Monday, 21 February 2022 21:56

How the MSM Blew the JFK Case, Part Two

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Persisting in our probe into the complicity and participation of the mainstream media (MSM) in the enduring cover-up of the Kennedy assassination, Jim DiEugenio reviews Joseph McBride’s new book Political Truth: The Media and the Assassination of President Kennedy, whose thesis is that “facts, data, and science have become so dubious or malleable in many minds that merely subjective personal belief has been enshrined as the standard for public behavior and the concept of trust in the ideas of others has been discredited.”

Joseph McBride is an experienced and successful author who has written many, many books. Most of them have been about the cinema. He teaches film at San Francisco State University. He wrote and published a book on the murder of Patrolman J.D. Tippit in 2013, called Into the Nightmare. In this reviewer’s opinion, that book constitutes the best and most expansive inquiry into that much ignored case in the JFK assassination literature. He begins his new book, Political Truth, with a pungent anecdote. While he was writing Into the Nightmare, he had an email exchange with an old friend. She was dismayed at the subject of Joe’s book. She asked, “Are you interested in any contemporary political issues.” He replied with, “This is a contemporary political issue.” (McBride, Political Truth, p. 3)

The book takes its title from a term used by Edward Epstein in describing what he deduced as the real aim of the Warren Commission. This was Epstein’s conclusion when he published his 1966 analysis entitled Inquest. (McBride, pp. 192–193). As Epstein writes:

If the Commission had made it clear that very substantial evidence indicated the presence of a second assassin, it would have opened a Pandora’s box of doubts and suspicions. In establishing its version of the truth, the Warren Commission acted to reassure the nation and protect the national interest.

As McBride notes, it’s fairly clear that—at least in 1966—Epstein knew “full well that the assassination was covered up.” But yet, the young writer was at work trying “to justify the reason for the cover-up.”

McBride spends some time at the start showing that what Epstein understood in 1966 was at least suspected by some people in the MSM in 1963. For instance, reporter Richard Dudman asked how Kennedy could be shot in the front if Oswald was behind him? Tom Wicker also posed that question, but it did not seem to bother Tom as much as it did Dudman. (Ibid, p. 14) The author then goes on to show some of the machinations the Warren Commission performed in order to make their (unconvincing) conclusions stick, for example, Gerald Ford moving Kennedy’s back wound up to his neck. (Ibid, p. 16)

As Jim DeBrosse noted, when the Warren Report first appeared, it was accepted by about 56% of the public. Surprisingly, this included that leftist icon of investigative journalism, I. F . Stone. Stone actually termed it “a first-rate job…” (McBride, p. 20) Even though The Nation had printed at least one story raising questions about the official verdict, when the Warren Report was published, they endorsed it.

Why did this occur, since, in fact, there were several problems with the official story that were expressed as early as 1964? McBride uses a revealing quote by the late TV newsman David Brinkley that gets to the heart of the matter:

It was our responsibility to calm the public—to explain to them the president had been shot, yes: perfectly horrible, yes: but the country lives. And there’s not going to be any crisis. And I think in doing that, we performed a real service in which we can take some pride…I was very proud of all of us. (Ibid, p. 22)

Of course, one can then look at it the other way. As Senator Richard Schweiker later said in the seventies, a great cover up took place at the time and the American people were fed a pile of pablum, for reasons yet unknown. By the time Schweiker said that, things like the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro and the Dwight Eisenhower/Allen Dulles attempts to murder Patrice Lumumba in Congo had been exposed by the Church Committee, which Schweiker served on. And the 56% belief in the Warren Commission had been reversed to a disbelief factor of 81%. (McBride, p. 25) But yet, in 1975, Dan Rather and CBS were still airing broadcasts supporting the Warren Commission.

Just how bad was the media on the JFK case? Jim Lehrer wrote a story about how well the Secret Service was doing its job that appeared before the assassination. That article was on the front page of the Dallas Times Herald on November 22nd. It assured the citizenry of the city that “Secret Service Sure all Secure.” (Ibid, p. 40) The reader should hold in mind that, for sheer absurdity, this should be juxtaposed not just to the complete failure that was to occur that day, but also what had already happened that month in Chicago and Tampa. (See Paul Bleau’s commentary in JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass.) In addition to Lehrer, the MSM reporters in Dallas that day included Wicker, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer, Hugh Aynseworth, and Peter Jennings. Excepting perhaps MacNeil, none of them would ever waiver from the official story.


As both DeBrosse and McBride note, one of the things the Church Committee uncovered was Operation Mockingbird. But even though they knew about it, as did the Pike Committee in the House, both bodies underplayed the extent of the relationship between journalism and the government. It was not until the publication of Carl Bernstein’s watershed article in 1977 that this unseemly cooperative venture was fully exposed to the light of day. (McBride, p. 34) Bernstein noted that there were at least 400 media assets who could be relied upon to print what their tutors in the government wanted them to write. Bernstein added that three of the most cooperative centers in the media were the New York Times, CBS, and Time-Life. Needless to say, these three organizations were quite instrumental in pushing the Warren Report on the public. In fact, on November 24th, James Reston of the Times wrote:

Policy under the new president…will probably remain very much as it was under Kennedy…and there is no urgent need for the new president to take new policy initiatives in the field of foreign affairs. (Ibid, p. 90)

To say that Reston’s forecast was wrong is being much too kind to both him and to others who amplified LBJ’s theme of “Let us continue!” Unlike that mantra, Johnson was going to make more than one course correction in Kennedy’s foreign policy. DeBrosse focused on the Middle East. McBride is going to center on what Johnson was doing—on that very day —with Indochina. (For the specifics of what happened on 11/24, see John Newman, JFK and Vietnam, 2017 edition, pp. 458–62) As McBride terms it, on that day Kennedy’s withdrawal plan in Vietnam was reversed: “That crucial change in policy was one of the reasons the coup d’état occurred in the United States.” (McBride, p. 91)

The media missed this story with a completeness that, in retrospect, is almost astonishing. On November 24th, The New York Times reported that LBJ was going to maintain Kennedy’s policy of withdrawing advisors and “the new administration meant no change in policy.” Tom Wicker wrote, “President Johnson moved swiftly today to reassure the nation and the world that he had taken charge of a government whose policies would continue essentially unchanged.” (Ibid, pp. 99–100) As McBride notes, this claim of continuity was part of what later became a “credibility gap” for LBJ on the war. And this would grow into an ever widening chasm. Kennedy only had advisors in Indochina and he was withdrawing them at the time of his assassination. About three months after the Warren Commission volumes were released, LBJ sent the first combat troops into Vietnam. By the end of that year, there were 170,000 of them in theater. Under Kennedy, there were none.

But it’s worse than that. President Johnson knew he was going to reverse Kennedy and dramatically escalate the war, at the very least, by March of 1964. This was when he signed NSAM 288, which laid the foundation for doing just that. (Fredrik Logevall, Choosing War, p. 129) McBride writes that the lack of knowledge about this reversal is owed in part to the fact it was done in secret. (McBride, p. 93) This is not entirely true. In April, LBJ invited publisher Kate Graham and the executives of the Washington Post to the White House for dinner. There, he asked for their support in his planned expansion of the war. (Carol Felsenthal, Power, Privilege, and the Post, p. 234) Recall, this is months before the Tonkin Gulf resolution had been passed. In other words, Graham and the upper management of the Washington Post knew that Johnson was lying during the 1964 campaign when he painted Barry Goldwater as a hawk and himself as a dove on the war. (Logevall, p. 242) They went along with the deception and continued their support even in the face of the continuing disastrous results. This information poses an appropriate question: How good a friend, really, was Post executive editor Ben Bradlee to John Kennedy? For in the Gravel Edition of the Pentagon Papers, there is a chapter heading entitled “Phased Withdrawal 1962–64.” (See Volume 2, Chapter 3)

McBride traces the exposure of the disruption in policy to the early work by Peter Dale Scott, which accompanied the Gravel edition of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Scott then wrote an essay for Ramparts in 1973 that was reprinted, with appendixes, in the anthology Government by Gunplay in 1976. (pp. 152–87) But I would like to note an earlier work that is not nearly as well known in the critical community, perhaps because it is by a conservative author who writes for the Washington Times and Texas Monthly. In 1969, Joseph Goulden wrote the following:

By early June 1964, Washington faced political collapse in Saigon, international pressures for a negotiated end to the war, and physical imbalance on the battlefield. From the testimony of his subordinates, it is clear that the President did not wish to escalate the United States role in the war until after the November election, although contingency plans put before him early in 1964 said that massive intervention eventually would be necessary to stem the Viet Cong. (Truth is the First Casualty, p. 20)

Those two sentences sum up what later authors like John Newman have often stated: Johnson was designing his escalation plan around his election. LBJ also had designated a secret inter-agency group inside the White House to plan for a massive intervention in Vietnam. (Goulden, pp. 87–91) State Department official William Sullivan, who disagreed with Kennedy’s withdrawal plan, was one of the most important officials in this planning group. (Newman, p. 412) Scott elucidated and added the Kennedy withdrawal plan and its reversal, something that perhaps Goulden could not politically address. But Goulden did have the LBJ escalation plan part down. All the while, the new president was saying in public he was continuing Kennedy’s policies and he would not send American boys to fight a war Asian boys should be fighting. (McBride, p. 89; Logevall, p. 377)

McBride notes that Sen. Richard Russell was advising Johnson not to intervene. (McBride, pp. 105–07) But Johnson owned a lot of stock in Halliburton and McBride writes that this was a debt he had to pay to the powerful group that had placed him in power. (Ibid, p. 107) But there is another angle to note, LBJ was ideologically of a different stripe than Kennedy and this goes back to the 1954 siege of Dien Bien Phu. As John Prados notes in his book on the subject, Johnson was in favor of Operation Vulture at first—the air armada including atomic weapons—to save the doomed French siege there. His biographers have rewritten history to make it seem he was not (Operation Vulture, Chapter 6, eBook edition) Kennedy made it clear he was against it, wondering what the point of using atomic weapons were in a guerilla war. (Richard Mahoney, JFK: Ordeal in Africa, p. 16) In 1961, Vice President Johnson extended an offer of American combat troops to President Ngo Dinh Diem, even though he knew Kennedy was against such a policy. (Newman, p. 77) Through his trusted military aide Howard Burris, Vice President Johnson was getting accurate measures of how poorly the war was going in Vietnam. (Newman, pp. 223–52) It was these reports that Johnson would use to confront Defense Secretary Robert McNamara with and convince him to change policies. When this aim became clear, in February of 1964, McBride accurately states that McNamara should have resigned. (McBride, p. 105) As historian David Welch has stated, that Johnson could equate the loss of South Vietnam with the loss of China as a geo-political event, which he later did, shows he was a dyed in the wool Cold Warrior. (Virtual JFK, p. 211) President Kennedy did not see it that way. South Vietnam was not worth America going to war over.

This breakage in policy is not just a matter of academic and historical interest. As this reviewer has noted elsewhere, the result eventually took the lives of about six million people—including the Cambodia genocide—in Indochina. The escalations and expansions of Johnson and Nixon also caused a virtual civil war at home. The entire lie was not fully exposed until John Newman wrote JFK and Vietnam in 1992. (Click here for a review) The inability, the near pathological refusal, to accept what has now become a grim historical fact is a massive failure of the journalistic profession and McBride is right in addressing it as such.


McBride next addresses the distinct possibility that people in the press suspected the Warren Commission might have been wrong. For instance, in 1967 Rather expressed his doubts about who Oswald really was and also about the Magic Bullet, but those doubts were not enough for him to alter his conclusions. (McBride, p. 134) In 1966, Life magazine ran an article entitled “A Matter of Reasonable Doubt,” which focused on the testimony of Governor John Connally and his disagreement that the same bullet which hit Kennedy, hit him. Warren Commissioner John McCloy told Epstein that the function of the Commission was to “show the world that America was not a banana republic, where a government can be changed by a conspiracy.” (Ibid, p. 137)

In fact, there were some witnesses that the Commission seems to have purposely avoided deposing, like Kennedy’s personal physician George Burkley. McBride, due to his background in the Tippit case, also notes just how skimpy the Commission’s inquiry was into that murder. Yet Captain Fritz told Jim Leavelle of the Dallas police to concentrate on the Tippit case, because their JFK case was even weaker. (Ibid, p. 145)

One reason this curtailment may have happened is that Allen Dulles brought Dr. Alfred Goldberg on board. (Ibid, p. 155) He was chief historian at the Defense Department. He said that the rest of the staff lacked perspective on the national security dimension. This is likely why the Warren Report has almost no historical perspective in it, for example, how Kennedy had reformed Eisenhower’s policies and how Dulles hid the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro for which he had no presidential approval. (CIA Inspector General Report, pp. 132–33) In fact, Warren Report attorney Wesley Liebeler called the Commission, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Marina Oswald was Snow White and he singled out Warren specifically as Dopey. (McBride, p. 156)

As the author points out, the MSM aggressively pushed the Warren Report on the public. (Ibid, pp. 172–73) After Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, Turner Catledge of the Times said they would not refer to Oswald as the assassin. But they did. (Ibid, p. 167) Jim Hagerty, vice president at ABC at the time, voiced the same concern that Brinkley did: “There was the danger that some people might think this was a subversive conspiracy and part of a plot to…take over the federal government.” (Ibid, p. 168) Ignoring the possibility that, if such was the goal, the MSM was helping the plotters.

The author notes a huge turning point in the media at this time. The JFK murder marked a switch from newspapers to TV as the leading way for the public to collect news. (Ibid, p. 170) Perhaps the key point in this transfer was the live murder of Oswald by Ruby on November 24th, which electrified the country. But even after that, there were some holdouts like Richard Dudman of the St Louis Post Dispatch, New York gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, and Murry Kempton in The New Republic. Kempton wrote that the Kennedy case badly needed an unimpeachable eyewitness, something which the Commission sorely lacked. (Ibid, p. 180) But as far as the methodical and systematic examination of the Commission’s 26 volumes, that function was left to the critical community that arose during 1964. There were questions raised by high profile attorneys like Percy Foreman as to whether Oswald could have gotten a fair trial due to the lopsided media coverage of the case. (Ibid, p. 186) The one publication at that time that actually allowed a platform for wide criticism of the Commission was M. S. Arnoni’s The Minority of One. But as time went on, the critics became objects of derision, even for I. F. Stone, who referred to Joachim Joesten’s books with, “People who believe such things belong in the booby hatch.” (Ibid, p. 201) Thus characterized, it now became easier to avoid the evidence the critics advanced. Polarization set in, as well as a loss of faith in government.

McBride says that this polarization and loss of faith eventually ended up being summarized by the infamous GOP advisor quote to journalist Ron Suskind, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”


The reader should note that what McBride is writing about here is contrary to what MSM historians like Steve Gillon have maintained. (Click here for details) It was the refusal of the MSM to respond to the true facts of the JFK case that eventually led to a state that McBride describes in these terms:

Facts, data, and science have become so dubious or malleable in many minds that merely subjective personal belief has been enshrined as the standard for public behavior, and the concept of trust in the ideas of others had been discredited. In the process, the very question of whether “reality” exists had been blurred and rejected by many people, while being replaced by irrationally based feelings. (McBride, p. 215)

Or as Norman Mailer said to Tom Wicker, “I get the feeling you think a lot of things would be lost if you crossed the line to conspiracy.” (Ibid, p. 292) Mailer was correct, Wicker would have lost his credibility and reputation. This ignoring of facts and data allows men like Donald Trump to label any story he does not like as “fake news,” going as far as to stage an attack on the Capitol when he did not like the results of the 2020 election. And the proliferation of cable has allowed what McBride calls a “silo effect,” by which he means certain networks cater to certain political persuasions. Or quoting novelist Don DeLillo from a 1983 article: “The sense of coherent reality most of us shared” has “become unraveled since that afternoon in Dallas.” The result being that, today, “the simplest facts elude authentication.” (Ibid, p. 221) The author traces this back to Commission lawyer Norman Redlich, as quoted by Epstein: “To say that they [Kennedy and Connally] were hit by separate bullets is synonymous with saying that there were two assassins.” It is that insistence on denying what happened in Dealey Plaza that ultimately led the major networks to sponsor things like Dale Myers and his fruity computer simulation, which they then used to pronounce Arlen Specter’s Rube Goldberg contraption as the “Single Bullet Fact.” It is Myers’ contraption which is Fake News. (Click here for details)

As the author notes, both Wicker and Rather got promotions after Dallas. Rather became CBS White House reporter. Wicker became the Washington bureau chief for the Times. (Ibid, pp. 291, 301) At a period when the Commission was coming under attack by many critics, Rather co-hosted the four-night 1967 CBS special. Clearly, the purpose behind this program was to bolster the faltering Warren Commission. Commissioner John McCloy had an inordinate amount of influence on this production, an influence which CBS President Richard Salant tried to keep secret. (Ibid, pp. 304–05)

Rather did the same in 1975 during the hearings of the Church Committee. (Click here for that special) For example, on that special, he used the inveterate Commission zealot Dr. John Lattimer as his medical specialist.

This almost reflexive reaction was in full bloom when Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK debuted. Jack Valenti of the Motion Picture Association of America compared the film to the Nazi propaganda classic Triumph of the Will. The assaults came from all angles. In fact, the New York Times published 30 articles during the first month the film was shown. (Ibid, p. 334) This act of denial was then repeated at the 50th anniversary, where Dealey Plaza was roped off at all exits, 200 policemen were there to keep order, many on horseback, and one had to submit one’s name through Homeland Security to gain entry. The official speaker was David McCullough, who had never written anything of substance on John Kennedy. This sickening exercise harked back to David Brinkley’s pronouncement on national TV that Kennedy was killed by a “punk with a mail order rifle.” (Ibid, p. 351)

It is this almost schizoid, pseudo certainty by the MSM that has provided many Americans with a window into what the reality of their government really is. Any true analysis of the Warren Report would render it a useless farce, especially today with the releases of the Assassination Records Review Board. As the late Vince Salandria noted:

The assassination revealed, as a giant sun would, shining into the depths of the US power structure, the deep and dark corruption of our entire society. (Ibid, p. 342)

As Joe McBride proves, that corruption was never more malodorous than inside the media, as is proven by Rather’s confession to attorney Bob Tanenbaum one day in Dallas in 1992. CBS was filming another special on the case, in reply to Stone’s hit movie. Rather had brought Commission lawyer Belin and HSCSA Deputy Chief Counsel Tanenbaum to Dealey Plaza. After listening to both speak, Rather was clearly more impressed with the latter, who said that, according to his long prosecutorial experience, Belin and the Commission were simply wrong. After the camera stopped, Rather dropped his microphone and said, “You know, we really blew it on the JFK case.”

As both these books prove, “Yes, you did Dan.”

Last modified on Thursday, 24 February 2022 05:03
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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