NatGeo’s un-journalism on JFK

The re-broadcast of National Geographic’s JFK documentary, The Lost Bullet, in Canada last weekend is another reminder of how stilted and weird the mainstream media discussion of JFK assassination is. I haven’t seen the film yet, so I won’t comment on the particulars of its thesis.

But the film’s not-terribly relevant point illuminates a curious phenomenon: how the obsession with conspiracy distorts, defines and limits the editorial vision of news organizations. It is a species of un-journalism.

The film, based on a 2007 piece by Max Holland and Johann Rush, argues that accused assassin Lee Oswald fired a shot much earlier than anyone ever contended. The problem is not just that very little evidence supports this claim and a great deal refutes it. (Harsh criticisms from pro-conspiracy writer Jim DiEugenio and anti-conspiracy Dale Myers expose the many problems with Holland’s theory.) The problem is not just that Holland declines to answer questions from other JFK scholars about his evidence.

The larger problem is that National Geographic — and now the CBC — have abandoned the usual journalistic approach to popular history, which is to report signficant new information and then put it in context. This is how news organizations report on developments in World War II history, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the secret history of the Iraq war, the Holocaust, the death of Princess Diana, the Cuban missile crisis, and other topics of interest.

When it comes to the JFK assassination story, however, North American news organizations adopt a different standard, one that is oddly fixated on confirming or refuting conspiracy theories.

Wittingly or unwittlingly, this approach removes the JFK assassination story from its emerging historical context. Holland’s adherence to the Warren Commission’s theory, combined with a revisionist take on the gunfire in Dealey Plaza, incorporates little from the mass of new evidence about JFK’s assasination that has emerged from the records declassified by the Assassination Records Review Board since the late 1990s.

That body of evidence, by any dispassionate assessment, complicates the enduring portrait of Oswald as a “lone nut.”

Yet NatGeo and Holland have nothing to say about it. Nothing about John Newman’s findings about the CIA’s intensive intelligence gathering on Oswald from 1959 to 1963. They do not deal with Bill Simpich’s research into how Oswald’s skillful “defection” to the Soviet Union via Helsinki concided with the CIA’s REDCAP and REDSKIN programs, which sought to exploit defectors for intelligence advantage. They nothing to say one way or the other about historian David Kaiser’s revelation that the FBI had targeted the Fair Play for Cuba Committee for disruption at the same time that Oswald launched his one-man chapter of the group in New Orleans. They are innocently ignorant of James Douglass’s excavation of the murderous conspiracies envisioned by Operation Northwoods.

Instead NatGeo and the CBC adopt the self-serving binary conceptualization of the JFK story that goes like this: Can JFK “conspiracy theorists” identify any one individual who is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy to murder the president?

If they can’t, then (here comes the non-sequitir) there could not have been a conspiracy to kill the president.

Therefore, the mainstream journalist should confine is or her JFK journalism to finding new facts to illuminate the Warren Commission’s old theory.

On this crabbed venture, NatGeo turned to Holland who (like Vince Bugliosi and Gerald Posner and David Belin) has found a happy niche as the reassuring expert who spares senior editors and the audience the burden making having to make sense of the new evidence on their own — without reference to conspiracy (or anti-conspiracy) theories.

The problem with NatGeo’s approach is not that it is anti-conspiratorial. It is anti-journalistic, which is one reason why so few people find it credible.
















15 thoughts on “NatGeo’s un-journalism on JFK”

  1. I urge researchers this 50th anniversary to focus not on conspiracy but rather on why Oswald could not have done what the W.C. said he did on November 22, 1963.

    The research Barry Ernest did for “The Girl on the Stairs” is convincing on the fact that Oswald did not race from the sixth floor to the second-floor lunch room. Rather, he walked to the lunch room from the first floor.

    Recent work on Altgens #6, focusing on the clothes of supposed Billy Lovelady standing in the TSBD doorway, is convincing to this writer that the clothes cannot be Lovelady’s and that therefore supposed Lovelady must in fact be Oswald. Which accords with Fritz’s notes. Altgens #6, to my untrained eye, contains obvious anomalies.

    There are other things as well. For example, the negative paraffin test on his right cheek proves conclusively he did not fire a rifle on November 22, given that his hands did test positive; i.e., he did not wash his cheek to remove nitrate.

    The conspiracy stuff is more abundant, but here’s the deal: the public largely believe there was a conspiracy. What needs to be brought home to the public is that Oswald did not kill, because he could not have killed, John F. Kennedy.

    1. re. J: I don’t think you are suggesting that proving Oswald innocent is the end of this investigation.

      If (or the fact that) Oswald did not or could not have shot Kennedy, then someone else did. If someone else did but the wider media reported that he did and the Warren Commission sealed that in the permanent record, then there was a conspiracy either of incompetents or of a deliberate and well-organized group.

      Of course proving that Oswald did not shoot Kennedy is critical to the process; however, it has always seemed odd to me that there are those who insist that Oswald did not kill Kennedy and yet persist in relying only on those leads that emanate from his history. Clearly he, (and/or others who looked like him?) were involved on a level. He was not operating in a vacuum.

      And on the contrary, I hope that during this 50th anniversary, we researchers continue to concentrate on who had the power to order the assassination, who had the mechanism to ensure that it was successful, and who had the influence to cover it up.

      It is the cover-up that speaks to this particular thread posted by Jeff Morley. I for one am interested in how un-journalism is perpetuating the myth of the lone gunman theory even today, let alone how flawed in general our media functioned in November of 1963 and the months and years following.

      As an aside but in the interest of not discounting what you are saying, there are facts that indicate that Lovelady is worth researching beyond whether or not he was in front of the building; he might have been at TSBD for reasons other than his job description, along with a number of other employees and tenants of the building.

  2. Staying with the topic of un-journalistic methods of certain media, in this case NatGeo, isn’t it important to ask why from the outset did most major media fail to ask questions? The issues raised regarding trajectory of bullet(s) etc. fail to address the question, who had the power to influence credible media and their reporters, and how is it possible that the same influence is being exerted to date? The debate over the details of the actual murder should not detract from digging deep into the cover up, of which the media played a major role.

    1. >> who had the power to influence credible media and their reporters, and how is it possible that the same influence is being exerted to date?<<

      There's no reason to search for an individual or core group of powerful, shadowy puppet masters. The cover-up has been monolithic. Even RFK refused to open the Pandora's Box of national sins that led to America's power structure.

      You've probably noticed that most of America's major issues – destroying Iraq, for example – are not open to dissent or skepticism. (Skeptics were routinely called traitors.) The lies are virtually never questioned by establishment media or politicians of either Party. The parameters of discussion are so narrow that almost any deviation from the standard beltway theme is characterized as unserious or extremist. Call it the consensus of Empire. If you are a journalist and you go against the accepted theme, you will be relegated to the fringe . . . even though 80% of your fellow citizens agree with you. (Keep in mind that no one can prove conclusively that the military, CIA, FBI, LBJ or anyone else murdered the president.)

      The commemorative event in Dallas is easy to explain. City fathers and national leaders usually don't want America's landmark (and solemn) occasions highlighted and dominated by people claiming that the US military and CIA (or ex-presidents) orchestrated a domestic coup d'état, and that all of America's trusted institutions have covered it up. It's just so tasteless and unpatriotic.

      1. I agree that the cover-up was broad reaching, but I don’t think I’ve descended to the level of cynicism that it’s not important or worse still, futile to try and identify those “powerful, shadowy puppet-masters” as you call them.

        And RFK choosing not to open Pandora’s box is clearly no reason to shy from doing so ourselves. If indeed he made that choice, the reasons were uniquely his (and no, I can’t debate the topic but I’m fairly certain that the facts are in dispute). Can any of us say unequivocally that we would have made a different choice given the circumstances?

        We could bring this discussion back to focus on the lack of credible journalism and from there look to specifics, e.g., the recent NatGeo piece, and how that correlates with the initial coverage of the assassination.

        It only took a handful of the major media to swing the coverage in any direction. Like lemmings, most 2nd tier operations and their reporters would have followed the leader(s). Those with the real influence included: most likely one local (print and broadcast and I would suggest A.H. Belo Corp.) and perhaps two-three national (I would choose Time/Life, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times (along with the 3 networks of course) and there is the international possibility – that being in NZ although I think there has since surfaced a debate about the news ‘scoop’ described by Prouty. Cursory research of ownership of the paper at the time resulted in an impasse.

        And Katherine Graham/WaPo repeatedly comes into the spotlight particularly because of the Bradley-Mary Pinchot Meyer connection, but should that detract from deeper inquiry into far more influential publications of the 1960’s?

        Concentrate on those eight or nine media entities, uncover their symbiotic relationships during the ’50’s and 60’s, and patterns emerge from the shadows.

    2. Re: Leslie Sharp. The murderers of JFK: LBJ, CIA and Hoover all had excellent media relations. They were personal friends at the highest level of the media. LBJ – personal friends with publisher Katherine Graham of Wash Post, Richard Stanton president of CBS news; scores of newspaper publishers. CIA had a whole operation devoted to media manipulation, whether it was formally called “Operation Mockingbird” or not. The FBI had Deke DeLoach – inner circle LBJ and still alive today- with hundreds of media contacts.

      The media was controlled, owned lock, stock and barrel from the beginning. And when LBJ came out for “civil rights” immediately after murdering JFK, he was inoculated from piercing examination from much of the media and the Left.

      1. I think that ‘Richard’ at CBS was Frank Stanton at CBS, wasn’t he? And yes, he was indeed a major player, notwithstanding his role at CBS.

        My point was the diversion from the discussion about un-journalism.

        The dilution of the Fourth Estate, let alone the out and out collaboration between it and any government entity, whether it was the CIA during Mockingbird and ancillary operations (which I have studied for years) or other agencies, is obviously as great a threat to democracy as was the assassination of our elected president.

        The cover up was part of the conspiracy, not adjunct to it, so I think that it is unproductive to dismiss the topic with a simple “the media was controlled, lock stock and barrel.” Anyone could retort by pointing out, “the bullet entries were not where the Warren Commission report said they were,” full stop, end of discussion. It is critical to any possible effort to re-open this case that those facts are clarified; it is equally important to know whether or not the cover-up was a collaboration involving some of the major media.

        As far as I know, no one put a gun to the heads of the owners, publishers or editors or executives of broadcast media. Can you see Henry Luce trembling before Lyndon Johnson? An example of Luce’s options at the time: Have you seen the photo on the cover of Life that depicts “the scene of the crime” – a view from the depository onto Elm with a caption (paraphrasing) “just hours after the assassination,” and there in plain view are cars motoring past the building – no cordons, no diverted traffic, the scene of the crime was being completely compromised. Did his magazine execs. send in reporters to make inquiries as to why the investigation was being run in such a shoddy fashion? That would have been a story in itself, and that is journalism.

        1. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

          If you are alluding to my comment, I must disagree that it was off topic. Historical context implies, not just the details about the assassination, but also the policies than may have caused the assassination.

          The simple but widely censored facts are than JFK was significantly “left” of the Cold War consensus, if by left we mean 1) resisting the institutional powers of the Cold War National Security State and 2) resisting the so called “free market” capitalism characterized by Thomas Mann and the new trade agreements with with Latin America following the CIA coup in Brazil.

          The historical context of these radical (by comparison to other presidential transitions) policy changes between the administrations of JFK and LBJ are almost never included in journalistic accounts of the assassination. The Why of the assassination is removed from the picture in favor of an utterly misleading depiction of policy continuity.

          So why are these policies censored the most in so called “left” publications? The answer may well lie in Cold War media history, as the example of Encounter Magazine (1950-64 ) suggests. That is why I recommended the book Nervous Liberals. It is very useful background for interpreting the strange obstacles The Nation’s lead investigative reporter encountered, when trying to persuade Cary McWilliams to publish them in The Nation. It reminds us of Joe Alsop’s comment one of his phone calls with LBJ about setting up what became The Warren Commission: the key was to make the report believable to the left. When policies are put back in the picture, it makes sense that this is where The Warren Commission was most vulnerable to criticism by skeptics.

          1. Excellent points. I have been studying Stoner Saunders’ work in particular about the Committee for Cultural Freedom so I’m glad you brought up the publication “Encounter.” In researching James McCargar (OSS/CIA/The Pond) the links lead to Fredric Warburg who published McCargar and who was an early member of CCF via his connection to “Encounter.”

            So much is explained when you look at the liberal left in this context. Obviously the CIA and other agencies were wily enough to infiltrate the left, but why didn’t its members recognize the potential at least by the early ’60’s? Money talks? Saunders suggests (if I understand her correctly) that in many instances, it was a collaboration.

            Even though many left leaning anti-communists resigned from CCF before its alleged total collapse in 1967 and its various affiliations when it was discovered that the CIA was funding them, it doesn’t seem that they regrouped under their own auspices. I may be wrong about this, but certainly such an organized move might have done a good deal toward establishing a true alternative to the movement to the far right at the time and that we live with today.

            I read that William Kristol’s father was involved with CCF before he switched allegiances. One might ask how legitimate his left tendencies were even then. Surely many of the people in the day to day operations were aware of the affiliation with the Farfield Foundation and what that meant. And further, many would have recognized the politics of the Ford Foundation when it picked up the financial banner after the CIA was outed so to speak.

            To have it confirmed that even our open-minded artists and writers and thinkers were used as pawns in the propaganda of the Cold War is disillusioning at best. Saunders pointed out that even Jackson Pollock was a member (although he joined when he was drunk she says).

            Her talk before the National Archives is worth watching if you haven’t already.

            But to bring it back on topic, CCF could possibly have been the umbrella credential for the media of the left that aligned themselves with the Warren Commission. I’m obviously speculating here, and it would need research, but I think it’s critical to identify those umbrellas to establish a unifying ideology (and a concrete venue ie. where do these people meet to discuss strategy?) that might have bound them to disinformation operations and secrecy. I remember reading that Vince Salandria was shocked at the response he received from the ACLU with regard to Kennedy.

  3. Nathaniel Heidenheimer

    The point about the removal of historical context from stories of the assassination is doubly valid when one includes JFK’s policies into the mix.

    How many on the so-called US ‘left,” now non-existant, for reasons best understood by reading Brett Gary’s Book Nervous Liberals: Propaganda and Its Anxieties from WWI through the Cold War– know that the virtually every academic book on the Vietnam years 1960-65 concludes that JFK and LBJ’s policies were dichotomous?

    Not to mention Indonesia, USSR relations, late Cuba, Laos, Congo and all those other groovy topics that would later be so cool among The Hairy Citizenry.

    Senator, I knew that Twain that never met and East and West is no JFK and his policy differences with CIA.

  4. Starting with the SS re-enactment film of late 1964, continuing through Cronkite & Rather CBS re-enactments on up to The Lost Bullet the SS guards and their Queen Mary are missing from rear trajectory analysis. The public has never been able to visually examine what a sniper from the TSBD ‘sniper’s nest’ would have seen looking down the iron sights or the scope with all elements accurately re-enacted with scaled vehicle replicas and actor stand/sit ins. Why were the guards left out? It appears early investigators saw a line of sight blockage problem and alleviated it by simply tossing out the guards and their car tailgating the Presidential parade car by a few feet (“bumpers kissing”). I suppose the producers of the later day documentaries working the Oswald did it alone angle believe people around the globe are too dumb to notice the guards and their car are missing from the re-enactments. This is where they all should have started: visually show us shots were possible from the sniper’s nest half opened window the entire length of the kill zone (street X to street X).
    Simply standing near or on the 2nd X on Elm Street with a person slightly higher than you demonstrates the problem: the person behind blocks the person in front from the line of sight to the window.
    More and more serious & interested persons are ignoring the rigged and dishonest documentaries and looking to YouTube contributors to explain the crime.

  5. Rachel Maddow is yet another MSM media offender on the JFK assassination. Maddow cited Oswald and the “gun he used to kill the president” as she pushed gun control on TV.

    Go to the 2 minute mark on the 3/12/13 Rachel Maddow Show TRMS:

    Even if you believe Oswald was actually shooting from the TSBD – which he was not – for God’s sake don’t tell me the head kill shot to John Kennedy which caused a “back and to the left” movement of JFK’s head – don’t tell me that it came from 88 yards to the rear of JFK. (Not to mention the wounds on JFK’s shirt and coat 6 inches down from the collar which destroys the Magic Bullet Theory, as Vince Salandria often points out).

    Does Rachel Maddow somehow think Oswald was “on the Grassy Knoll?” Here are some books for her to read:

    1) LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination by Phillip Nelson
    2) JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters by James Douglass
    3) Brothers: the Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot
    4) The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh
    5) Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty by Russ Baker
    6) Power Beyond Reason: The Mental Collapse of Lyndon Johnson by Jablow Hershman

  6. I’ve watched a LOT of Kennedy assassination presentations, most of which work the “lone gunman” angle, going back to Walter Cronkite’s involvement in selling this through today’s National Geo and History Channel presentations. I’ve also watched “The Men Who Killed Kennedy” and I saw back in the 1990’s a rare interview on Hugh Down’s show (can’t remember the name) where Dr. Charles Crenshaw spoke out for the first time about what he saw in the trauma room which convinced him beyond any doubt that Kennedy was shot from the front in his right temple, and that the throat wound, in which a tracheotomy was performed, was an ENTRANCE WOUND that they worked with to get air flowing to the lungs. You can find Crenshaw’s testimony on YouTube today.

    Whenever I watch the shows that try to seal the deal for the ‘Oswald worked alone’ story, I look not just at what the documentary shows, but what it DOESN’T SHOW. These shows trying to sell the lone gunman theory almost always leave out key information that taints or contradicts their storyline, which misleads the uninformed viewer. That to me points to a continual cover up of the facts, with carefully edited and very selective information presented to the general public so that at worst, they will believe that Oswald did the shooting alone, or at best, that the waters are so murky that “we’ll probably never know the full story.” Both answers serve the CIA and FBI, because the public remains confused and bewildered, and just gives up. Another result of this deliberate distortion is to promote apathy. If people don’t care anymore the institutions that were involved won’t face any public demands for reform. So these JFK documentaries are a deliberate propaganda arm of the state and its corrupted agencies, designed to ward off skeptical inquiry into what really happened, keep people placid.

  7. Don’t forget the “old” evidence that indicates conspiracy: The bullet holes in the president’s body. Shots came from more than one direction. On that basis alone there was a conspiracy. As Harold Weisberg always asserted—with authority, the crime was beyond the capability of one person. The Warren Commission files contain a wealth of information he, and others, uncovered that disprove the lone gunman theory.

  8. If one studies the Grosvenor family (founders of the National Geographic magazine) and their ties to the establishment, it is not difficult to understand why they aligned with the lone nut theory. This is a good example of how the debate and possibly the cover-up now involves the next generation.

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