other angles that might bear more fruit, but somehow I think you believe the key thing here is that the establishment press is officially “dealing with the issue.”

    I think not. And I think what is happening in Dealey Plaza this year is the literal embodiment of the disgusting country the USA has become. A fascist, corporatist enterprise where we look on as spectators at the awful disgrace of it all.

    People did not believe it then. They don’t believe it now. The only universe in which we all sort of pretend there is a debate is the one fashioned by the criminals themselves, who have made reason, truth, and healthy debate all material for fringe artists.

    I am increasingly confused by this site. Sometimes I think you are winking at the intelligent audience, actually posting a piece with an ironic headline such as “Look how crazy these people are who think Pepsi was involved!” when all along you are submitting wonderful information while at the same time washing your hands of it. Sometimes I think that is what you are doing.

    And other times, I think I am back in the Matrix, spellbound by the sheer sorcery of establishment chutzpa.

    1. I should have said that we already have a good book about the Warren Commission, namely Gerald McKnight’s “Breach of Trust.” But I hope and expect that Shenon, an investigative reporter, will go farther. I’m sorry you’re confused by the site. It may be because you are detecting “irony” where there is none. There was nothing ironic about my item on the rather stupid speculation that the CEO of Pepsi was involved in JFK’s murder. He wasn’t. Period. Full Stop. End of discusssion. Such conspiracy theories (double yawn) are uninteresting and unhelpful. And, no, I’m not washing my hands of anything on the site. Everything I’ve ever written on the site is here for inspection.

      1. I would have to concur with Jimmy and echo the position that “conspiracy theory” is a weaponized term that should be mentioned only to point out the term’s Orwellian, anti-intellectual, obscurantist function in our society.

        Having read McKnight’s Breach of Trust, I would be utterly shocked if Shenon was able to approach the depth of that work. Indeed I would place a bet that the final summation will be a variation on the old “Questions remain…” chestnut. Don’t expect any meaningful meta-analysis on the only plausible explanations for WHY questions remain… I hope that I am wrong, but I don’t think I am.

    2. Jimmy,

      Jefferson Morley has outlined his position quite clearly on this site and at places like Salon.com:

      I agree with his assessment that in order to examine this assassination, you have to separate the flim flam (9/11 truther nuttiness), because the JFK assassination conspiracy theory (if carefully posited as probably involving more than Oswald, probably involving CIA and some dissident elements of the US government) holds some validity that many other conspiracy theories don’t. I would add that you simply cannot look at the way the cover up of the assassination was handled, including the pressure exerted on reluctant Warren Commission participants by Lyndon Baines Johnson, to leave LBJ out of the equation. If he didn’t PLAN the assassination (and I don’t entirely rule that theory out), he certainly worked to shut down any dissent of the lone gunman acting alone premise that the Warren Commission supported. I don’t blame Lyndon Johnson alone, but I think to leave him out of the assassination investigation is to be almost blindly in denial. But I also think that this doesn’t leave the CIA off the hook, or the FBI for that matter, or possibly some of the military, more aligned with CIA as Fletcher Prouty claimed, and as he wrote about in “The Secret Team.” LBJ may have been a willing participant in a plan hatched by others. We don’t have enough information. But he looks at the very least to have been a VERY WILLING participant, when you begin to dig into his behavior after the event, and although this is only circumstantial, when you look at how his political career looked to be about to drop over a cliff with the Bobby Baker scandal unfolding, LBJ cannot be ignored by liberals who think that Democrats wouldn’t kill their own to grab at power.

      I think this book might be a good start toward some sort of mainstream media reawakening to the possibility that, taboo as the JFK assassination as possible conspiracy may be, is worth reopening, because if we as a nation can get at the truth, we may begin to heal and move on. As I have said many times before, we have the potential to be a great nation, and a terrible nation. It’s not written in stone that we are one way or another. We are not on autopilot, from our founding. We have to work to make our nation work. If we slide now and then, as we have many times in our past, we can also address our problems head on, not cover them up, and pick ourselves up and improve ourselves.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top