Ben Bradlee on JFK’s assassination

David Talbot interviewed the late great editor Ben Bradlee for his book Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years. He asked him a question many people have wondered over the years: Why didn’t he, of all people, investigation the murder of his pal Jack Kennedy?

 (From Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, by David Talbot, pp. 392-393)

“We began by talking about Bradlee’s memories of Bobby Kennedy, with whom he had a somewhat prickly relationship.

“I think that he maybe resented my relationship with Jack,” Bradlee said.

Ben Bradlee
Ben Bradlee candidly

I told him about my book, and how my research showed that, after the shots rang out in Dallas, Bobby immediately suspected the CIA and its henchmen in the Mafia and Cuban exile world. Bradlee did not seem surprised.

“Jesus,” he said, in his trademark growl, “if it were your brother … I mean if I were Bobby, I would certainly have taken a look at that possibility.”

Then Bradlee made a truncated, but revealing remark.

“I’ve always wondered whether my reaction to all of that was not influenced by sort of a total distaste for the possibility that [Jack] had been assassinated by …” He did not finish the sentence, but the rest was clear: “by his own government.”

I pursued this angle with Bradlee. He had been the brother-in-law of CIA golden boy Cord Meyer; he socialized, like other Cold War liberals in the Washington press, with the agency’s top men at Georgetown salons. Did he ever make discreet inquiries in these CIA circles, I asked Bradlee, about what happened in Dallas?

“I’m sure I talked to [CIA Director RIchard] Helms about it privately, but as usual he dusted me off,” he answered.

“He was good at that, wasn’t he?” I said.

“Oh yeah, he’d ask you to have lunch with him and you’d think, ’Oh, God, we’re going to get a real good juicy pearl’ — and then you got nothing.”

[For more on Dick Helms see, The Gentlemanly Planner of Assassinations (Slate, Nov. 1, 2002)]

Then I asked Bradlee the question that had been looming throughout the interview. Why didn’t he do more as the editor of the Post to get at the truth?

“It was the fall of ’65 when I became managing editor here,” he replied, ”and I’ve got to tell you that … I was so busy with trying to, in the first place, trying to build a staff …. And so I spent an enormous amount of time trying to decide who to hire.”

It was a weak explanation, and we both knew it. I pushed him again.

“In retrospect,” I asked, “do you think the Post should have taken a harder look at the assassination?”

And then Bradlee, who surely finds it hard to bullshit other journalists, gave me a brutally honest reply. He didn’t do more to investigate his friend’s death, Bradlee told me, because he was concerned about his career.

“I think I probably felt that since I had been a friend of Kennedy’s that — you know, this is just [two] years later, and the first thing that he does is come over to the paper that he’s hopefully going to run for a while — and he concentrated on that?”

He was afraid, Bradlee continued, “that I would be discredited for taking the efforts [of the Post newspaper] down that path.”

And then he added a wistful little kicker that was stunning in its understatement. If his newspaper had solved the monstrous crime, “it would have been fantastic.”

Yes, I nodded. “It would have been an amazing story.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Bradlee.

And that was it. No angst about the way he had put his ambition ahead of his loyalty to a friend, no moaning about what letting a crime of this magnitude go unsolved does to the soul of a nation. I knew Bradlee was old school — journalists don’t blubber, and all that. You cut your losses and move on. But his attitude was still weirdly emotionless, even by his hard-bitten standards.”


27 thoughts on “Ben Bradlee on JFK’s assassination”

  1. Christ, that’s your Bradlee story? It’s slim pickings. You’d have gotten more standing next to him at a urinal. My advice is to wipe that off the website, because it suggests that all of the other stories in the book will be just as weakly reported. Sorry but true.

  2. Investigating Watergate was not payback for failing to investigate the JFK assassination. The CIA and the Pentagon wanted both JFK and Nixon gone. In both cases, the Washington Post followed in its Operation Mockingbird path.

    1. As one of the many who would argue that Nixon was JFK’s arch enemy and a despot who has the blood of millions on his hands, I have to admit that less could be right. Nixon was pursuing a mild detente with the USSR, enough for Helms, Angleton and their military friends to want him out. Very little of the uncover of Watergate was down to good journalism but insiders leaking especially the news Nixon’s taping system. Ben Bradlee was a good actor but his background reeks of CIA.

  3. The self-interest of Bradley was repeated throughout the media. They didnt want to be excluded from the circles of power, they didnt want to hurt their careers, and they were afraid of truth.

    1. I agree, and would add that the “career-mindedness” was what motivated Dr. Charles Crenshaw and others who were on the medical team at Parkland to keep quiet for so many years.

      I know my dad didn’t like to discuss the assassination (he worked for the military but as a civilian in a sensitive position at the time). What he told me was, “I was very sad to see Kennedy go. He was the first DEMOCRAT I voted for for president. I thought he had potential. My first suspicion upon hearing about the assassination was that somehow Lyndon Johnson was behind it.”
      When I asked him to elaborate, he changed the subject. That was about as far as he was prepared to speculate, although he did follow the HSCA hearings in the news with interest at that time. I’ve noticed many older generation people from that era (who were adults when JFK was assassinated) who just don’t like to delve too deeply in it. It’s a sore spot, and my dad was like my other friend’s dads, in that aspect. Digging too deeply into that event around my elders felt to me like I was “pissing in the punch bowl.”

  4. Let’s get back down to it. You know what?

    I was furious at Robert Blakey for many years.

    You know what?

    I’m not anymore.

  5. Mary Pinchot was portrayed in the recent mini-series “The Kennedys”.

    Jack and Jackie are in a White House classical music concert when he is pulled away, presumably to attend to matters of national importance. In reality, he goes down to the movie room to watch “Spartacus” and chomp cigars, first alone, but is promptly joined by Mary.

    This is another movie, about her:

  6. The Mary Pinchot Meyer social network of players continues to illuminate a pattern within that nexus of the social/ political / professional elite who appear tied to events of the aftermath. Here those connections seem to light up once more.

    They apparently popped up relatively recently as well through Peter Janney who, as an author/investigator and son of a CIA man whose family was socially and professionally close with the Meyer family, approached Dino Brugioni, the owner of a towering CIA legacy in his own right, by introducing himself as the son of a man who Mr. Brugioni liked and knew well (all according to Mr. Janney as I recall from watching an interview on utube). It went on from there according to Peter Janney’s and Doug Horne’s stories of the back story leading up to Mr. Brugioni’s recorded accounting of his z-film experience on the weekend after the assassination.

    I have wondered if Mr. Brugioni may have known of Mary Pinchot Meyer through that same social circle and found motivation from such a possible association to go ahead and document his truth as it compared with other events/presentation boards that are in the record today. I wonder if Mr. Bradley would have picked that one up and run with it.

  7. From the excellent review by Jacob G. Hornberger, of Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace by Peter Janney ,sheds light on the goings on during that time.
    For me the main key is “Those personal communications were kept secret from the American people, but, more significantly, Kennedy also tried to keep them secret from the U.S. military and the CIA.” He was unsuccessful in that pursuit and found out. This is the linchpin of this case and continues until this day. This is the motive. Right or wrong, Kennedy was perceived as a national security threat in certain circles, that had the means, power, motives and the Ben Bradlees’s of the journalist world to keep quiet and help to cover it up.

    1. LMB and Frank,

      You might appear more convincing if your names. I was vehemently criticized and accused by Doug Horne of being a government agent when I posted my review of Peter Janney’s hard cover addition under a pseudonym. Jacob Hornberger’s review was praised by you, but it is more accurate to say that Hornberger owes Nina Burleigh an apology, as well as the purchasers of Janney’s book who Hornberger misled. It took more than two years, as well as the ridicule and abuse of Janney and Horne, after I discovered and published the truth, to influence (shame) even this reluctant and incomplete admission from author Janney.:
      September 5, 2014 …….
      In January 2014 Janney deposed William Mitchell as part of a wrongful death civil lawsuit to procure information on Mitchell’s potential responsibility for Meyer’s murder. “I am still in the last stages of my research that I hope will pull the pieces together that may point to the fact that [William] Mitchell had a specific role in this event on October 12, 1964. But I do want to make clear that I no longer believe that he was the actual assassin.”…..

      Hornberger devotes much of his review to Janney’s inaccurate premise, and to the single source tale of Mary, Leary, and LSD, Timothy Leary, himself.

      From Hornberger’s “excellent” review:
      “…But what I found fascinating is that Burleigh failed to confront the other half of the problem: even if Mitchell wasn’t the assassin, there is still the problem of his possibly having been a fake witness who provided manufactured and perjured testimony in a federal criminal proceeding.

      I couldn’t understand how Burleigh could fail to see how important that point is. I figured I’d go take a look at her book. Imagine my surprise when a search for “Mitchell” in the Kindle edition turned up no results…..”

      I pointed out to both Janney and Horne that Mitchell, proven to be a Berkeley PhD, teaching in the field of operations research, was not “missing” or suspect, according to the details of his actual background, Both Janney and Horne, as well as their friends, have not indicated any appreciation in reaction to better information about William Mitchell. Dick Russell wrote the forward of Janney’s book, John Simkin apologized in a thread on his Education Forum for not moving sooner to “protect Peter Janney.”

      Far from being deserving of praise, a consequence of Janney’s incomplete research and inaccurate assumptions, combined with the lack of scepticism of those so quick to believe and stubbornly defend the details Janney had published, have left a number of individuals who take themselves and each other very seriously, with egg on their faces.

      1. Tom Scully,
        I purposely wrote around the tragic murder aspect of the story since it did not have a direct bearing on the central point of my post, which was that the connections, whatever their true nature may be, led to Mr. Brugioni’s startling interviews. Have you an opinion regarding that particular aspect of this ongoing saga, as focused upon a person of great stature who appears to be a credible insider? His video recorded statements appear to me to stand independently of questions you may have regarding the credibility of those who have brought his observations to the forefront, do they not? Or, is their credibility actually irrelevant vis a vis Mr. Brugioni?

  8. The entwined social circle includes the pertinent fact that JFK’s Chore Academy schoolmate William Attwood introduced him to Mary Pinchot, who married CIA’s Cord Meyer – who was head of World Federalists – and a JFK paramour. Mary Pinchot Meyer’s sister Tony married Ben Bradlee – the key to JFK and Ben Bradlee’s close friendship and frequent diner and drinking buddies.

    On September 24 1963 JFK signed Nat Sec Action Memo on Project Four Leaves before leaving on his “Conservation Tour,” during which there were assassination “dry runs” and Oswald interludes.

    First stop on the Conservation Tour was the Milford, Pa. home of Mrs. Pinchot, the conservative Republican mother of Mary and Tony – and Mary accompanied him. After her still unsolved murder along the Georgetown Canal, where she and Jackie used to walk, she was buried in Milford.

    What was Project Four Leaves? The JFK Daily Diary says it was a military communications system, but there is no open source info on it.


  9. The statement below from Robert Blakey as well as the statements of Dan Hardaway at the recent ARRC conference has finally convinced me the CIA engineered the assassination and got away with it.

    There are five clear points of contact between Oswald and elements of the CIA – Japan air base, defector program (no matter what the CIA says, they at the very least had someone debrief Oswald upon his return to the US. The fact they don’t even admit that says a lot), J. Walton Moore and DeMorenschildt in Dallas, the DRE in NO, and Mexico City shenanigans with Oswald getting his Mexican visa right behind a CIA agent.

    And then you risk the entire agency’s existence by illegally thwarting investigation upon investigation? Sorry, they’re guilty of killing the president.

    Here’s part of Blakey’s recent statement. It’s a travesty and shows the heavy fear and influence the agency wields to this day that this wasn’t covered widely by the media:

    “I can no longer say with confidence, as the HSCA Final Report did, that Oswald had no significant relationship with DRE. At this point what we know is that the CIA has hidden this information from every investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the assassination. Indeed, they have not just hidden the information, they have lied to, at least, both the HSCA and the ARRB.

    I believe that this rises to the level of probable violation of the law that prohibits impeding the due and proper inquiry of a committee of Congress.14

    I no longer trust anything that the Agency has told us in regard to the assassination. It lied to the Warren Commission. It lied to the ARRB. It lied to the HSCA. In admitting that Joannides was employed in a covert capacity as liaison with the HSCA, it has admitted that it violated its charter and ran a domestic covert operation aimed at subverting the HSCA and its investigation.

    I do not believe for a minute that records did not exist. They may not now, but they did at one time. Money was involved and money had to be internally documented, even at the Agency. That the Agency would put a material witness in a covert capacity as a filter between the committee staff and the Agency was an outrageous breach of our understanding with the Agency, the Agency’s charter and the laws of this country. As a result, I now believe that we were not able to conduct an appropriate investigation of the CIA.

    What the Agency did not give us, none but those involved in the Agency can know for sure. I do not believe any denial offered by the Agency on any point. The law has long followed the rule that if a person lies to you on one point, you may reject all his testimony. The CIA not only lied, it actively subverted the investigation.

    It is time that either Congress, or the Justice Department, conduct a real investigation of the CIA. Indeed, in my opinion, it is long past time.”

    Robert Blakey, former Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations

    1. I’m fascinated that someone like Ben Bradlee, who as a young reporter, followed the failure that was the French involvement in Algeria, in the fifties. He allegedly told JFK in his conversations, that he was skeptical for the same reasons that the USA should full scale try to save Vietnam. Then JFK is gone and he became a supporter of the Vietnam war? Interesting. He later said that he was opposed to it. If true, it sounds a bit like McNamara’s back and forth to me.

  10. In America’s long-running psychological crossfire between those who believe that at least one shot came from the front and those who didn’t, this is an important post. If America’s journalistic establishment was somehow persuaded from the beginning that what transpired in Dealy Plaza on 11/22/63 was solely the execution of one lone gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald and felt ashamed to question any premise which did not affirm this then the larger story was steered early on toward that inevitable conclusion reached by the Warren Commission in 1964.

    I’d like to think that Ben Bradlee knew something was terribly wrong then with the WC Report but he just didn’t know exactly what and he certainly couldn’t prove it. Perhaps “Watergate” was finally his way of striking back at that larger secretive political establishment which had deceived him and so many other journalists in the 1960s.

    Many people would like to forget, but this is still the greatest unsolved murder mystery of the 20th Century and I truly believe this based on the merits of same day eyewitness and medical testimony and the camera-recorded forensics of plain old common sense.

    The “psychological burden” of historical denial too often heaped upon “conspiracy buffs” over the years may in fact be a weight really born by those whose profession to get the facts right had tragically failed in Mass Media journalism’s naive infancy.

    It’s no sin to have gotten so much of this wrong. The sin is in not trying making it right.

    Hang in there, Jeff…

  11. And Cord Meyer was the estranged husband of Mary Pinchot Meyer, who was involved with JFK, keeper of a missing diary, and murdered under suspicious circumstances. Mary’s sister Toni was married to Ben Bradley. Mary was an popular DC socialite with progressive ideals and values. It would have been interesting to have been the proverbial fly on the wall during her private conversations with JFK.

    1. I always felt the Post’s Watergate coverage was a bone that Ben Bradlee tossed to the American public, not the story Bradler might have offered if he had not been an entrenched memver of the corrupt system that assassinated the president.

  12. You have to remember that Kay Graham’s former husband, Phil (who went off his rocker and killed himself in the summer of 1963) had been close to LBJ, had been one of the few in Washington’s press corps who really backed Lyndon for the Presidency, in 1959/60. Bradlee was walking into the Post from Newsweek, with LBJ firmly entrenched in power. He was new at the Post then. Maybe he could have re-opened the case in the seventies, but Kay was still there, and I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted to taint Phil Graham’s legacy or her own by digging into the possibility of Lyndon being behind the assassination. Then you have the messy sister-in-law of Ben’s, Mary Meyer, who had a secret affair with the President, then was murdered under ugly circumstances, and her diary taken away by a snooping Angelton. I think the Kennedy assassination was way too close to Bradlee. Like messing around in your own family jewels. On top of that, the Post, despite its really sticking its neck out to go after Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency, couldn’t do the same with CIA, although to its credit it DID report quite closely on the Church Committee findings, which revealed some VERY UGLY things about what CIA had been doing. The Post was compromised in part by a need for intelligence sources, and didn’t want to cut off all ties to CIA and the intelligence establishment of Washington, D.C.’s very small elite fishbowl. That’s part of it too.

    It was a combination of cowardly and “too close for comfort” I think.

    1. I really enjoyed your comment I live in UK and just watched Bradlee on You Tube being interviewed when his memories were published. I was a bit taken aback that after the assassination Jacqui cut him out of her life.

      1. Joan Marshall

        Not surprised that Jacki Kennedy cut Ben Bradlee out of her life.
        Bradlee was too worried about his career being damaged and the CIA going after him like they did with his sister in law who had an affair with JFK. Mary Meyer the sister in law of Ben Bradlee murder has never been solved. It would not surprise me that the CIA was behind that and Ben Bradlee thought he could get a bullet as well. I feel it was cowardice and selfishness on Ben’s part after all he claimed to be such a close friend of JFK.

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