Sunday, 03 December 2006 11:28

Hugh Aynesworth: Refusing a Conspiracy is his Life's Work

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Jim DiEugenio examines Dallas journalist Hugh Aynesworth and his role in covering up conspiracy in the JFK assassination.

Hugh Aynesworth

At the time of the assassination, Hugh Aynesworth was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News. He has maintained that on November 22, 1963 he was in Dealey Plaza and a witness to the assassination --- although there is no photograph that reveals such. At times, he has also maintained he was at the scene where Tippit was shot --- although it is difficult to locate a time for his being there. He has also stated that he was at the Texas Theater where Oswald was arrested --- although, again, no film or photo attests to this. Further, he has written that he was in the basement of the Dallas Police Department when Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby. Like Priscilla Johnson, Aynesworth soon decided to make his career out of this event. As we shall see, it is quite clear that he made up his mind immediately about Oswald's guilt. Long before the Warren Report was issued. In fact, he tried to influence their verdict.

On July 21, 1964 Aynesworth's name surfaced in the newspapers in Dallas in a column by his friend Holmes Alexander. Alexander implied that Aynesworth did not trust Earl Warren and therefore was conducting his own investigation of the Kennedy murder. He was ready to reveal that the FBI knew Oswald was a potential assassin and blew their assignment. He also had talked to Marina Oswald and she had told him that Oswald had also threatened to kill Richard Nixon. Alexander goes on to say that these kinds of incidents show the mind of a killer at work. That "of a hard-driven, politically radical Leftist which is emerging from the small amount of news put out by the Warren Commission. If the full report follows the expected line, Oswald will be shown as a homicidal maniac." Holmes concludes his piece with a warning: If the Commission's verdict "jibes with that of Aynesworth's independent research, credibility will be added to its findings. If [it] does not there will be some explaining to do." Clearly, Aynesworth contributed mightily to the article, had decided Oswald had done it even before the Commission had revealed its evidence, and was bent on destroying its credibility if it differed from his opinion.

The story about Marina and Nixon was so farfetched that not even the Warren Commission bought into it (Warren Report pp. 187-188). It has been demolished by many authors; most notably Peter Scott who notes that to believe it, Marina had to have locked Oswald in the bathroom to keep him from committing this murderous act; yet the bathroom locked from the inside. Also, as the Commission noted in the pages above, Nixon was not in Dallas until several months after the alleged incident. Further, there was no announcement in any local newspaper that Nixon was going to be in Dallas at this time period --- April of 1963. Since Aynesworth was quite close to Marina at this time (he actually bragged to some friends that he was sleeping with her) it may be that he foisted the quite incredible story on her in his attempt to portray Oswald as the Leftist, homicidal maniac he related to Holmes Alexander.

Aynesworth was also out to profit personally from the tragedy. In late June of 1964, Oswald's alleged diary from his Russian days appeared in Aynesworth's newspaper with a commentary by the reporter. Two weeks later it also appeared in U. S. News and World Report. An FBI investigation followed to see how this material leaked into the press. In declassified documents, it appears that the diary was pilfered from the Dallas Police archives by the notorious assistant DA Bill Alexander and then given to his friend Aynesworth. Aynesworth then put it on the market to other magazines including Newsweek. It eventually ended up in Life magazine also. Alexander, Aynesworth and the reporter's wife Paula split thousands of dollars. Oswald's widow was paid later by Life since, originally, Aynesworth had illegally cut her out of the deal. In another FBI report of July 7th, it also appears that Aynesworth was using the so-called diary for career advancement purposes. A source told the Bureau that part of the deal with Newsweek was that Aynesworth was to become their Dallas correspondent. As the Bureau noted, Aynesworth did become their Dallas stringer afterward. (It is interesting to note here that the "diary" has been shown to have been not a real diary at all. That is, it was not recorded on a daily basis but rather in two or three sittings.)

Right after this, in August of 1964, another trademark of Aynseworth's Kennedy career appeared: his penchant to attack and ridicule anyone who disagreed with him. Aynesworth published a review of Joachim Joesten's early book on the case entitled Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy. The review is not really a review at all, it is just a string of invective directed at the author for believing such silly notions that Oswald could have been innocent and that he could have been an agent of the FBI and/or CIA. When rumors circulated that Oswald had been an FBI informant, which he apparently was, Aynesworth went to work discrediting them saying that it was all a joke he had made up --- even though he was not the source of the quite specific information.

In December of 1966, Aynesworth surfaced again on the Kennedy case. At this time Life was doing its ill-fated reinvestigation of the murder led by Holland McCombs and Richard Billings. Somehow, probably through McCombs who was a good friend of Clay Shaw, Aynesworth was a part of this investigation. Aynesworth began informing on the intricacies of the probe to the FBI. For instance on December 12th, Aynesworth informed the Bureau that they had discovered a man who connected Oswald with Ruby. Aynesworth turned over a copy of this report to the FBI. He also then told the Bureau that Mark Lane was a homosexual and had to drop his political career because of these allegations. At the end of the interview Aynesworth "specifically requested" his identity and his sources not be disclosed outside the Bureau.

Billings' investigation eventually and perhaps inevitably ran into the initial stages of the secret probe being conducted by District Attorney Jim Garrison. And because a mutual acquaintance of Billings and Garrison, David Chandler, was involved, Aynesworth was one of the first people to discover what Garrison was doing. The unsuspecting Garrison actually granted the duplicitous reporter an interview in his home. After the interview, Aynesworth wrote a note to McCombs that they should not let the DA know they were playing "both sides." Recall, this was the first time they had met face to face! So much for a modicum of objectivity.

Almost immediately Aynesworth set out to smear Garrison in the national press, to obstruct him by cooperating with law enforcement agencies who were opposed to the DA, and to defeat him in court by extending his services to Shaw's lawyers. All of the above is readily provable today as it had not been before the releases of the ARRB. It would not be hyperbole to write that no other reporter in recorded history had as much to do in opposing a DA both covertly and overtly as Aynesworth did in New Orleans from 1967-71. Especially when one extends Aynesworth's actions to connect with his two allies in this effort, namely James Phelan and the late Walter Sheridan. (Significantly, when the ARRB requested the files of Sheridan on the 1967 NBC special he produced, Sheridan's family sent them to NBC. And the network refused to turn them over.) Aynesworth's actions are too lengthy to be discussed here but they are recorded in detail in Probe Magazine (Vol. 4 No. 4) and also in the book The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK, and Malcolm X (pp. 24-29). Aynesworth published an attack on Garrison in Newsweek on May 15, 1967 (about a week after Phelan's broadside had appeared in The Saturday Evening Post.) The "report" was clearly a venomous hatchet job that had one aim: to stigmatize Garrison and, by doing that, to neutralize his investigation by turning the public's attention away from his discoveries and toward the controversy being manufactured by Aynesworth, Phelan, and NBC's special which was to follow the next month. The article depicted Garrison as a modern day Robespierre whose investigation had bribed witnesses into making false claims, whose staff had threatened to murder a witness, and finally that Garrison was so possessed he held the entire city in thrall by terrorist tactics.

We have seen how Aynesworth informed on the Billings investigation with the FBI. On the Garrison case, he extended his reach. Before his article was printed, he forwarded a copy to George Christian who was press secretary for the White House. But not before he had called him and discussed his inflammatory and deceitful article. The actual telegram he sent is interesting in revealing his psychology. He tells Christian that he is informing because he is aware of what Garrison is up to. What, in Aynesworth's view, is he up to? He is trying "to make it seem that the FBI and CIA are involved in the JFK plot." But further, "he can ---and probably will --- do untold damage to this nation's image throughout the world." Finally, he tells Christian that although Garrison wants the government to defy him or to pressure a halt to his probe, that is not what they should do, "for that is exactly what Garrison wants." Of course, he again asked that his role be kept a secret. These last two assertions imply that Aynesworth would serve as the intermediary to obstruct Garrison clandestinely while claiming to be a reporter so that the government could keep its hands clean as he did their dirty work for them.

Further insight into Aynesworth's peculiar psychology came in an interview in 1979 on KERA, the Dallas PBS affiliate. He said there, "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." In other words, what the facts are do not really matter to him. It's keeping the lid on a conspiracy to commit homicide that matters. (Wouldn't it have been interesting if Jennings would have confronted Aynesworth with that statement and asked him to explain his view of journalism in light of it?)

By the 1990's Aynesworth's role had been so exposed to those in the know that he couldn't appear at research conferences. So he did not show up at them himself --- as he may have, for surveillance purposes, earlier. Instead he arranged other conferences to eclipse them, as he did in 1993 for the 30th anniversary of the assassination. At this one in Dallas, someone asked him this: Had he ever cooperated with the government on a story prior to its publication? He denied it of course. Then the questioner read him the Christian memo quoted above.

Why couldn't Jennings do the same?

Last modified on Saturday, 08 October 2016 16:41
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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