Tuesday, 14 July 2020 04:21

Matt Stevenson, Counterpunch, and Double Cross

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After engaging with Matt Stevenson of CounterPunch in the past by countering his Vietnam myths, Jim DiEugenio now confronts a recent article of his referencing Mafia involvement in the election of 1960 and uses the opportunity to expose the lies from the underlying source, Double Cross.

If the reader recalls, the last time we visited Matt Stevenson it was to comment on his so called “Letter from Vietnam”, a semi-regular installment in his ‘zine CounterPunch. In 2018, I replied to his fact-fudged and data-barren “letter” in these pages. (Click here for the article)

Well, Matt is at it again. But this time, mercifully, it’s not a sustained machine gun attack on the record. This time it’s a brief drive-by sniping. On June 17, 2020, Stevenson wrote in CounterPunch that in contemplating the upcoming choice of Donald Trump vs Joe Biden, this drove him to question whether we should just replace the whole institution of the presidency. In getting to the point of his essay, he traces how he came to this conclusion. This is how he begins, “For some time now, but maybe since the Kennedy administration (which ended in a hail of voter-suppressed gunfire) …”

This seems to me to be referring to the mythological rigging of the election of 1960 in Illinois. It seems to refer to that whole sorry thesis from the 1992 fiction written by Chuck and Sam Giancana, Double Cross. If one recalls it, somehow the Mob had gotten votes for Kennedy, they then felt screwed over by the policies of Bobby Kennedy, so they decided to revenge themselves “in a hail of voter-suppressed gunfire,” although Matt himself seems confused about what he is talking about. Later in the piece, he goes back to this point by saying that Mayor Daley had dead men voting in Cook County. Matt, do you want us to think Mayor Daley arranged the shooting in Dallas? But this is a sample of the kind of thinking one gets on the left about both President Kennedy and his assassination.

I don’t think that even Matt Stevenson thinks that Daley was involved. The only way this makes a modicum of sense at all is with the Giancanas’ meme, except Matt misses a major point in the argument, one that defeats the thesis. Even if Richard Nixon had won in Illinois, the vice-president still would have lost the election. As Matt knows, the Electoral College rules in presidential elections. When one does the arithmetic, even without Illinois, Kennedy cleared the 270-elector bar one needs to win. So, his particular argument is flapdoodle at its base.

But I should address the Chuck/Sam Giancana meme, since it’s a popular one on the left. I have only addressed it as part of another review before. But since, in addition to Stevenson’s rather confused instance, I have heard it expressed by the late Gore Vidal and also the late Christopher Hitchens, I will make Double Cross the main point of this essay. It appears that, somehow, one cannot carry any status on the doctrinaire left unless one takes shots at the Kennedys. Even if they are false, they make you look chic: which is kind of puzzling.

As most of us understand, what the left is supposed to stand for is rigor of academic analysis and a consequent moral and intellectual honesty, as opposed to the kind of analysis that proliferates on the right, which usually ignores this kind of vigorous digging into the record, preferring to come to a conclusion first. A good example of this was the infamous Trish Regan screed that somehow COVID-19 was part of a Democratic hoax to derail President Trump.

This is the problem that someone like myself has with the mindless voicing of the Stevenson claims without any analysis. And I must also note the inconsistency involved. Stevenson referred to all the evidence adduced for the Vietnam withdrawal as, in his terms, often heard speculation. When, in fact, as James Galbraith shows us above, much of this is in black and white declassified documents. One of them was the declassified record of the May 1963 Sec/Def conference in Hawaii, with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara requesting withdrawal schedules from each agency convened there from Vietnam, e.g. CIA, Pentagon, State Department. To use just that example: this is not speculation. It is one fact in a chain of facts.

What is speculation—I would call it a fairy tale—is the Vidal/Hitchens endorsed novel, Double Cross. If one recalls, in the wake of the sensation caused by the release of Oliver Stone’s film JFK, scores of books were either released or republished in order to capitalize on that publicity wave. Many of these were utterly worthless, but that did not matter to the MSM. Since Chuck Giancana had a famous last name, he got exposure. Chuck was the half-brother of “Momo” Giancana, the Chicago don. Sam was his half-nephew and they co-authored the book. Therefore, these two collaborators were taken at their word, without any due diligence done by the media or any consultation with experts in the field who could give them such analysis.

I read Double Cross twice. Once when it came out and more recently in preparing a book review for this site. I had little regard for it when I first read it; I have less for it now. In fact, today, not only do I think it is mythological, I think it is scatological. It has the historical value of a Harold Robbins novel.

The underlying idea for the Giancanas’ tall tale is this: Joseph P. Kennedy was in the bootlegging business with the Mob. There is a serious problem with stating this as a ground level thesis, from which all else arises. Because he was appointed to six government agencies, Joe Kennedy underwent six investigations into his background under three presidents, both Republican and Democratic. Each one of these appointments occurred after Prohibition was both enacted and repealed. Therefore, if the Double Cross concept were true, there should have been plentiful evidence uncovered about Joe’s ties to organized crime and bootlegging. Yet, as both Daniel Okrent and David Nasaw have written, there was nothing uncovered. Joe Kennedy’s first three appointments occurred right after Prohibition had been repealed. Therefore, if what the Giancanas were selling was kosher, there should have been a lot of people just waiting to rat out Kennedy. Where were they? Okrent, for example, looked at literally hundreds of pages of documents and found nothing. (Okrent, Last Call, p. 369)

But in addition to that, there were many journalists operating in the forties and fifties who did not like Joe Kennedy. None of them, like Drew Pearson, wrote anything about this and, recall, both John and Robert Kennedy were establishing high profile names in the fifties.

So when did this story about Joe Kennedy first appear? In October of 1960 in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. (Ibid) For anyone in the know, what happened is pretty obvious. Realizing he was in an unexpectedly close race, one of Nixon’s hatchet men got this story into the press late in the race to hurt Kennedy. As Okrent traces the mythology, it was from this point that mobsters publishing books now began to finally remember, oh yeah, oh yeah, we dealt with Joe Kennedy in his bootlegging, e.g. Joe Bonanno and Frank Costello. As anyone can understand, these unfounded accusations are clearly a way for these men to get back at the Kennedy administration, especially at Bobby Kennedy’s ruthless and almost obsessional attack on the Mafia. For by 1963, there was evidence that the American Mob was on the ropes due to RFK’s full court press. (HSCA Vol, 5, p. 455)

Joe Kennedy did get into the liquor business, but it was only after Prohibition was repealed. Therefore, his business was not bootlegging at all. It was legal. (Okrent, p. 367)

But here is my question to all of this, especially the MSM which reported it as true back in 1992:  why would Joe Kennedy ever think of doing such a thing? David Nasaw did the most extensive survey of how Joe Kennedy attained his wealth. It goes beyond any previous biography of the man, including Richard Whelan’s The Founding Father. Joe Kennedy got into the world of high finance after graduating from Harvard with a degree in economics. His first job was a bank examiner. Now familiar with their internal workings, he borrowed the money to buy a controlling interest in Columbia Bank Trust. He quickly became the president of the bank at age 25. He then got into real estate. In 1919, he joined Hayden/Stone, the largest stock brokerage house in New England. Recall, 1919 is when Prohibition was passed. Does anyone think that Hayden/Stone would have allowed its members to moonlight in bootlegging? Does anyone think it would have been a wise thing for Joe to do so?

As Nasaw writes, in reality, Joe Kennedy was investing in the stock market and distressed properties at this time. He then decided to get into the movie business. He constructed a distribution and exhibition company and he purchased theaters in the northeast. (Nasaw, The Patriarch, pp. 59-76) Joe Kennedy made so much money on a booming stock market that he reinvested it into the film business. And Nasaw makes a key point: insider trading was legal at that time. (Ibid, p. 78)

How well was Joe Kennedy doing by 1922? He resigned Hayden/Stone and opened his own banking business. He made tons of money in the film business and he moved to New York—and then bought a second place in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive, which is like Fifth Avenue in NYC. Both estates had chauffeurs and servants. Joe Kennedy needed one, since he had purchased a Rolls Royce. (Nasaw, pp. 87-89) But here is the key revelation about how well Joe Kennedy was doing in films. In just one year, Kennedy’s company distributed 51 pictures. (Ibid, p. 107) In the twenties, there were over 20,000 movie theaters in America, as opposed to less than 6,000 today.

If you know anything about the film business, you will understand how important that is. It’s the reason that, when the studios had to divest themselves of one aspect of the business, it was exhibition, not distribution. In the movie business, distribution is where the cash money is. What happens is that the theater owner signs a contract with the distributor to exhibit his film. Most of the time, there is a descending split on the gross. It begins highly in favor of the distributor and then goes down after a few weeks to say 50-50 and then it goes in favor of the theater to 40-60, 30-70, etc. But Kennedy also profited in two other ways from the film business. First, through his insider knowledge, he purchased stocks in other movie companies. Second, he was in demand as an executive:  he eventually ran three companies. As an executive he got a sizeable salary—today in the millions—but more importantly, he was allowed to purchase stock options. This meant he could choose when to sell them or even sell short. (Nasaw, pp. 119-27)

The idea that he would jeopardize all the legal millions he was making to get into criminal bootlegging—and make less—is too ridiculous to even consider—except for perhaps the MSM. Especially when we throw in the fact that one reason he worked so hard at making hundreds of millions is so his offspring could pursue political careers without having to worry about money. It worked out fairly well with John Kennedy. So, with the evidence advanced above, the reader can see that the whole basis of Double Cross is nothing but patent nonsense.

Let us briefly deal with three other tendrils from the book.

Joe Kennedy decided to request help from Momo Giancana for the upcoming election of 1960. At a meeting in Florida in 1959, the mobster tells Senator Kennedy he is working for the CIA. (Giancana, p. 279) Does anyone do fact checking anymore? Because the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro did not begin until August of 1960. (CIA Inspector General Report, p. 3) But the authors of Double Cross simply cannot help themselves. In their insatiable hunger for trash, they now add the lying Judith Exner into the mix. And they say that Exner was actually carrying messages about the plots to Kennedy! (Giancana, p. 283) This is:

  1. Before the plots have even begun
  2. Three years before the Kennedy White House was even alerted to their unauthorized existence.

There have been two exposures of the chronically fabricating Exner. One by Michael O’Brien in The Washington Monthly (December, 1999) and one by this author as part one of the essay, “The Posthumous Assassination of John F Kennedy.”

And now the alleged vote heisting begins. Double Cross and, previously, Exner had both said that the Mob helped Jack Kennedy win the primary in West Virginia. And in all of these tales, that state is deemed crucial to Kennedy winning the nomination, even though there had been ten primaries up until that one and JFK had won seven of them—the only ones he had not won are the ones he had not entered. There was a deal for the Chicago Don to send his agent Skinny D’Amato to West Virginia to help JFK win the state. (Giancana, p. 284) Dan Fleming wrote a good book on the West Virginia primary of 1960. He interviewed over 80 people. He looked high and low for anyone who recalled D’Amato doing anything, anywhere. No one recalled the man, even though Fleming went to some rather unsavory places looking for the information. (Kennedy vs Humphrey, West Virginia, 1960 pp. 170-71)

As Fleming wrote in his exhaustive book on the subject: no subsequent inquiry by the FBI or the state Attorney General ever revealed anything illegal about the race. Nothing was found, even when Barry Goldwater hired a former FBI agent to do the same thing. (Fleming, pp. 107-112) Consequently, this is why the Nixon campaign did what it did in planting a false story. As a former Humphrey advisor later told Fleming, Bobby Kennedy ran a smart race, “and if we had the money they had, we would have spent it too.” (Fleming, p. 151)

“I help Jack get elected, and in return, he calls off the heat.” (Giancana pp. 279-80) As we have seen, there was no evidence for this in West Virginia. And the same deduction applies to Chicago. Because as author John Binder has shown at length, there is no evidence in the Mob-oriented wards that Giancana delivered any advantage to Kennedy in 1960. From his statistical study, Binder determined that the numbers did not indicate any kind of decisive influence in the allegedly Giancana-controlled wards. Let us make no mistake, according to Double Cross, Momo and his Mob allies did a lot: fraudulent voting (perhaps this was what Stevenson meant about dead men) and goons placed inside polls to intimidate voters, to the point of making naked threats. (Giancana, pp. 289-90) Gus Russo, in his book The Outfit, backs up Giancana, but goes further. He says that from information passed indirectly through a Chicago mobster, Murray Humphreys, the word was supposed to have gotten out nationally to all mob infiltrated unions. (Russo, p 379, 401)

But as Binder writes, Len O’Connor, an expert on Chicago voting, notes that, in at least three Mob-controlled wards, the results for Kennedy in 1960 were below what was to be expected. He concluded the Outfit was wary of Kennedy and especially displeased with Bobby Kennedy. (Binder, p. 5) In fact, O’Connor found evidence to contradict Russo. Charlie Weber, a ward alderman, told him that his pal Humphreys advised Weber to oppose Kennedy’s candidacy. (ibid)

This is important, because, as Binder notes, the Mob controlled the practical machinery in only five of the fifty wards in Chicago. Binder also writes that it is highly implausible that Momo Giancana could have influenced other American Dons to back this idea, especially with Jimmy Hoffa publicly endorsing Richard Nixon. As per Chicago, Binder concluded that the Mob did little or nothing for Kennedy in 1960. (Binder, p. 15) It’s not like they could not have done so if they tried, because, as Binder shows, the Mob really did want to defeat a Republican Cook County state attorney and they achieved that. Since his opponent was a Democrat, whatever impact JFK got was a bleed over from that vote. (Binder, p. 16) As per the claims of Giancana and Russo, after his analysis, Binder wrote that they “appear to have no basis in fact.” (Binder, p. 18) (Click here for that study)

Double Cross also stated that the Outfit owned the contract of Marilyn Monroe. As the esteemed Don McGovern notes in his book on the subject, this is more bunk. On pages 394-427 of his fine volume Murder Orthodoxies, the reader will learn that Giancana had nothing to do with Monroe’s career. The two influential men who did help her were producer Joe Schenck and agent Johnny Hyde. McGovern actually renders the Double Cross version of Outfit influence on Monroe to be utterly ridiculous, because it would have extended all the way back to before her acting career began, when she was married to Jim Dougherty and lived as a housewife in Van Nuys. (See especially, pp. 410-13) McGovern goes on to demonstrate how Double Cross libels Schenck and Monroe about both their personal reputations and professional careers. As McGovern also notes, if the Outfit had anything to do with Monroe’s career they would have had an interest in her eventual production company. (McGovern, p. 414. Monroe was the second woman, after Mary Pickford. to have one.) Certainly, if Double Cross was right about this, they would have at least mentioned that company. The book does not.

If that is not goofy enough for you, how about this. The book claims that Giancana had Monroe killed on orders of the CIA. The Don sent four assassins to her house and they killed her with a rectal suppository. As McGovern notes, Momo Giancana must have had some great chemist working for him, because the type of suppository described in the book was not invented at the time of Marilyn’s death in 1962. (McGovern, pp. 511-14) I won’t even go into the issues of why the CIA would want Monroe killed or why, of all people, they would contract that assignment out to Giancana. I will say, though, that when Double Cross came out in 1992, there were multi-segment specials about it on the programs ET and Hard Copy. They accepted the book at virtually face value. This while people like Oliver Stone, Fletcher Prouty and John Newman were being attacked nearly non-stop. Thus is the culture we inhabit.

Sorrowful Addendum: Martin Scorsese included this Joe Kennedy/Giancana Double Cross rubbish in his film The Irishman. (Click here for a review) That film was made from another piece of legerdemain, Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses. Scorsese later related that Brandt is now working on a book about the JFK case. Mercy on us all.

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 July 2020 23:57
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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