Wednesday, 12 September 2018 22:05

Jim Garrison: The Beat Goes On

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In response to a recent article which he characterizes as “a compendium of every MSM caricature of Garrison and his Kennedy case that one can imagine”, Jim DiEugenio revisits the New Orleans DA's career and his JFK case, and what the ARRB and subsequent research has revealed about it.

Would Jim Garrison have been forgotten if Oliver Stone had never met the late Ellen Ray? If the reader is unaware of who Ellen Ray was let me inform you of her importance in history. (her obituary)

Ellen Ray was the wife of Bill Schaap. They ran a publishing company called Sheridan Square Press. Sheridan Square did not just release books. They also published magazines like the illustrious Covert Action Information Bulletin and Lies of our Times. If our readers do not know about those two periodicals, it is their loss. The first dealt with the Central Intelligence Agency and its allies; the second was concerned with media analysis. They were well done and important journals.

Ellen Ray had known Jim Garrison a long time—going all the way back to his original investigation of the John Kennedy murder in the late sixties. She always thought highly of him and his work. So when Garrison thought of writing a book on his inquiry in the eighties, Sheridan Square was one of the houses he thought of releasing it through. But before that, Garrison had had an offer from a much bigger publishing house. That deal did not go through since the proofreader the house assigned to the book was Sylvia Meagher. Now as everyone knows, this site is a sincere admirer of Meagher and her fine book, Accessories After the Fact. But as most insiders also realize, Meagher was one of the early critics who developed a phobia—some would call it a mania—about Jim Garrison and his inquiry. (The others would include Josiah Thompson and Paul Hoch.) Even someone like Jerry Policoff, who was a close friend of Meagher, once said that Sylvia should not have been assigned to review Garrison’s book: “My God, she contributed money to Clay Shaw’s defense!”

Well, predictably, Meagher’s analysis contributed to Garrison returning his advance. But that may have been fortunate, because now he turned to Ellen Ray and Sheridan Square Press. They assigned him Zachary Sklar as his editor. Zach was a distinguished journalism professor and contributor to Sheridan’s two publications. It was a fortunate pairing. Originally, Garrison had written his book from a third person point of view. But when he met Zach, the editor convinced him that since the DA was an actual participant in the story he was telling, it would be more effective if he wrote the book as a first person narrative. I think most people today would say that was a good choice.

On the Trail of the Assassins sold about forty thousand copies when it was originally released in hard cover. The thoroughly annotated book revealed many new things about Garrison’s investigation that most outsiders did not know about. It also exhibited Garrison’s firm grasp on the entire evidentiary record of the JFK case and also Kennedy’s place in history. Overall, it was a real contribution to the library of books on the assassination of President Kennedy.

But what happened later was probably even more significant. At a film festival in Havana, Ellen Ray met up with Oliver Stone. She told him words to the effect: “Have I got a book for you!” Stone read Garrison’s book and decided to bring it to the big screen. He did so in December of 1991.

But this was the JFK assassination. And it was Jim Garrison. As the DA noted in his book, there were many media critics of his inquiry. And they struck at him in what can only be called a vicious and personal manner. Some of them hid their relationships with the intelligence community, e.g., James Phelan, Walter Sheridan, and Hugh Aynesworth. Even more buried was the cooperation between these men and Clay Shaw’s lawyers. (See Destiny Betrayed, second edition, chapter 11 for an analysis of this nexus.) That sixties wave of media critics was not going to let Oliver Stone bring back Jim Garrison and the JFK case in any kind of fair or salutary manner. So they decided to do a preemptive strike on Stone’s film.

In what was probably an unprecedented campaign in the history of American cinema, the MSM attacked the film JFK seven months in advance of its release. In fact, Ben Bradlee and the The Washington Post sent George Lardner to Dallas to write a story as the film was being shot in Dealey Plaza.

Lardner’s article began with one of the truly snarky remarks in recent journalistic history. In watching a rehearsal of the Dealey Plaza sequence, Lardner noted that Stone had ordered up five shots in the assassination sequence. The reporter then wrote: “Five shots? Is this the Kennedy assassination or the Charge of the Light Brigade?” Through their acoustical testing, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had concluded that there were four shots fired. But as researcher Donald Thomas revealed at Cyril Wecht’s Duquesne Conference in 2003, those same sound technicians told Chief Counsel Robert Blakey that they detected five shots. Blakey told Thomas that he did not think it was possible to sell that many shots to the committee, so their report only analyzed and accepted four. In other words, this was a political decision, not a scientific one. There is real evidence that there were five shots, but somehow that did not matter to Lardner. After all, it’s the JFK case.

Lardner’s article was the first volley in a seven-month MSM campaign that was intended to make sure that the reception of JFK was jaundiced in advance. Many of the same people who attacked Garrison back in the sixties were brought back to do so again, like Aynesworth and Edward Epstein. The fact that neither of these men was at all credible or objective on the subjects of the Kennedy assassination or Jim Garrison was irrelevant. The goal was to savage the film before it had a fair hearing. That is how radioactive this subject was, even thirty years later.

In spite of this assault, JFK did well at the box office, both at home and abroad. It was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. But to show the reader just how nutty the anti-JFK crusade was, consider the following. On the eve of the Oscars, an anonymous author bought an ad in the trade journal Variety. The ad asked that no voters cast their ballot for the film as Best Picture. Researcher Rich Goad did some detective work and found out that the ad was paid for by the late Warren Commission counsel David Belin.

Besides bringing the Kennedy assassination back into the limelight, JFK was the main cause for the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). For at the end of the film, Stone added a subtitle revealing that the files of the House Select Committee were being kept secret until the year 2027. This created a sensation in Washington. Tens of thousands of citizens now called their representatives, sent them letters or faxed them in order to do something about this travesty. It worked. The Board was created. It was a unique agency that was made up of private citizens appointed by the president. That agency had a staff that read and researched documents that were now to be declassified. If an intelligence agency objected, that agency had to show why the document should be kept secret. This reversed the previous Freedom of Information Law, which put the burden of proof on the requester, who had to show why it should be declassified. But even today, twenty years after the ARRB closed its doors, the government is still maintaining secrecy over thousands of documents.

That Board has a decidedly mixed record of achievement. But it did do some good work on the Garrison angle of the JFK case.   In fact, the Board even went to court with then New Orleans DA Harry Connick to salvage a file cabinet full of documents remaining from the Garrison investigation. After being shown up in the press, Connick resisted turning over the materials. But the Justice Department eventually secured the documents. The Garrison family also turned over thousands of pages that the late DA had in his personal effects.

Garrison had always insisted that, for various reasons, he was never able to reveal most of the evidence he had secured from 1967-69. After authors like William Davy, Joan Mellen and myself went through what the ARRB attained, we had to agree. The Garrison files in the Archives today hold an abundance of utterly fascinating material on a wide array of subjects dealing with many aspects of the JFK case. Does the MSM reveal any of this to the public? Nope. One of the most embarrassing aspects of the three-week binge that the media went on last year in anticipation that the JFK files were finally going to be completely declassified was this: No one chronicled what the ARRB had already released. Which was significant. It was about 2 million pages of material that opened up new vistas on subjects like Rose Cheramie, Kennedy and Vietnam, and the medical evidence in the JFK case. Guests like Larry Sabato, Phil Shenon and Gerald Posner did not want to discuss those topics. Nether did their hosts like NBC stooge on JFK, Rachel Maddow.

It is easy to understand why this would occur. As Upton Sinclair once said: It is hard to make journalists understand something when their paycheck depends on them not understanding it. Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as a liberal media. In the twentieth century, and up until today, the American media has been controlled by an oligarchical class. Some authors call this class the Eastern Establishment. Some call it the Power Elite.   As sociologist Donald Gibson explained in his fine book Battling Wall Street, President Kennedy was not a part of that group. He never joined the Council on Foreign Relations; he did not join any secret societies at Harvard; he didn’t like working intelligence during World War II. He got transferred out to the South Pacific and served with a bunch of Joe Six Pack guys on what were close to suicide missions. As this author demonstrated in the second edition of Destiny Betrayed, both in the Senate and in the White House, Kennedy was opposed to much of what this Power Elite was doing abroad, especially in the Third World. (See Destiny Betrayed, second edition, pp. 21-33) After his death, the progress that he did make in the White House was largely halted, and then reversed. (pp. 367-77) Due in part to the ARRB, we know much more about these changes, especially regarding Indochina.

Jim Garrison was probably the first critic of the Warren Commission who understood this matter. And it is probably one of the reasons the MSM decided to smear him beyond recognition. This goes on to the present day. In a recent article in a regional journal called 64 Parishes, a writer named Alecia Long decided to pick up the infernal and eternal anti-Garrison cudgel. The New Orleans Times Picayune has always liked to go after Garrison and so they are now carrying it on their web site.

To anyone who is familiar with the territory, the first reaction is, “Oh my aching back!” The ten-page article is simply a compendium of every MSM caricature of Garrison and his Kennedy case that one can imagine—except Long does not even mention the ARRB. She only alludes to what they did in about a half a sentence. As we shall see, this was a wise choice on her part.

The preposterous thesis of her essay is that somehow, by his clever use of the media, Garrison was able to advance his case, his cause and his reputation. She uses Garrison’s 30-minute talk on NBC as proof of this. She even opens her article by asking why NBC agreed to give the DA this platform. She does not answer her rhetorical question until several pages later. There, she finally says that in June of 1967, “NBC ran an hour-long special sharply critical of Garrison’s claims and the methods used by his investigators.” This is an understatement. Most objective observers considered the Walter Sheridan production a straight-out hatchet job. But she tries to bolster the program’s credibility by adding, “The special featured several witnesses who claimed to have been offered bribes in exchange for providing testimony damaging to Shaw.”

What she does not note is that these so-called “witnesses” were later exposed, either in court, or by their own confessions, as being bogus. (DiEugenio, pp. 239-43) And more than one witness—for instance, Fred Leemans and Marlene Mancuso—testified as to the unethical and threatening tactics used by Sheridan for the program. It was Sheridan who fabricated these phony on-air statements by threatening and intimidating Garrison’s witnesses. Mancuso did not succumb to his bullying, so she was not on the show. Leemans did and went on the program. But both of them signed affidavits revealing the extent to which Sheridan and his cohorts would go to in order to flip Garrison’s witnesses. For example, Leemans was told, “… if I did not change my statement and state that I had been bribed by Jim Garrison’s office, I and my family would be in physical danger.” (DiEugenio, p. 240) Somehow, Long missed those statements, which gravely undermine her thesis because logically, they explain why the Federal Communications Commission decided to grant Garrison the time to counter Sheridan’s handiwork. But even at that, the FCC only gave Garrison a half hour, compared to Sheridan’s full hour, which contradicts the idea of equal time embedded in the now defunct Fairness Doctrine.

She also questions why, when granted the time, Garrison did not answer Sheridan’s charges in more specific terms. As the DA stated throughout his Playboy interview, if he had done that, it would have given Shaw’s lawyers a pretext to move to get his case thrown out of court, since it would prejudice prospective jurors.

With the release of Garrison’s files by the ARRB, the idea that Garrison did not have a factual basis for his case against Shaw is revealed to be utterly false. There is no doubt today that Shaw used the pseudonym of Clay Bertrand. The declassified files contain over ten witnesses who stated this was the case. It is further revealed that the FBI knew this as well. And finally, attorney Dean Andrews knew it—and lied about it.   As a consequence, Garrison never got to ask Shaw the key question: “Why did you call Andrews and ask him to go to Dallas to defend Oswald?” (DiEugenio, pp. 387-88)

It is also now shown that Shaw lied about his association with the CIA. That association has turned out to be a long service and a lucrative one. Not only did Shaw lie about it at his own trial, the CIA continually lied about it, and Robert Blakey fell for it. In the HSCA volumes, Shaw is referred to as part of a large businessman’s contact program in the Agency. Not true. Shaw was a well-compensated contract agent from at least the fifties. (Joan Mellen, Our Man In Haiti, pp. 54-55) In the sixties, he had a covert security clearance code name that was the same as Howard Hunt’s. (DiEugenio, pp. 383-87) The CIA tried desperately to cover up these facts, even going as far as altering Shaw’s files. (William Davy, Let Justice Be Done, p. 200) The ARRB later discovered the CIA had gone even further and destroyed Shaw’s 201 file.

(or open in a new window.)

As the late Yale educated attorney Allard Lowenstein once said regarding the Robert Kennedy assassination: in his experience as a lawyer, people who have nothing to hide don’t hide things. Somehow, Long does not think any of this new material is relevant to any discussion of Jim Garrison today.

In addition to this secrecy about Shaw, which hurt Garrison’s case, Long does not detail any of the other methods of obstruction that the CIA and the FBI used against Garrison. Nor does she elucidate any of the meetings that Shaw’s lawyers had in Washington soliciting this kind of aid, which ended up being bountiful. The declassified files of the ARRB contain literally scores of pages on this subject. This features interference with the serving of Garrison’s subpoenas. And further, the setting up of a special committee within the CIA to survey actions to take against Garrison before, during, and after the trial of Clay Shaw. At the first meeting of this super-secret group, James Angleton’s assistant, Ray Rocca, said that he felt that Garrison would convict Shaw in the Kennedy case. (DiEugenio, pp. 269-74) Perhaps in their quest to stop that from happening, on the eve of the trial, at least three prospective witness for the prosecution were physically attacked before they testified: Richard Case Nagell, Clyde Johnson and Aloysius Habighorst. None of these men ended up testifying. (p. 294)

As mentioned previously, one of the most bizarre statements that the author makes is that Garrison was proficient at using the media and manipulating them for his own benefit. How anyone can make such a statement today is simply inexplicable. As authors like William Davy and myself have shown, the media utterly destroyed Jim Garrison. Before Garrison took on the Kennedy assassination, he had a promising career ahead of him as a Louisiana politician. Many thought he could have been governor or senator from the state. (DiEugenio, pp. 172-74) That career was utterly wrecked by the two-year roasting he took in the press from almost every outlet imaginable: CBS, NBC, NY Times, Life Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, to name just a few. Garrison was eventually defeated in his District Attorney re-election bid due to two sets of phony pinball kickback charges, which he defeated at trial. But the publicity weakened his position and strengthened his opponent Harry Connick, who defeated him in a close election in 1973. (See chapter 19 of Garrison’s book.) To most legal observers, Connick turned out to be a very poor DA compared to Jim Garrison.

After Garrison was retired from the DA’s office, it took him years to recover from the ordeal he went through. At that time, people who visited him in New Orleans said he had a small office that he rented from a larger firm. This is the man who likely would have been residing in the governor’s mansion if not for the JFK case. That media manipulation Long describes did the DA a lot of good, didn’t it?

Long is so utterly biased that she actually credits Judge Herbert Christenberry. This is the judge who threw out Garrison’s attempt to try Shaw on perjury charges after his acquittal. Today, there is little or no doubt that Shaw lied numerous times at his conspiracy trial. For instance, about his employment by the CIA, about his friendship with David Ferrie, about his use of an alias. And according to Garrison assistant Steve Jaffe, this time Garrison was not going to make the same mistake he did at the conspiracy trial. He was going to use every witness he had against Shaw.

Judge Herbert Christenberry should never have presided over this hearing. Moreover, there should have never been a hearing in the first place. As Garrison notes in his book, the idea of a federal judge inserting himself into a state case was quite unusual, since there was a law against it. But that is what happened. Shaw’s lawyers moved to have a state case considered in federal court. (Garrison, p. 253)

Why did they do this?

Because Christenberry’s wife had written a letter to Shaw after his acquittal. This was also after Garrison filed the perjury charges. The letter uses the plural pronoun “we”, so it clearly describes both husband and wife’s sentiments. The Christenberrys congratulated Shaw on the outcome of the trial. They sympathized with him over what the DA had done to the poor man. They continued by saying how much better the proceedings would have been if the case had been allotted to federal court and Judge Christenberry. But unfortunately, Caroline Christenberry could not voice these sentiments during the trial for risk of being labeled prejudiced in advance. (Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p.315)

If there was ever an attempt to solicit a case, this was it. That letter is in the National Archives today. It appears Long has never heard of it.

This article proves the very worst about the JFK case. Everyone hoped that the declassification of the files would aid in the public’s understanding of what that case was really all about, what impact it had on the personages involved and also on American history. That will not happen with people like Long. At the end of her original essay as published in the periodical 64 Parishes, it is revealed that her piece is part of something called the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen Initiative”, which is sponsored by the Federation of State Humanities councils. The Andrew Mellon Foundation was part of the support for that initiative. In other words, the Power Elite Kennedy opposed is still thriving.

But further, as Anthony Thorne discovered, Long made up her mind about this matter without looking at any documents. She said, “I don’t want to dig through CIA and FBI documents for the rest of my life.” She then gave the back of her hand to the myriad books on the JFK case: “I find the basic premise of many these books to be problematic and would then note [sic] take those as seriously as historical studies.”

The books don’t matter. The documents don’t matter. Typical MSM historian on the JFK case.   Which is why her article is worthless. It is the vacuity and speciousness of work like this that helps drive readers to the likes of Alex Jones. Perhaps unbeknownst to her, Long is adding to his minions.

Last modified on Thursday, 13 September 2018 13:03
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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