Thursday, 11 January 2024 14:49

Hugh Aynesworth is Dead: The Grinch is Gone

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Jim DiEugenio chronicles the horrendous career of the late Hugh Aynesworth and his reporting on the JFK case. It is a sorry sight to behold and tells us much about modern American journalism and its role in covering up the murder of President Kennedy.

Hugh Aynesworth died on December 23rd at age 92 after being in both the hospital and hospice care.

Aynesworth was born in West Virginia and started his newspaper career at the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram. In the fifties he was employed in Fort Smith, Arkansas as a sports editor and then a managing editor. He then moved to Dallas as a business writer for the Times Herald, and later worked for UPI in Denver. He returned to Dallas in 1960 to write for the Morning News and it was while there that the JFK murder took place. In 1967 he shifted over to Newsweek, from where he began to cover the Jim Garrison inquiry into the JFK case.

To anyone who was really interested in the assassination of President John Kennedy, his death will be unlamented. Because perhaps no other reporter in America—excepting maybe Dan Rather-- did more to cover up the facts in that case, over a longer period of time, than did Hugh Aynesworth.

He maintained that he was at three crucial venues on the day of Kennedy’s murder. First, he was a witness to the actual assassination in Dealey Plaza. Yet, does any photograph reveal this to be the case? He was also allegedly on the scene when Patrolman J. D. Tippit was killed, though it is hard to pin down a time when he was there. (More on this later.) He then pulled off a trifecta. He also said he was at the Texas Theater when the police apprehended Lee Oswald--and he added that he saw Oswald try and shoot Officer Nick McDonald. (“The Man Who Saw Too Much”, by William Broyles, Texas Monthly, March 1976). Since the evidence indicates that Oswald did not do any such thing, this is also tough to buy into. (Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 259)

But, for Hugh, that was not enough. Aynesworth also said that he was in the Dallas Police Department basement when Jack Ruby lunged forward to shoot Oswald. Again, if anyone can pinpoint a film or photo of the man being there, please do. After all, this event was captured live on television. The thesis that he was on the scene for all of these events allowed him to maintain the concept that he had “broken almost every major assassination story.” (Broyles, op. cit.) He now became the Morning News’ lead reporter on the Kennedy case.

As William Broyles wrote, Aynesworth liked to throw bouquets at himself. For instance, that he became the first reporter to break the story of Oswald’s escape route. Since Oswald was not trying to escape, this is also a dubious story. After all, how does one “escape” by using public transportation, like a bus and taxi. And in the latter case, Oswald offered the cab to an elderly lady first. (Meagher, pp. 75-83)

As anyone can see, it was not enough for Aynesworth to cover the story. He had a definite viewpoint about the JFK assassination. And he had it before the Warren Report was even published. On July 21, 1964, through his columnist colleague Holmes Alexander, it became clear that the omnipresent reporter did not trust Chief Justice Earl Warren on the JFK case. So the pair fired a shot across the bow of the Commission. The Commission had to show that Oswald was a homicidal maniac. If not, then Aynesworth would reveal that the FBI knew Oswald was a potential assassin and that the Bureau blew their assignment.

But even that was not enough for Hugh. He was now going to show that Oswald was “a hard driven political radical Leftist”. How so? The column revealed that Aynesworth had interviewed Marina Oswald. Marina had told him that Oswald had threatened to kill Richard Nixon. This one shows just how nutty Aynesworth had become on the Kennedy case. Because not even the Warren Commission bought into it. (Warren Report, pp. 187-89) This rubbish has been exposed by more than one writer. For instance: Nixon was not near Dallas at the time Marina said the incident happened. (Meagher, p. 241) But further, as Peter Scott has observed, to buy into this, Marina had to have locked Oswald in the bathroom to stop him from this heinous act--yet the bathroom locked from the inside. Finally, there was no local newspaper announcement that Nixon was going to be in Dallas at this time, April of 1963. Yet Marina clearly implied that this is what caused Oswald to plan on shooting him. (See also WC Vol., 5, p. 389, and Scott, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, pp. 286-91) According to Michael Granberry’s obituary for Aynesworth, the Nixon nuttiness originated with a conversation between Marina and Aynesworth.

Was there more to the Marina/Hugh relationship? In May of 1967, researcher Shirley Martin wrote a letter to Jim Garrison about her 1964 meeting with the man. Hugh started off with some “disgusting anti-Kennedy stories.” He then began to praise the city of Dallas, especially his newspaper the Morning News. Hugh then personally smeared some of the Commission critics like Thomas Buchanan and Mark Lane; the former was a “fairy” and the latter was a communist. He added that the JFK case was really a communist plot that Earl Warren would cover up. He also said that he had an affair with Marina. He then commented that Marina and Ruth Paine were involved in a lesbian relationship prior to the assassination. Martin also wrote that Aynesworth was bitter about Merriman Smith winning the Pulitzer for his JFK coverage.

But then there was this. The reporter told Shirley that he was at the scene of the Tippit shooting at 1:05, no later than 1:10. In other words, before the Commission said the murder occurred. (Warren Report, pp. 165-66). In fact, it would be impossible for Oswald to have walked from his rooming house to the scene of the crime—10th and Patton—during that time interim. (Meagher, p. 255)

According to researcher Rachel Rendish, Aynesworth once offered to show her some sex photos of Marina. Rendish slammed the door shut like this:

Oh yes, I know all about that film and how you boys set her up. She said that was the item you always used for blackmail. I have absolutely no interest in seeing it… He was stunned. (Email to Robert Morrow, 12/27/23)

Then there was the Oswald diary heist. When the FBI did an investigation of how the alleged “Oswald diary” got into Aynesworth’s newspaper they concluded that it was likely stolen from the Dallas Police archives by assistant DA Bill Alexander and then given to Aynesworth. After running it locally, he then put it on the market to other publications. The sale garnered well into the five figures, a ducal sum in those days. The proceeds were split between Aynesworth, his then wife, and Alexander. Marina, who had a legal claim, was originally cut out of the deal.

In late 1966, Aynesworth became an FBI informant on the JFK case. There was a December 12th report from Hugh on the progress of the Life magazine re-inquiry into the murder of Kennedy. Its odd that this would occur at all since Aynesworth was not a part of that investigative team, which included Josiah Thompson, Ed Kern and Patsy Swank. It likely happened due to the titular Life leader Holland McCombs, a friend of Clay Shaw’s, wanting to cover all the bases, and knowing he could rely on Hugh to do so. Aynesworth told the Bureau that Life had found a witness who connected Oswald with Ruby. In his report he also added that Mark Lane was a homosexual and had to drop his political career because of the allegations. If one recalls, earlier it was Buchanan who was homosexual and Lane was a communist. So now Lane was a gay commie? Like the CYA coward he was, Aynesworth specifically requested his identity not be disclosed by the FBI.

But it was during the Jim Garrison inquiry that Aynesworth really came into his own as an agent/informant for the FBI and CIA. The reporter learned about Garrison’s inquiry through Life magazine stringer David Chandler. The DA granted Hugh an interview at his home after which Aynesworth wrote to McCombs that they should not let Garrison knew they were playing “both sides”. This was after the first meeting! But recall the man’s credo: “I’m not saying there wasn’t a conspiracy….I know most people in this country believe there was a conspiracy. I just refuse to accept it and that’s my life’s work.” (July of 1979 on Dallas PBS affiliate KERA). How could he do so if he was so invested in the Krazy Kid Oswald story from the start? But there is a corollary to this: the Machiavellian rule that the one’s own ends justify the means. And, as with Marina and Nixon fabrication, he was about to prove it once more.

In May of 1967, Aynesworth wrote an article for Newsweek on the Clay Shaw case. The article was simply a cheap smear. It said that whatever plot there was out of New Orleans, it was made up by Garrison; that the DA’s staff had threatened to murder a witness; and the DA was running the equivalent of a reign of terror over the city which had the citizenry in fear. But, before the libelous story ran, the reporter sent a copy to both the White House and the FBI. In an accompanying telegram, he wrote that Garrison’s plan was to make it seem that the FBI and CIA are involved in the JFK “plot”. He again requested his name be withheld. This secrecy is what he relied upon to make it seem he was independent and not in bed with the feds. In fact, when Aynesworth helped organize a Kennedy conference in Dallas to compete with the ASK seminars in the early nineties, someone asked him that question: Have you ever cleared a story in advance with the White House or the FBI. Like any common fink, he denied it. The questioner then confronted him with this telegram.

But it was not just the FBI and the White House from whom he sought protection. British researcher Malcolm Blunt has discovered a CIA document in which the Agency revealed that Aynesworth was interested in Agency employment from back in the early sixties. (Memo of January 25, 1968). And in fact, he appears to have gone to Cuba, not once, but twice, in 1962 and 1963. Robert Morrow confronted him with this and the reporter’s answer was a clever piece of evasion. (Click here for the exchange)

James Feldman commented on this meeting, saying that Hugh never directly replied to the question of was he a CIA media asset. He only said that he did not take money from a government agency. But as Feldman added, agencies often distribute funds through business intermediaries or other types of fronts. Feldman concluded that “his failure to answer the question in a forthright, honest manner merely supports those who assert that Aynesworth has been a CIA media asset.”

About the last there can be little, if any, doubt. For in his attempt to directly obstruct Garrison’s legal proceedings against Clay Shaw, the reporter actually did what he (falsely) accused Garrison of doing: he attempted to bribe a witness. As many know, Shaw, Oswald and David Ferrie had gone to the Clinton/Jackson area--about 120 miles northeast of New Orleans-- in the early autumn of 1963. Many witnesses saw the trio, with Oswald in a voter registration line and Shaw and Ferrie sitting in a Cadillac (Garrison actually had a picture of the car, see Joan Mellen, A Farewell to Justice, p. 223).

Sheriff John Manchester was one of the most important witnesses to this strange but fascinating episode. And Aynesworth understood how important he was. Hugh had essentially moved to New Orleans by 1967 and was working with Shaw’s lawyers. He had plants inside of Garrison’s office, e.g. William Gurvich. And they had supplied him with memoranda on which Garrison was working. (See Destiny Betrayed, by James DiEugenio, Second Edition, pp.252-54) One of these concerned Manchester’s testimony, in which he identified Shaw as the driver of the car. Aynesworth drove to the Clinton area with it and told Manchester something quite interesting and revelatory about himself and who he was working with in tandem. Hugh told the sheriff that if he failed to show up at Shaw’s trial he could get him a job as a CIA handler in Mexico for 38,000 dollars per year, over $300,000 today. Obviously, if he was not working with the Agency, how could Aynesworth extend such an offer?

I rather liked Manchester’s incorruptible reply: “I advise you to leave the area. Otherwise I’ll cut you a new asshole.” (ibid, p. 255)

From threatening the Warren Commission and FBI, to helping create a phony Nixon murder attempt, to allegedly sleeping with Marina Oswald and taking photos of it, to smearing Commission critics as being both gay and commies, to informing for J. Edgar Hoover and lying about it, to interfering with a DA’s investigation and bribing prospective witnesses, Hugh Aynesworth was a piece of human flotsam masquerading as a reporter on the JFK case. That Dallas holds him up as an exemplary journalist shows how deeply in denial that city is about President Kennedy’s assassination and the cover up that followed…

Last modified on Friday, 12 January 2024 02:14
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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