Sunday, 23 June 2019 23:39

Jim Garrison vs NPR: The Beat Goes on (Part 3)

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In response to a recent NPR program on Jim Garrison's investigation, which he characterizes as “a pile of irrelevant rubbish”, Jim DiEugenio responds to Laine Kaplan-Levenson's production with relevant research and documentation of the New Orleans DA's career and his JFK case.

Sticky Wicket is an NPR program series that is a co-production of two radio stations in Louisiana.  The series’ objective is to cover controversial subjects in that state’s political history between important figures and the press (e.g. Huey Long’s relationship with the media).  Quite naturally, the series decided to devote a segment to Jim Garrison and his inquiry into the assassination of President Kennedy.   The producer and hostess of the show is one Laine Kaplan-Levenson.  She is a reporter for WWNO in New Orleans. 

One would think that a reporter/producer affiliated with NPR would have noted something as important as the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) and the fact that they declassified 2 million pages of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the nineties. Especially since many of those documents dealt with the New Orleans aspect of the Kennedy case. In fact, when the ARRB closed up in 1998, they kept on releasing documents on what was called a phased publication platform.  That is, a document would be delayed for release until say, 2005.  One would naturally have thought Levenson would have been interested in what was supposed to be the final releases scheduled for 2017.  Or perhaps there would be a question or statement as to why it has taken over fifty years to release all the secrets Washington has been keeping about the murder of President Kennedy. And since the show on Jim Garrison did not air until November of 2018, one would think that Levenson would have taken notice of the fact that President Trump reneged on his promise to release all the JFK documents.  After all, this happened in late 2017 and dominated the air waves for about three weeks.  Trump faltered and instead announced a panel to review the final documents and delayed their release until 2021.  Which means, as Jim Garrison predicted in his famous Playboy interview, two generations of Americans—nearly three—will have died off by the time of the last release of JFK documents.

If you listen to Levenson’s program, you will not hear anything about the ARRB.  Or about what President Trump did in stopping the release of JFK classified documents.  You will not hear anything about how Jim Garrison predicted such a thing would happen back in 1967.  Nor will you hear anything about the new documents concerning Oswald’s activities in the summer of 1963 in New Orleans. In fact, in listening to the program and taking notes, I do not recall anyone uttering a sentence about Oswald being in New Orleans in the summer of 1963.  Let alone describing his rather odd activities there.  (If anyone can show me where I missed that information please let me know.)

Why is all that important and relevant information ignored?  First of all, if Levenson read anything on New Orleans and the JFK case, she did not reveal it.  (She even gets the title of Garrison’s bestselling book on the case wrong.) Second, her two main interview subjects were Alecia Long and Rosemary James.  Long is a professor of history at LSU.  She was the subject of the first essay in this series. If one goes to the end of that article, the reader will see that Professor Long said that she does not intend to look through FBI and CIA documents for the rest of her life on the JFK case.  Her essay showed that she probably didn’t spend half an hour doing that kind of work. But if one does not at least spend some time on those pieces of evidence, then what does one base one’s research on?  Well, if one reads that article, one will see that Long recycled just about every ersatz cliché that the MSM constructed back in the sixties in its mad crusade to destroy Jim Garrison.  In Long’s ten-page essay, there was not a single reference to any of the treasure trove of declassified documents that the ARRB produced. And that is a huge lacuna in her work, because these documents tell us so much about what happened to Jim Garrison. For example, there was something called the Garrison Group at CIA headquarters. That body was created by order of Director Richard Helms. It was designed to calculate the implications of what Garrison was doing in New Orleans before, during, and after the trial of Clay Shaw. At the first meeting, Counter-Intelligence chief James Angleton’s first assistant predicted that, if left alone, Garrison would attain a conviction of Clay Shaw. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 270) As the documents then show, task forces were designed and there was much interference in the Shaw legal proceedings. (Ibid, pp. 271-78) This interference continued all the way up to and during the actual trial itself. It included the actual physical harassment of Garrison’s witnesses (e.g. Richard Case Nagell and Aloysius Habighrost). (Ibid, p. 294) At a talk he gave in Chicago in 1992, Deputy Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Robert Tanenbaum, said he saw the CIA documents describing these kinds of actions. They came out of Helms’ office. (Probe Magazine, Vol. 3 No. 5) If she had surfed the web, she could have found that interview. 

Just how bad is this program?  Well, right off the bat, the intent to distort and demean is blatant. In speaking of Garrison’s campaign to clean up the French Quarter of B girl drinking, the show says that Garrison was actually picking up known prostitutes and then letting them go.  And that Garrison actually participated in the raids on the French Quarter.  This is almost as absurd as Fred Litwin saying that the raids were targeted at gay bars. Garrison was out to stop a racket by which the ownership of the club got some of its girls to more-or-less cozy up to a patron with hints at consensual sex. As the B girl got the mark more and more intoxicated, the drinks would be watered down.  At the end of the night, the guy was so drunk that the club would have to call for a taxi and the girl did not go back to the hotel with him.  There was then a split afterwards between the club and the girl.  (Washington Post 2/10/63)

This practice had been going on for years. It is really difficult to believe that no one involved with this program, especially James and Long, could misconstrue it as prostitution.  Or that Garrison would go on the raids himself.  That would have tipped off the bar owner as to what was happening.  The reason it had been going on for years is that the previous DA and the police department were either on the take or just looked the other way.  Garrison did not.  He planned his campaign in advance using teams of undercover agents who would make notes of what happened.  This would be used as evidence and the DA would then make arrests.  But the real object was to shut down the illicit clubs in order to make the owners pay a financial price. Garrison would often go to civil court, where he could extract larger fines against the owners. His campaign went on for months and was exceptionally successful.  To use one example:  the DA shut down nine clubs in just two days! (DiEugenio, p. 170)

I think the reason that the show wishes to completely distort Garrison’s achievement is simple:  because it makes it easier for the program to demean the man and then disfigure his Kennedy assassination probe.  Therefore, right here, in the opening moments we know this will not be journalism. 

The program goes on to play a short snippet from Garrison’s appearance on NBC in the summer of 1967. Sticky Wicket tries to say that Garrison held himself out as the only person who could tell the truth to the American public about the JFK case. To anyone who knows the facts, what is so impressive about this appearance is how well this speech has held up in light of the facts revealed since.  Like Alecia Long, Sticky Wicket does not fully reveal the reasons why Garrison was on NBC.  The reason was that Garrison petitioned the Federal Communications Commission under the Fairness Doctrine. Producer/former intelligence officer Walter Sheridan and NBC had made a one-hour program that was such a hatchet job that Garrison was granted 30 minutes to reply. (The Fairness Doctrine does not exist today; it was eliminated by the FCC under the Reagan administration.)  As the ARRB has shown, Sheridan used all kinds of unethical and shocking practices in the production of this program. (DiEugenio, pp. 237-43) Sticky Wicket is so conceptually and intellectually shoddy that it tries to say a witness that Sheridan recruited against Garrison was actually suborned by the DA.

Rosemary James was the reporter who took credit for first exposing Garrison’s inquiry in the New Orleans States Item. Her story ran on the front page for February 17, 1967.  This program states that James found out about the story through a combination of leaks and going through receipts the DA had filed to in order to pay for investigators travel expenses to inquire into the JFK case.  The program then says that she was shifted over to the DA’s office and that is how she ran into the Garrison inquiry. 

In reality, what happened is that the newspaper’s original reporter on the police beat and the DA’s office had discovered that Garrison was calling witnesses before the grand jury for questioning on the Kennedy case. The paper had run a rather short notice on this on January 23, 1967, over three weeks before the James front page story.  The original reporter’s name was Jack Dempsey. William Davy and myself interviewed him at length in New Orleans in 1994. It turns out that, contrary to what James has tried to say, Garrison was very upset with the first story by Dempsey. He called him into his office and threatened him with a jail term if he refused to tell him who his source was.  When Dempsey said he could not reveal his source, Garrison threatened him with contempt. Clearly shaken, the editors decided to switch reporters.  Unlike what James has maintained, Dempsey said that Garrison was furious when James told him they were going to run the story as a feature.  He denied everything. (DiEugenio, pp. 221-22)

The reason for this is easy to understand.  As the declassified files reveal, before Garrison’s probe was exposed, he was making a lot of progress. Afterwards, it was open season on him.  And he was targeted by the big guns of the media.  NBC sent in Sheridan, Newsweek sent in Hugh Aynesworth, and the Saturday Evening Post sent down James Phelan. Many writers have shown how these men obstructed Garrison once his inquiry was out in the open.  In fact, the only sensible thing that is uttered through the entire 30 minutes of this program is by James when she says if she had known what was going to happen, she would have recommended leaving that matter alone.

One reason she may have said this is due to another matter that, surprisingly—almost shockingly—the program leaves out.  Five days after the James story ran, David Ferrie was found dead in his apartment. Although the coroner ruled Ferrie had died because of a ruptured berry aneurism, he left two typed, unsigned suicide notes.  A later coroner, Frank Minyard, pointed out that in photos, one could see bruising on the inside of Ferrie’s mouth and inside the lower lip. Minyard theorized that Ferrie could have been poisoned with some kind of solution that could have caused the aneurism. (DiEugenio, pp. 225-26) About three days prior, Ferrie had talked to Lou Ivon, Garrison’s chief investigator. Ivon later told William Davy that Ferrie seemed frightened to the point that he acted like “a wild man”.   He admitted he worked for the CIA and that he knew Lee Oswald. (William Davy, Let Justice be Done, p. 66) When one adds to this the fact that Oswald was seen with Ferrie in the summer of 1963 at the office of Guy Banister and in the Clinton-Jackson area north of New Orleans, then this would help demonstrate why he was Garrison’s chief suspect. (Davy, pp. 41, 103-110) After all, Oswald was supposed to be a communist.  He was the sole member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) in New Orleans. He had stamped one of the FPCC pamphlets he was handing out in New Orleans with the address of Guy Banister’s offices. Banister’s place was a clearing house for anti-Castro Cuban exiles. Yet, the rightwing extremist Banister had given the allegedly communist Oswald a room there to print up his FPCC literature. (Davy, p. 39) If you leave out all of these key evidentiary details—which Levenson, James and Long do—then you can avoid the obvious question: Why would the rightwing nut Banister give a room to a communist?

If you are this one-sided, you can also leave out how Garrison got on to Clay Shaw. The program tries to insinuate that somehow the media was losing interest in Garrison’s inquiry and, therefore, Garrison’s arrest of Shaw was some kind of ruse to gain attention.  As Bill Davy and others have demonstrated, Garrison had called Shaw in for questioning as early as December of 1966.  Davy analyzed why Shaw’s answers during questioning provoked Garrison’s further interest in the man. (Davy, pp. 63-64) As his inquiry began to pick up steam, Garrison discovered that Shaw knew Ferrie, Banister, and Oswald. And he was seen in the Clinton/Jackson area with Ferrie and Oswald. (Davy, pp. 93-94, 106) The idea that this program leaves, that somehow Shaw was an admirer of President Kennedy, is contradicted by no less than Ferrie himself. Ferrie said that Shaw hated JFK. (Davy, p. 66)

How shoddy is this program?  It says that the name ‘Clay Bertrand’ is in the Warren Report as someone who plotted with Oswald to kill Kennedy. Question:  Does NPR employ fact checkers?  Anyone can check the index of the Warren Report and find that the name Bertrand is not there. The name of Bertrand came up because New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews mentioned him in his testimony to the Warren Commission.  (See Commission volumes, at Volume XI, pp. 325-39) Andrews told the commission that Bertrand had called him on November 23rd to go to Dallas to defend Oswald.  No one could find a Clay Bertrand in New Orleans.  Therefore, this had to have been an alias.  Sticky Wicket tries to say that Garrison also could not locate Bertrand, since Andrews was not going to reveal his true identity. This is misleading in two senses. First, it leaves out why Andrews would not reveal who Bertrand really was.  The reason being that he feared for his life if he did. (DiEugenio, p. 181) Secondly, Garrison found out that Bertrand was Shaw.  The evidence for this is simply overwhelming today and appears in more than one form. This includes declassified FBI reports that Alecia Long won’t read. (Davy, pp. 192-93; DiEugenio, p. 388) Those reports reveal that the Bureau was investigating Shaw in 1963 as part of their JFK inquiry. By not revealing any of this information, NPR does not then have to pose the questions as to:

  1. Why was the FBI investigating Shaw in 1963?
  2. Why did Shaw lie about using the Bertrand alias?

The program also uses the same technique that James Kirkwood did in his abysmal and obsolete book, American Grotesque. Namely, that somehow Garrison’s prosecution ruined Shaw’s life. But Sticky Wicket goes beyond that and says that New Orleans high society dropped him like a hot potato. As anyone who studies Shaw knows, he had at least three sources of income during his career. These included his job as manager at the International Trade Mart (ITM), his real estate holdings in the French Quarter, and the fees paid to him by the CIA as a highly valued contract agent.  Shaw had retired from the ITM in 1965. Therefore, Garrison’s prosecution had nothing to do with that. The idea that this would impact his real estate holdings is simply a non-starter. (Click here for an example) The CIA eventually declassified documents which show he was well compensated for his services dating back to the fifties.  This was another point, Shaw’s declassified CIA career, which the defendant lied about and which the program completely ignores. (Joan Mellen, Our Man In Haiti, p. 54) As per the expenses for his defense, everyone except NPR knows that Shaw’s defense team was getting tons of help from Washington.  They refused to admit this, but in those pesky declassified documents that Long does not read, it is clear that his lawyers actually solicited this help. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp. 33-50) And they ended up getting aid from the CIA and the FBI.  This included the CIA planting informants in Garrison’s office (e. g. Bill Boxley). (DiEugenio, pp. 278-85)

As per the falling out with the Sterns, this tenet by Rosemary James would appear to contradict what Kirkwood wrote in his book. The Sterns hosted dinners at which they wined and dined incoming media in favor of Shaw after he was charged. (Destiny Betrayed, first edition, p. 157; Davy p. 78). Further, their local TV station, WDSU, served as an outpost for Garrison critics like Jim Phelan and Rick Townley. (Davy, p. 136; Destiny Betrayed, first edition, p. 202). Finally, the Walter Sheridan produced NBC attack program was partly produced out of WDSU and Sheridan used money funneled to him by the CIA associated local law firm of Monroe and Lemann for its creation.  (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 238). These all occurred after Shaw was charged.

The idea that Garrison pursued publicity for his inquiry, proposed by Long and repeated here, is simply fatuous. As noted above, his appearance on NBC was provoked by Sheridan’s hatchet job under the Fairness Doctrine. His appearance on The Tonight Show, which is also mentioned, was prompted by Mort Sahl.  Garrison did not “pursue” either one.  The program actually says that Shaw’s home was “raided” in July. And this is how Garrison uncovered proof of Shaw’s far out homosexual practices.  In my interview with assistant DA Jim Alford, he told me that Shaw’s home was searched when he was arrested.  And Garrison did not say anything about this homosexual aspect in the two years between Shaw’s arrest and his trial. The idea that Garrison once proposed that Kennedy’s assassination was done as a homosexual thrill killing is something not backed up in Garrison’s files. The only place I have ever seen that subject proposed is in the work of the late Jim Phelan, who—with the release of declassified documents—has real credibility problems on this matter today. (Destiny Betrayed, Second edition, pp.243-49) And, of course, the program says that Perry Russo was hypnotically programmed to recall the name of Bertrand.  This worn out cliché was exposed in detail by both William Davy and also Joe Biles, in his book In History’s Shadow. (Davy, pp. 121-23, Biles, pp. 44-46) After reading those two accounts, it can be seen that this was a cheap trick put together by Phelan and Shaw’s lawyers.  The MSM, which I did not think NPR, was part of, then latched on to it.  Another error is that private investigator William Gurvich defected from Garrison’s staff toward the end of the investigation. Gurvich defected in 1967, on the eve of Sheridan’s broadcast special. (Davy, pp. 136-37). And, from reading his testimony before the Grand Jury, they did not take his charges against Garrison seriously.

Toward the end, the show goes bonkers.  Levenson does nothing to try and rein in the anti-Garrison mania of either James or Long. They propose the idea that Garrison did not suffer any consequences at all because of the pursuit of his case against Shaw. Pure bunk. Jim Garrison was one of the most popular figures in the state in 1966. Many commentators thought he could be either governor or senator. Because of his prosecution of Shaw, the Power Elite in New Orleans ganged up on him and backed the Justice Department attempt to remove him from office.  This was done through the candidacy of the DOJ liaison to the Shaw trial, Harry Connick. That was coupled with two phony prosecutions against Garrison originating from the US attorney’s office, where Connick worked. Garrison exposed these trials at length in his book, On the Trail of the Assassins. (See Chapter 19) It was the publicity from those trials that weakened him and eventually let Connick into the DA’s office. It is incredible that no one on the program notes that this was a calamity for the city of New Orleans.  For the simple reason that Connick was a disaster as a DA. (For just one serious problem, click here; click here for another)

As a result of his case against Shaw, Garrison went from being a probable governor to renting an office in a large law firm and Connick became one of the most incompetent DA’s in America.  But the aim of the ordeal Garrison went through was not just to get him out of office.  It was also to serve as an example to others:  “See what we did to the guy who was set to be the governor of the state?  Try and mess with the JFK case and the same thing will happen to you.”  With one exception, Richard Sprague and the House Select Committee on Assassinations, it has worked. 

There is barely a mention at all of what befell Garrison.  Alecia Long actually says that Clay Shaw’s civil liberties were violated.  This is ridiculous. Shaw was not just indicted by a grand jury.  He also had a preliminary hearing, after which the presiding judge could have thrown out Garrison’s case.  He did not.  Therefore, what civil liberties were violated in the criminal case? No one on the program mentions that Connick incinerated much of the evidence Garrison had left in his office after he left.  And he fought the ARRB in court not to give back what he had left. (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 320) In that respect, the American people were deprived of the results of one of the very few valuable inquiries into the murder of President Kennedy, which no one on this show seems to give one iota about.

When asked by one reader about how bad her work was on Jim Garrison and JFK, Long replied that she had her sources and the reader had his. What she did not add is that FBI and CIA associated journalists like Phelan, Sheridan, and Hugh Aynesworth, are not credible sources. But ARRB declassified documents, which the government hid for generations, are. They tell us why the Kennedy case and the Garrison inquiry were so dangerous to the power elite. And they show us how NPR, Long, James, and Laine Kaplan-Levenson have produced a pile of irrelevant rubbish. Better no one broadcasting on the subject than tripe like this.

Last modified on Monday, 24 June 2019 15:21
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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