Saturday, 14 May 2016 20:27

Why CBS Covered Up the JFK Assassination, Part 1

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In this two-part essay, Jim DiEugenio builds on unpublished material obtained by Roger Feinman from CBS in order to reconstruct how the 1967 CBS special became the shameless defense of the Warren Commission's case against Lee Harvey Oswald that it was.

Part One

When Warren Commission critic Roger Feinman passed away in the fall of 2011, he was freelancing as a computer programmer. That was not his original choice for a profession. Roger started out in life as a journalist. In fact, while in college, he actually submitted reports on campus anti-war disturbances to local radio stations. When he graduated, he got a job at the local New York City independent television station WPIX. In 1972, at the rather young age of 24, he began working for CBS News in New York. There, among other things, he assisted in producing “The CBS World News Roundup with Dallas Townsend.” Under normal circumstances, Roger could have expected a long career at CBS, a few promotions, a nice salary, a munificent benefits package, and a generous pension. He never got any of that. In fact, he was terminated by his employers in the fall of 1976.

Roger Feinman

Why? Because in 1975, Roger saw the CBS News Department preparing for another multi-part special defending the Warren Report. The reader should be aware that this was the third time in 11 years that CBS had used its immense media influence to propagandize the public into thinking all was right with the official version of President Kennedy’s assassination. Back in 1964, upon the Warren Report’s initial release—actually the evening of the day it was published—CBS preempted regular programming. Walter Cronkite, assisted by Dan Rather, devoted two commercial-free hours to endorsing the main tenets of that report.

But something happened right after Cronkite and Rather did their public commemoration. Other people, who were not in the employ of the MSM, also looked at the report and the accompanying 26 volumes. Some of them were lawyers, some were professors, e.g., Vincent Salandria and Richard Popkin. They came to the conclusion that CBS had been less than rigorous in its review. By 1967, the analyses opposing the conclusions of both CBS and the Warren Report had become numerous and widespread. Books by Edward Epstein, Mark Lane, Sylvia Meagher and Josiah Thompson had now entered into public debate. Some of them became best sellers. Thompson’s book, Six Seconds in Dallas, was excerpted and placed on the cover of the wide circulation magazine Saturday Evening Post. Lane was actually appearing on popular talk shows. Jim Garrison had announced a reopening of the JFK case in New Orleans. The dam was threatening to break.

Therefore, in the summer of 1967, CBS again came to the aid of the official story. They now prepared a four-hour, four night, extravaganza to, again, endorse the findings of the Warren Commission. As in 1964, Cronkite manned the anchor desk and Rather was the main field reporter. And again, CBS could find no serious problems with the Warren Report. The critics were misguided, CBS said. Walter and Dan had done a seven-month inquiry. At the time of broadcast, it was the most expensive documentary CBS ever had produced. And they found the following: Acting alone, Oswald killed President Kennedy and police officer J. D. Tippit. Acting alone, Jack Ruby killed Oswald. And Oswald and Ruby did not know each other. All the controversy was Much Ado about Nothing. Cronkite was going to “shed light” on these questions for those in the public who were confused.

To show how much “light” Cronkite was going to shed, he began the first installment by saying that there was no question that Oswald ordered the rifle in evidence. Yet, as John Armstrong and others have shown, there are many doubts about whether or not Oswald ordered this rifle. Apparently, among other things, Walter and Dan didn’t notice that the money order allegedly used to pay for the rifle never went through the Federal Reserve system.

Eight years after this broadcast, in 1975, two events occurred to raise interest in the JFK case again. First, the Church Committee was formed to explore the crimes of the CIA and FBI. The committee revealed that, way before Kennedy was killed, the CIA had farmed out the assassination of Fidel Castro to the Mafia. Yet, the Warren Commission was never told about this. Even though Allen Dulles—the CIA Director when these plots were formulated—was on the Commission. Secondly, in the summer of 1975, in primetime, ABC broadcast the Zapruder film. This was the first time that the American public had seen the shocking image of President Kennedy being hurled back and to the left by what appeared to be a shot from his front and right. A shot Oswald could not have fired. The confluence of these two events caused a furor in Washington. A congressional resolution was passed to form the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), a reopening of the JFK case.

CBS decided they were going to try and influence the outcome of the HSCA in advance. So they now prepared still another special about the JFK case. (And since the congressional resolution forming the HSCA sanctioned an inquiry into the Martin Luther King case also, CBS was going to a do a special on that assassination too.)

Richard Salant, former president of CBS
William J. Small, former president of NBC News and executive with CBS for 17 years

There was a small problem. Roger Feinman had become a friend and follower of the estimable Warren Commission critic Sylvia Meagher. Therefore, he knew that 1) The Warren Commission produced a deeply flawed report, and 2) CBS had employed some questionable methods in the 1967 special in order to conceal those flaws. Since Roger was working there in 1975, he began to write some memoranda to those in charge warning them that they had repeated their poor 1967 performance in November of 1975. His first memo went to CBS president Dick Salant. Many of the other memos were directed to the Office of Standards and Practices.

In preparing these memos Roger had researched some of the rather odd methodologies that CBS used in 1967, and again in 1975. Since, in 1975, he had been there for three years, he got to know some of the people who had worked on that series. They supplied him with documents and information which revealed that what Cronkite and Rather were telling the audience had been arrived at through a process that was as flawed as the one the Warren Commission had used. Roger requested a formal review of the process by which CBS had arrived at its forensic conclusions. He felt the documentary had violated company guidelines in doing so.

As Roger’s memos began to circulate through the executive and management suites—including Salant’s and Vice-President Bill Small’s—it was made clear to him that he should cease and desist from his one-man campaign. But he would not let up. CBS now moved to terminate their dissident employee.

On September 7, 1976, CBS succeeded in terminating Roger Feinman. But the collection of documents he secured through his sources was, to my knowledge, absolutely unprecedented. This remarkable evidence allowed us, for the first time, to see how the 1967 series was conceived and executed. But further, it takes us into the group psychology of a large media corporation when it collides with controversial matters of national security.

Daniel Schorr

One of the most remarkable discoveries Roger made was this: the initial proposal for the special was made from certain employees inside CBS. The proposal was originally sent to Salant by CBS Vice-President at the time, Gordon Manning. Two men who had relayed the idea to him were Daniel Schorr and Bill Small. Later on, Les Midgley would join the effort.

Gordon Manning, executive at CBS, NBC and Newsweek

Small was the CBS Washington Bureau Chief from 1962-74 who was now vice-president. Schorr had joined CBS in 1953 and worked under the legendary Edward R. Murrow as a reporter. Manning was hired away from Newsweek to CBS by executive Fred Friendly in 1964. By 1967 he had also become a vice-president. Midgley had also started in print media. But by 1963, he had become a top prime time news producer at CBS.

The first proposal was sent to Salant by Manning in August of 1966. It was declined. Manning tried again in October. This time he suggested an open debate between the critics of the Warren Report and former Commission counsels. It would be moderated by a law school dean or the president of the ABA.

One month after Manning’s debate proposal, Life Magazine published a front-page story in which they questioned the Warren Commission verdict with photographic evidence from the Zapruder film (which they owned). They also interviewed Texas Governor John Connally who disagreed that he and Kennedy had been hit by the same shot. That idea, the Single Bullet Theory, was the fulcrum of the Warren Report. Without it, the Commission’s verdict was rendered spurious. The story ended with a call to reopen the case. In fact, Life had actually put together a small journalistic team to do their own internal investigation.

Les Midgley, CBS producer

A few days after this issue appeared, Manning again pressed for a CBS special. This time he suggested the title, “The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald”. Here, a panel of law school deans would review the evidence against Oswald in a mock trial setting. Including evidence that the Warren Commission had not included.

At this time, Manning was joined by producer Les Midgley. Midgley had produced the two-hour 1964 CBS special. His suggestion differed from Manning’s. He wanted to title the show “The Warren Report on Trial”. Midgley suggested a three night, three-hour series. One night would be given over to the commission defenders, one night would include all the witnesses the commission overlooked or discounted. The last night would include a verdict conducted by legal experts. On December 1, 1966, Salant wrote a memo to John Schneider, president of CBS Broadcast Group. He told him that he might refer the proposal to the CNEC. That acronym stood for CBS News Executive Committee. According to information Roger gained through discovering secret memos, plus through secondary sources, CNEC was a secretive group that was created in the wake of Edward R. Murrow’s departure from CBS.

Edward R. Murrow

Murrow was a true investigative reporter who became famous through his reports on Senator Joe McCarthy and the treatment of migrant farm workers. The upper management at CBS did not like the controversy that these reports attracted from certain segments of the American power structure. After all, they were part of that structure. Salant went to Exeter Academy, Harvard, and then Harvard Law School. He had been handpicked from the network’s Manhattan legal firm by CBS President Frank Stanton to join his management team. From 1961-67, Stanton was chairman of Rand Corporation, a CIA associated think tank. During World War 2, Stanton worked in the Office of War Information, the psychological warfare branch. President Eisenhower had appointed Stanton to a small committee to organize how the USA would survive in case of nuclear attack. The other two members of CNEC were Sig Mickelson and founder Bill Paley. Mickelson had preceded Salant as president of CBS News. He then became director of Time-Life Broadcasting. Mickelson said nothing when founder Bill Paley—who had also served in the psywar branch of the Office of War Information, in World War 2—met with CIA Director Allen Dulles and agreed to have CBS overseas correspondents informally debriefed by the Agency.

Frank Stanton, former CBS president and chairman of the Rand Corporation from 1961-67

When Salant had reached his crossroads with CNEC, the writing was on the wall for any fair minded, objective treatment of the JFK case at CBS. For as Roger wrote, “The establishment of CNEC effectively curtailed the news division’s independence.” Further, Salant had no journalistic experience and was in almost daily communication with Stanton. As Roger further wrote, Salant “frequently exercised editorial supervision over CBS news broadcasts.” And further, his memoirs did not mention the supervision of CNEC. Or the Warren Commission documentaries made under his watch. These hidden facts “belied Salant’s frequent public assertions of CBS News’ independence from corporate influence.”

Sig Mickelson, former president of CBS News and director of Time-Life Broadcasting

The day after Salant informed the CNEC about the proposal, he told Manning that he was wavering on the mock trial concept. Salant’s next move was even more ominous. He sent both Manning and Midgley to California to talk to two lawyers about the project. One of the attorneys was Edwin Huddleson, a partner in the San Francisco firm of Cooley, Godward, Castro and Huddleson. Huddleson attended Harvard Law with Salant. Like Stanton he was on the board of Rand Corporation. The other lawyer the men saw was Bayless Manning, Dean of Stanford Law School. Both men told the CBS representatives that they were against the network undertaking the project on the grounds of “the national interest” and because of “political implications”. Gordon Manning reported that both attorneys advised them to ignore the critics of the Warren Commission, or to even appoint a panel to critique their books. Huddleson even recommended having scientist Luis Alvarez as a consultant to counter the critics. Which CBS actually did.

On his return to CBS headquarters, Gordon Manning realized what was happening. He suggested a new title for the series, “In Defense of the Warren Report”. He now wrote that CBS should dismiss “the inane, irresponsible, and hare-brained challenges of Mark Lane and others of that stripe.” Gordon Manning’s defection left Midgley out on a limb. Salant, with the help of the White House, was about to cut it off.  (Bayless Manning had played a significant role in reversing the aim of the program.  It is perhaps of interest here to note that in 1971, David Rockefeller made Bayless Manning first president of the Council on Foreign Relations.)

Unaware of what Salant was up to, on December 14, 1966, Midgley circulated a memo about how he planned on approaching the Warren Report project. He proposed running experiments that were more scientific than “the ridiculous ones run by the FBI.” He still wanted a mock trial to show how the operation of the Commission was “almost incredibly inadequate.”

William S. Paley, creator of CBS television, and founder of CNEC

In response, Salant now circulated an anonymous, undated, paragraph-by-paragraph rebuttal to Midgley’s attack. The secret author of that memo was none other than Warren Commissioner John McCloy—then Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Ellen McCloy, his daughter, was Salant’s administrative assistant. In this memo, McCloy wrote that “the chief evidence that Oswald acted alone and shot alone is not to be found in the ballistics and pathology of the assassination, but in the fact of his loner life.” [emphasis added] As most Warren Commission critics had written, it was this approach—discounting or ignoring the medical and ballistics evidence, but concentrating on Oswald’s alleged social life—that was the fatal flaw of the Warren Report. From this point on, Ellen McCloy would be on the distribution list for almost all memos related to the Kennedy assassination project. She would now serve as the secret back channel between CBS and her father in regards to the production and substance of the project.

John J. McCloy. His daughter, Ellen, who was Salant's administrative assistant, admitted to acting as his clandestine liason with CBS during the production of the 1967 Warren Report special.

Clearly, the tide had turned and Salant was now in McCloy’s corner. For Salant then asks producer Midgley, “Is the question whether Oswald was a CIA or FBI informant really so substantial that we have to deal with it?” Midgley, still alone out on the limb, replies, “Yes, we must treat it.”

This clandestine relationship between Salant and McCloy was known to very few people in 1967. In fact, as Feinman later deduced, it was likely known only to the very small circle in the memo distribution chain. That Salant deliberately wished to keep it hidden is indicated by the fact that he allowed McCloy to write these early memos anonymously. For as Feinman also concluded, McCloy’s influence on the program was almost certainly a violation of the network’s own guidelines. Which is probably another reason Salant kept it hidden. In fact, as we will see, Salant was actually in denial about the relationship.

After Feinman was terminated he briefly thought of publicizing the whole affair (which he eventually decided against doing). So he wrote McCloy in March of 1977 about the CFR chair’s clandestine role in the four night special. McCloy declined to be interviewed on the subject. He also added that he did not recall any contribution he made to the special.

But Feinman persisted. About three weeks later, on April 4, 1977, he wrote McCloy again. This time he revealed that he had written evidence that McCloy had participated extensively in the production of the four night series. Very quickly, McCloy now got in contact with Salant. McCloy wrote that he did not recall any such back channel relationship. Salant then contacted Midgley. He told the producer to check his files to see if there was any evidence that would reveal the CBS secret collaboration with McCloy. Salant wrote back to McCloy saying that at no time did Ellen McCloy ever act as a conduit between CBS News and McCloy.

This, of course, was false. And in 1992, in an article for The Village Voice, both Ellen McCloy and Salant were confronted with memos that revealed Salant was lying in 1977. McCloy’s daughter admitted to the clandestine courier relationship. Salant finally admitted it also, but he tried to say there was nothing unusual about it. Which leaves the obvious question: If that were the case then why was it kept secret from almost everyone? Including the public. (See further "JFK: How the Media Assassinated the Real Story")

Betty Furness doing a Westinghouse ad

As alluded to previously, there was still work to be done with the last holdout, producer Les Midgley. While the four-night special was in production, Midgley became engaged to one Betty Furness. Furness was a former actress turned television commercial spokesperson. At this time, President Lyndon Johnson now appointed her his special assistant for consumer affairs. Even though her only experience in the field had been selling Westinghouse appliances for eleven years on television. She was sworn in on April 27, 1967, about two months before the CBS production first aired. Two weeks after it was broadcast, Midgley and Furness were married. We should note here, as Kai Bird’s biography of McCloy, The Chairman, makes clear, Johnson and McCloy were both friends and colleagues.

But there is another point to be made about how Midgley was convinced to go along with McCloy’s view of the Warren Commission. Around the same time he was married to Furness, he received a significant promotion. He was now made the executive editor of the network’s flagship news program, “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite”. This made him, in essence, the number one news editor at CBS. Such a decision could not have been made without consultation between Salant, Cronkite and Stanton. And very likely the CNEC.

We have now seen—in unprecedented detail—how the executive level of CBS completely altered a proposal to present a fair and balanced program about the murder of President Kennedy to the public, and at a very sensitive time in history. Consulting with their lawyers, they decided such a program would not be in “the national interest” and would have “political implications”. We have also seen how the president of CBS News secretly brought in a consultant, John McCloy, whose participation was a violation of the standards and practices of the network. We have seen how both McCloy and Salant then lied about this secret back channel, which was never revealed to the public. We have also seen how Gordon Manning and Les Midgley, through a combination of the carrot and stick treatment, were made to go along with the Salant/McCloy, CNEC agenda.

We should now look at the impact this secret relationship would have on what CBS was going to broadcast to an unsuspecting public. For their widely trumpeted “examination” of the Warren Report was anything but.


Go to Part 2

Last modified on Thursday, 14 May 2020 22:12
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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