Monday, 21 February 2022 17:56

How the MSM Blew the JFK Case, Part One

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As we continue our analysis of the way the mainstream media (MSM) has reacted to Oliver Stone’s new documentary, Jim DiEugenio provides further background by reviewing Jim DeBrosse’s interesting and, in some ways, unique book See No Evil as a coruscating look at an unsightly problem, namely the refusal of the MSM to address the assassination of President Kennedy in any honest way.

The way the mainstream media (MSM) reacted to the assassination of President Kennedy is one of the largest issues in the field of JFK assassination studies. One of the earliest books on the subject was Mark Lane’s A Citizen’s Dissent published in 1968. The late journalist Jerry Policoff was one of the leading writers on the topic. (Click here for an example of his early work) In 1992, scholar Barbie Zelizer wrote a valuable but rather unfocused book on the issue titled Covering the Body. That same year, Robert Hennelly and Policoff co-authored a long article for the The Village Voice addressing the troublesome topic. (Click here for details) In 2019, Mal Hyman wrote Burying the Lead, a creditable effort in the field, containing much new material. (Click here for our review)

There are two other volumes of recent vintage about this immense subject that should be noted. One was published in 2018 by Dr. Jim DeBrosse, a lifelong journalist from Ohio. His book is called See No Evil. The more recent tome, published this year, is entitled Political Truth: The Media and the Assassination of President Kennedy by Joseph McBride. McBride is the author of over twenty books, mainly on films, but he followed the JFK case for decades and, in 2013, wrote Into the Nightmare, which broke new ground in the murder of policeman J. D. Tippit. Since See No Evil came first, we will deal with the DeBrosse tome before McBride’s.

When Jim DeBrosse was eleven years old, he watched Jack Ruby murder Lee Oswald live on network television. This shocking event prompted his father to say that Oswald’s murder was a sign of someone silencing him in order to cover up the Kennedy assassination. The author never forgot that warning about the case.

Jim assumed a professional life as a newspaper reporter. He ended up spending over thirty years in the field. In 1991, he watched Oliver Stone’s film JFK. The film struck him as being both courageous and thought provoking. (DeBrosse, p. 1, all references to e book version of the book.) In retrospect, he noted something odd: in nearly 30 years, virtually no other working American reporter had yet done what Stone did. That is expose all the problems with the Warren Commission Report. The only exceptions would be Jim Marrs and Earl Golz. (Jerry Policoff did not make his living as a journalist, but as an advertising salesman.) But yet, Stone would cause at least two journalists, David Talbot and Jeff Morley, to make full scale inquiries into the JFK case. And even in the face of all the new evidence declassified by the Assassination Records Review Board, which Stone’s film helped create, the MSM has still not adjusted its paradigm on the case. (DeBrosse, p. 49) For example, Doug Horne’s milestone essay on two Kennedy brain examinations got only a couple of stories in the media. (Ibid, p. 39)

About two decades after Stone debuted his film, DeBrosse retired from the Dayton Daily News in order to attain a doctoral degree in journalism. Taking the advice of a friend, he eventually decided to write his thesis on this topic: how the media reacted, and continues to react, to the JFK case. The result ended up being the book under discussion, See No Evil.

In this critic’s view, there are three main parts to the work. The first is termed by the author a content analysis of things like book reviews, news stories, and broadcasts dealing with the JFK assassination. The second deals with the rather extreme measures that establishment journalists—of both left, middle and right—have gone to shove the JFK case off the table. The third subject the author deals with is Kennedy’s Middle East policy and how it was irrevocably altered by Lyndon Johnson—and others who came after him.

I have never seen the first subject, content analysis, done with the rigor and precision as DeBrosse does it. The author sectioned off the years 1988–2013 and then searched Lexis/Nexis in order to find rubrics like book reviews of the JFK case. One of the things he discovered was that pro-Warren Commission books are five times more likely to be reviewed than anti-Commission books. (DeBrosse, pp. 50–51) And of those reviews, about 65% of the former were positive, while over 90% of the latter were negative. That does not sound like a random pattern, does it? To give one example of why it doesn’t: Jeff Morley was an MSM journalist for over 20 years, writing for publications like The New Republic, The Nation, and The Washington Post. Yet the author could not find an MSM review of his Our Man in Mexico, the only biography about Winston Scott, the CIA station chief in Mexico City in 1963. (Ibid, p. 52)

Under every rubric the author searched for, published news stories, TV broadcasts, TV stories on JFK theories etc., this statistic held strongly. For example, the ratio in news stories was 3–1 in favor of pro Commission stories. (Ibid, p. 53) In TV news broadcasts, it was 2–1. DeBrosse also notes that the major networks were worse than the cable channels.

Addressing the two-week period in 2017, when President Donald Trump tweeted about releasing the last of the classified JFK documents, the author notes who the main televised interview subjects were. Philip Shenon made 23 appearances, Larry Sabato did 17, and Gerald Posner did 16. There was simply no balance, as Jeff Morley did 4 and John Newman did 1. (Ibid, p. 66)

With this kind of media bias, why does most of the public still think Kennedy was killed in a conspiracy? One of the most common techniques used to explain that divergence is the mantra that the reason the public does not buy the Warren Report is because Americans cannot accept the notion that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could end the life of someone as glamourous and powerful as President Kennedy. DeBrosse found this idea cited over 20 times in his studied time frame. (Ibid, p. 69)

The other main concept used to dismiss the critics was proffered by the late Peter Jennings in his 2003 ABC special: “In all these years there hasn’t been a single piece of credible evidence to prove a conspiracy.” (Ibid) Bob Schieffer of CBS did the same, when he declared unilaterally that the evidence is overwhelming that Oswald acted alone. Schieffer was one of the first to introduce Philip Shenon to a large broadcast audience. (Ibid, pp. 64–65). How extreme is this bias? Larry Sabato’s book, The Kennedy Half Century—which upholds the orthodoxy on the case—was attacked by The Washington Post for simply acknowledging the fact that many people do believe there was a conspiracy and explaining some of the reasons for that belief. (Ibid, p. 59) That is how strict the gatekeeping is on the subject. Perhaps the best quote in the book on this innate bias is from the late Tom Wicker of The New York Times. He once said that he declined to accept evidence of a second gunman, but he admitted he had not studied the exhibits and testimony in the Commission volumes. Why had he not done so? “It would have taken too long and I had a deadline.” (Ibid, p. 75) Dan Rather actually changed his location in Dallas in order to double endorse the Warren Report. First, he said he heard no shots even though he was 30 yards from the grassy Knoll. On the 50th anniversary, he now said he actually ran up the Grassy Knoll and did not see anyone there. How he could forget doing something like the first time around is sort of inexplicable. (Ibid, p. 55)

DeBrosse also notes that the books backing the Commission usually have much more established publishers than those attacking it. But even when a medium sized house like Bloomsbury Press published Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets, they found the large market interviews they had lined up disappeared once hosts learned that the book was not just about the Bush family, but about George H. W. Bush’s possible role in the JFK assassination. (Ibid, pp. 58–59)

The author uses an astute observation from the late Jerry Policoff in order to sum up why the cards in the JFK deck are rigged:

When you talk about the Kennedy assassination, you’re talking about America’s basic institutions. And the fact is, the U.S. corporate media sees its role as protecting American institutions, and that’s what this case is all about. (Ibid, p. 76)

The last part of the book deals with a subject that this reviewer has been exploring for several years, that is, Kennedy’s foreign policy in places outside of Vietnam and Cuba. In this instance, DeBrosse brings up the Middle East. It is notable in this regard that the author relates a communication made to him by Noam Chomsky.

There is a significant question about the JFK assassination: was it a high level plot with policy implications? That’s quite important, and very much worth investigating. I’ve written about it extensively, reviewing all of the relevant documentation. The conclusion is clear, unusually clear for a historical event: No. (Ibid, p. 15)

The year of this communication was 2014. Note the implication: Chomsky read all of the 2 million declassified pages of documents declassified by the ARRB. Besides that obvious shortcoming, he ignored the books by other scholars on this very subject. For example, the work by Robert Rakove in Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World (2013), by Philip Muehlenbeck in Betting on the Africans (2014), Bradley Simpson in Economists with Guns (2010), not to mention the previous work of Richard Mahoney in JFK: Ordeal in Africa (1989). They all strongly disagreed with him and they proved that such policy changes did occur.

Concerning the Middle East, what happened there under Kennedy, versus what occurred both before and after, is easily discernible to real historians like Rakove and Muehlenbeck and they address it at length. I have used their work to write about this important topic. (Click here for details) Plain and simple: Kennedy was trying to forge a relationship with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Nasser was the single most important Arab leader, a man who believed in pan-Arabism and also that the oil in the Middle East belonged to all the Arabs. Nasser had been cut off by John Foster Dulles after the Suez Crisis. In fact, Foster Dulles tried to court Saudi Arabia in order to counter Nasser, who he feared as becoming too powerful, as did the Israelis.

But Kennedy saw Nasser as a bridge to modernize and Westernize the Arab countries and pull them away from Islamic fundamentalism and the Muslim Brotherhood. (Click here to understand this point) The Israelis feared the possibility that Nasser could actually forge a Middle East confederation which would literally surround their country. Saudi Arabia feared that Nasser could overthrow their monarchy and nationalize their oil wells.

There were two other complicating factors: the Israeli covert project to build an atomic reactor at Dimona and Kennedy’s insistence on bringing back the United Nations plan to give Palestinians the right of return and repatriation after the Nakba. The Israelis lied to Kennedy about Dimona, saying it was designed for peaceful purposes. It was not. And when Kennedy discovered this, he became the first and only president to threaten to pull funding for Israel unless he got biannual inspections of the reactor. (DeBrosse, p. 141) This standoff likely led to the resignation of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in late June of 1963.

The two issues were unresolved at the time of JFK’s death, but as DeBrosse notes, Kennedy’s policy was clearly reversed by Lyndon Johnson, who obviously favored Israel and did not at all care for Nasser. Thus, the balance in the area that Kennedy had sought was lost. To give one example, from 1949–64, America gave Israel 27.4 million in military aid. From 1964–68 that number quintupled to 134.9 million and it changed to include offensive weaponry. (Ibid, p. 146) I don’t go as far as the author does in his appraisal of this issue. For example, I give little credence to the work of Michael Collins Piper, but DeBrosse at least brings up the important topic of Kennedy’s Middle East policy, which has been all but ignored in the critical community. It should be brought up since Kennedy’s policy there had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It had everything to do with nuclear non-proliferation, the search for rights for the Palestinians, and the attempt to mitigate the movement toward Islamic fundamentalism. In this author’s view—and the view of many others—what has happened in the Middle East since has been pretty much a debacle.

In sum, this is an interesting and, in some ways, a unique book. It’s a coruscating look at an unsightly problem, namely the refusal of the MSM to address the assassination of President Kennedy in any honest way. And to acknowledge what occurred as a result of his murder.

Last modified on Monday, 21 February 2022 19:09
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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