Tuesday, 14 August 2018 22:05

Ken Silverstein and Jeffrey St. Clair Get Counterpunched

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What happens when the Left abandons its concern for such things as accuracy, morality and fact-based writing? What does one call such reporting then? Does it then not become—for whatever reason—another form of propaganda? Jim DiEugenio once again blasts Counterpunch for its pig-headed blind spot concerning the Kennedys.

[photos courtesy of National Press Club (Silverstein) and Amazon.com (St.Clair)]

(See also this article about Counterpunch and Cockburn from 2012 by author Douglas Valentine)

counterpunchAs more than one commentator has observed, generally speaking, the Right has so much power in America that it does not have to worry about things like accuracy and morality. A good example was the journalistic trumpeting about the false charge that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. After all, people do not go to conservative martinets like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity for facts and honesty in reporting.  Usually it’s the left-of-center writers and reporters who are relied upon for such things.  For, as Michael Parenti once noted, reality tends to be radical. Which is the reason that it sometimes has to be propagandized.  Or else how does one provoke something as stupid as the 2003 American invasion of Iraq?  Those on the Left insisted there was no reliable evidence for that invasion, while the MSM pretty much accepted the (ersatz) words of Colin Powell at the United Nations.

But what happens when the Left abandons its concern for such things as accuracy, morality and fact-based writing?  What does one call such reporting then?  Does it then not become—for whatever reason—another form of propaganda?

The above reflection was instigated by the comments of a couple of the former founders of Counterpunch magazine, namely, Jeffrey St. Clair and Ken Silverstein.

Counterpunch was started by Silverstein back in 1994. It was then based in Washington D. C.  Silverstein was later joined by St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn. At this point, in 1996, Silverstein left and Cockburn and St. Clair became the co-editors. Silverstein stayed on as a regular contributor.  The magazine’s headquarters now shifted to northern California.

At times, Counterpunch does good work. This writer used some of its work about the Hollywood film industry for the The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today.  But owing to the influence of the late Alexander Cockburn, when it comes to anything dealing with the Kennedys, they begin to abuse the profession.  That is, the guidelines of accuracy, morality and fact-based reporting go out the window. Counterpunch becomes the left-wing version of Fox News.

This is clearly a recurrent syndrome for that journal. About three months ago, I reported on their last attack on JFK.  About three months prior to that, I answered the falsities in another article, this time by a man named Matt Stevenson.  In that piece, Stevenson actually tried to say that President Kennedy’s withdrawal plan for Vietnam was just “speculation”. Stevenson then said that President Johnson’s colossal escalation in Indochina was merely a continuation of Kennedy’s policies there; or as he wrote, Johnson was “singing from Kennedy’s hymnal together with his choir.”  As I noted in that article, the declassified records on this issue show that this is utter nonsense. And we have the evidence now in Johnson’s own words—on tape.

So what makes Counterpunch, an otherwise respectable journal, debase itself on this issue? As noted above, it is most likely the influence of the late co-editor Alexander Cockburn. As most of us know, when Oliver Stone’s film JFK came out in late 1991, the Establishment went completely batty.  This included what I consider to be the Left Establishment, i.e., Noam Chomsky at Z Magazine and Cockburn at The Nation. The Cockburn/Chomsky axis reacted to the film pretty much as the MSM did.  The Dynamic Duo wrote that the central tenets of Stone’s film were wrong: Kennedy was not withdrawing from Indochina at the time of his assassination; JFK was not killed as a result of any upper level plot; and the Warren Commission was correct in its verdict about Oswald acting alone. For the last, Cockburn brought former Warren Commission counsel Wesley Liebeler onto the pages of The Nation. As if he was being interviewed by Tom Brokaw for NBC, Liebeler was allowed to pontificate on the fascinating flight path of CE 399, that is the Magic Bullet, as well as on how Oswald got off three shots in six seconds with a manually operated bolt-action rifle, two of them being direct hits.  When an allegedly muckraking journalist softballs an attorney who later became a member of the Charles Koch funded George Mason School of Law, something is bonkers someplace (see NY Times, May 5, 2018, "What Charles Koch and other donors to George Mason got for their Money").

What made that spectacle even worse was the fact that Cockburn had previously co-written an essay on the Robert Kennedy assassination.  That piece was penned with RFK investigator Betsy Langman. It ran in the January 1975 issue of Harper’s. The article carefully laid out the problems with the evidence in the RFK assassination and how those problems tended to exonerate the convicted killer, Sirhan Sirhan. But now, in 1991-92, Cockburn gave his previous essay the back of his hand. He now wrote that Bobby Kennedy had turned his head, and this is how Sirhan, standing in front of RFK, shot him from behind in the back of the skull. 

In typical MSM manner, Cockburn never commented on the following:

  1. If that was so, why did no one see it?
  2. How did Sirhan get within one inch of Senator Kennedy’s rear skull from a distance of about five feet away?
  3. How could Sirhan shoot Kennedy in the head with hotel maître d’ Karl Uecker holding his gun hand down on a table? Wouldn’t Uecker remember such a thing?
  4. Who delivered the other shots into Kennedy’s back then?

As the reader can see, by this time, Cockburn had joined up with his friend Chomsky—who had once harbored doubts about the JFK case.  They had now both learned that discretion was the better part of valor in the murders of the Kennedys. After all, look what happened to Oliver Stone. Both men now joyfully threw overboard the Left’s shibboleths about accuracy and morality.  I mean, what kind of morality is it to give safe harbor to someone like Wesley Liebeler?

It would have been one thing to have just ignored the issue.  After all, if one did not think President Kennedy’s assassination was important, all right, just let it pass by.  But Cockburn and Chomsky deliberately went out of their way to attack and ridicule anyone who thought differently. And they did this on numerous occasions. Since Cockburn wrote regularly for The Nation, and Chomsky was widely distributed by Pacifica Radio and Z Magazine, many on the Left were exposed to their false assumptions and smears. And that impact persists until this day.

In the August 10th issue of Counterpunch, St. Clair has a kind of round-up column that he labels, “Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament”.  In that string of paragraph-long notices about current events, the reader finds the following:

“Barack Obama is about to be presented with the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights. RFK, the red-baiting, anti-communist zealot who desperately wanted to assassinate Fidel? Sounds about right for the President of Drones.”

This is an excellent and made-to-order example of what I mean about the Left losing its moorings on the cases of John and Robert Kennedy. As more than one commentator has noted, both of these charges about Robert Kennedy are simply false.  But St. Clair decided that he was not going to do any research. In order to stay the Cockburn/Chomsky course, he would just play the mindless stooge for them. 

As William Davy noted in his fine talk at VMI University last year, the declassified version of the CIA’s Inspector General Report about the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro admits that the Agency had no presidential approval for enacting those attempts to kill Castro.  In those pages, it is easy to see this is especially clear with regard to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, since the CIA sent two men to brief him on the plots when J. Edgar Hoover found out about them in 1962.  The obvious question is: Why did Kennedy have to be briefed if he had approved them?  The answer is that he had not—that is why the CIA had to tell him about them.  But even more egregiously, the Agency briefers told RFK that the plots had been terminated when in reality they had not been.   Again, why would they lie if they did not have to?

As the reader can see from the link above, this document has been declassified for a number of years.  It is available on the web in more than one place.  If St. Clair had any qualms about not being a dupe or, on the other hand, if he had thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t smear a dead man without checking the record?”, he could have easily consulted the adduced facts in the case without doing very much work at all.  He chose not to.

But it’s actually even worse than that, because as part of the record that St. Clair chose to ignore, one of the authors of that report left behind his own comments on their investigation.  This man was Scott Breckinridge, who testified to the Church Committee about this issue.  He stated that they simply could not find any credible evidence that the CIA plots had any kind of presidential approval.  When asked who gave the approval to lie to Bobby Kennedy about the ongoing nature of the plots, Breckinridge said that this went all the way up to Richard Helms, the CIA Director at the time.  (see Davy’s talk)

In other words, in this case, St. Clair is actually siding with the cover-up about these plots that was supposed to save the CIA’s skin.  It kept them ongoing by concealing them from Bobby Kennedy. And then later, through his trusted flunky Sam Halpern, Helms could put out a disinformation story saying that the Kennedys knew about them. (David Talbot, Brothers, pp. 122-24)  Helms knew he could get away with this since the documents revealing the actual facts were classified.  But today, such is not the case.  Which leaves Mr. St. Clair with no excuse, not even a fig leaf, for writing what he did about RFK. Helms and Halpern would have been smiling at their dirty work.

The other half of the smear concerns Bobby Kennedy’s service on the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.  This was done at his father’s request to his personal friend Senator Joe McCarthy.  McCarthy had appointed attorney Roy Cohn as the committee’s chief counsel.  Kennedy violently disagreed with the way that Cohn and McCarthy ran the committee.  And as anyone can see, he steered clear of their finger pointing tactics at certain targets like Annie Lee Moss and Irving Peress. The work that Kennedy did was actually praised even by the committee’s critics.  This was a study of how the trade practices of American allies helped China during the Korean War, thereby increasing aid to our opponent North Korea.  (Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, pp. 104-11)

Kennedy resigned over his disagreements with Cohn after six months.  He then was asked back by the Democrats on the committee when they were in a stronger position.  He now became their chief counsel.  He retired the Moss and Peress cases, dismissed the unfounded charges of defense plant infiltration, and furnished questions for the senators in their examination of Cohn and McCarthy. He then played a large role in writing the Democratic report, which strongly attacked both men.  In fact, that report was so critical that some Democrats would not sign on to it. (Schlesinger, pp. 114-19) It constitutes the beginning of the Senate’s maneuvering to censure McCarthy. In other words, the actual record states that it was RFK who helped exculpate the victims of Cohn and McCarthy.  And it was RFK who began their toboggan ride to ruin.  The Democrats knew this would be the case, which is why they hired him as their chief counsel.

This information has been out there since 1978.  Anyone could have availed themselves of the facts, instead of MSM malarkey. That St. Clair decided not to print the facts—for the second time—shows us how worthless his writing is on the matter. This is nothing but playing to the crowd.  That, of course, is what the Right (e.g., Ann Coulter) is famous for doing.

Which brings us to the third founder of Counterpunch, Ken Silverstein.  Previously, I have reviewed for this site the fascinating volume by Robert Kennedy Jr., entitled Framed.  That book was about the MSM hysteria over the Michael Skakel case, a hysteria induced by Mark Fuhrman and the late Dominick Dunne.  In that review I tried to show how Dunne had enlisted in the ranks of the right-wing echo chamber in order to find a way to convict a Kennedy, or any Kennedy relation, in the unsolved 1975 murder of Martha Moxley.  (Michael Skakel was Kennedy’s first cousin from Ethel Kennedy’s family.)  Dunne assiduously worked toward this goal for years, through a variety of flimsy and dubious methods, which I detailed in that review. Dunne then enlisted Fuhrman into the quest. He obediently did the same. Since both men had high profiles with both the MSM and the Right-wing Noise Machine, and across all platforms—radio, TV, magazines, and book publishing—they now managed to transform Michael Skakel into their prime target in the Moxley murder, despite the fact that at the time of her murder, Skakel was not considered a suspect.

Bowing to the unremitting pressure of Dunne and Fuhrman, the local Connecticut authorities then employed some rather bizarre techniques in order to indict Michael Skakel.  For example, they used a one-man grand jury, rewrote the state law as to the statute of limitations, and then tried Michael as an adult even though they said he committed the crime as a youth.  Throughout all of this, the MSM followed the spectacle like a herd of lemmings, even though Dunne was really not an investigative reporter (he more closely resembled an exalted gossip columnist).  And, to put it mildly, Fuhrman had a somewhat checkered past as a detective. In spite of all this, not one journalist cross-checked their work. Meanwhile, the supermarket tabloids egged the spectacle on. Because of the compromising publicity and an incompetent defense attorney, in 2002 Michael Skakel was convicted.

Finally, Robert Kennedy Jr. decided this was enough bread and circuses in the Colosseum.  In early 2003, he penned a long and detailed magazine essay on the case. Incredibly, this was the first public questioning of the writings of Dunne and Fuhrman in the twelve years they had been writing on the case. Kennedy’s essay made Dunne look like the aggrandized celebrity gossip columnist that he was; in some ways, it made Fuhrman look even worse.

Robert Kennedy Jr. cooperated with the series of defense attorneys who helped to air the problems with the Dunne/Fuhrman posturings. In 2016, he wrote his book on the case.  That book clearly had an impact on both the public and the legal system in Connecticut.  It was really the first full-scale forensic study of both the murder and the (ersatz) work of the Dunne/Fuhrman team.  It made them look like the Keystone Kops—perhaps even more asinine.  This evidence was so compelling that the state Supreme Court has now decided to free Skakel because his defense attorney ignored a credible alibi witness who placed him far away from the crime scene.

Returning to Counterpunch founder Ken Silverstein:  When Bobby Kennedy Jr. was finishing up his book on the case, he wanted someone to review it to see if everything was in place. Through David Talbot, he asked Silverstein if he wanted to act as his researcher and offered to pay him $12,500 dollars for a month’s work.

Silverstein turned down the offer.  But with typical St. Clair/Cockburn snarkiness he decided to go public. And by doing that he made himself look like an ignoramus.  He said that Michael had been the boyfriend of Moxley, which was wrong.  But that was not enough for Ken.  He then had to add that Skakel was obviously guilty. What is so incredible about that statement is that he made it without reading the Kennedy book!  Again, this is just what the so-called Left is not supposed to do.

But that still was not enough.  Without reading the book, Silverstein now said that there was “a wealth of evidence demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that Skakel is guilty”.  To show just how far Silverstein had bought into the Dunne/Fuhrman paradigm, he actually recommended for reading Dunne’s book on the case, A Season in Purgatory.  Can the man be real? Dunne’s book is a novel that insinuated that John Kennedy Jr. was Moxley’s killer.  With a straight face, Silverstein called the book “amazing”.  What is amazing is that Silverstein could be that much of a sucker for Dunne.

But even that ludicrous display was not enough for Silverstein.  He then attacked Robert Kennedy Jr. personally.  How?  He goes all the way over and uses a book by Jerry Oppenheimer to do so.  Oppenheimer is the equivalent of, say, Randy Taraborrelli, or perhaps even David Heymann, in the field of literary biography.  After all, who else would write a book entitled The Kardashians: An American Drama?

Back in 1992, when Cockburn bowed down to the Allen Dulles/John McCloy led Warren Commission and softballed Wesley Liebeler, The Progressive posed the question: Why is Alexander Cockburn shaking hands with the Devil? As the record shows, these are the kinds of people—Dunne and Oppenheimer—a writer has to jump into bed with once one discards one’s code of honor and enlists in the Cockburn/Chomsky abasement program.  After all, Dulles and McCloy were two of the worst Americans of that era, and in his mad mania to trash Oliver Stone’s JFK, Cockburn ignored all the evil they had done. Silverstein and St. Clair cannot go back and say:  “Well Alex was really all wrong about that film JFK.  He made a mistake and we apologize for that.”  No, that would be admitting too much.  So instead, they take the easy way out and continue to use spurious information and cheesy New YorkPost type writers.  To the point that they not only discard any standards of scholarship, but also rub noses with the worst parts of the MSM.  This is how much Chomsky and Cockburn scorched the earth on this issue:  up is down, Left is Right, and we don’t care who we mislead or smear. 

See also this provocative article from 2012 by author Douglas Valentine.

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 August 2018 12:30
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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