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Wednesday, 30 April 2008 19:38

ABC, JFK, and the Road to Philadelphia

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The sorry performance of the media in pre-loading the 2008 presidential debate in Philadelphia comes as no surprise to those who have followed how they have treated topics like the John F. Kennedy presidency in the past, writes Jim DiEugenio.


Perhaps no media event in recent memory has galvanized the collective outrage of the public more than the presidential debate of April 16th in Philadelphia. In a debate that lasted 90 minutes, it took over half that time for moderators Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos to pose a question that dealt with the two major topics of the day: Iraq and the economy. Up to that point, the questions concerned things like the wearing of flag pins, Barack Obama's pastor Mr. Wright, and Obama's acquaintance with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers etc. etc. And when the questions finally did get to things that matter to the public, the moderators managed to state them in such a way that they sounded composed by the Republican National Committee. For example, when Gibson asked a question about fiscal policy, it was that old GOP chestnut about how capital gains tax cuts do so much to favor the economy. Which, as many studies have shown, they do not.

The revulsion to this dog and pony show was immediate and overwhelming. That night, the liberal blogosphere lit up like a Christmas tree. The condemnation was universal and vituperative. The next day it began to spread into the mainstream press. Writers like Tom Shales of the Washington Post described it as "another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News..." Time's Michael Grunwald also chimed in by saying that it was the reaction against this kind of "gotcha politics" that was fueling Obama's campaign. Greg Mitchell at Editor and Publisher, called the performance by ABC "embarrassing" and said that the two moderators and "their network should hang their collective heads in shame." Mitchell later appeared on MSNBC's Countdown and repeated the complaints.

As writers began to dig into just how sorry the performance was, they came up with some interesting disclosures. For example, to make the debate seem more spontaneous and "people driven", Gibson cut away to a taped question by a Pennsylvania voter. But it was later revealed that this very same voter had already explained that she would not vote for Obama. This was in a New York Times story that was a couple of weeks old. Another telling point: the question asked by Stephanopoulos about Ayers had been fed to him by, of all people, rightwing talk-show host Sean Hannity.

These new disclosures about just how pre-loaded the debate was have since fueled more anger toward ABC. In just 72 hours, their web site has received over 20, 000 emails about the sorry spectacle. Some of the e-mailers say they will no longer watch Gibson's nightly news broadcast. One comment stated, "I can't trust that you could ever deliver a fair and balanced news story after the debate." (LA Times, 4/19/08) Another called it "tabloid TV". Another wrote, "This was a sad day for ABC." (Ibid) The Courage Campaign, a liberal activist group, organized a 4/18 protest outside of Disney headquarters in Burbank to pass out flag lapel pins to ABC employees.

Here is what I want to say about it: You are all quite a bit late to the fire! We knew all this many years ago. Back in 1997, David Westin of ABC made the decision to purchase the rights to Seymour Hersh's horrendous book on President Kennedy, The Dark Side of Camelot. They then made an equally bad documentary on the book. On their way to making this bad choice they inadvertently discovered that Hersh, to put it mildly, had an agenda. He was so eager to pile into his book every piece of scurrilous rot about JFK that he fell for the now famous Lex Cusack/Marilyn Monroe cache of forged documents. (Probe covered this at length at the time. And much of it is contained in the book The Assassinations.)

The host for that tabloid show was Peter Jennings. Working on it he met an assistant to Hersh. A guy named Gus Russo. So when the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination arrived, he hired Russo to be his chief consultant on a documentary he was preparing on President Kennedy's assassination. This special -- which is exposed as a fraud elsewhere on this site -- created the kind of screams of outrage in the JFK community that ABC has now created through the public at large. It was so bad that I decided to do some research on ABC. The results are in the section on this site about that godawful special. In a nutshell, this is what I discovered: in the eighties, when ABC News exposed an ongoing black operation of the Central Intelligence Agency, CIA Director Bill Casey sprung into action. He got his friends at the media company, Cap Cities to tender an offer to buy the broadcast company. But not before driving down their stock price by attacking them in the press. Once the takeover was completed, Peter Jennings dutifully went on air and retracted the previous story. ABC and Cap Cities now also began to take over the world of conservative talk radio. They ushered in a man named Rush Limbaugh, and escorted him from Sacramento to New York. Thus began the revolution of rightwing talk radio. And this helps explain how George Stephanopoulous got his talking points for Obama from the likes of Sean Hannity. Since Hannity does his talk radio bit on ABC outlets.

It's interesting of course that the debate seemed so stacked against Obama. A few months earlier, much to the chagrin of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ted and Caroline Kennedy had endorsed the Illinois senator. They chose to do it at American University. Which holds much symbolism for those familiar with President Kennedy's administration. It was the site of his famous 1963 Pax Americana speech. That is the address in which he spelled out his plan for a winding down of the Cold War. Which, as Jim Douglass' new book explains in detail, is what he had been working at behind the scenes for months. The night before that January endorsement, thousands of students slept on the grass to be sure they would get into the auditorium. There were so many press representatives on hand, credentials were being hawked. A few months before this, Obama had revealed that the reason his father came to America from Africa is because of John Kennedy. His father had written many organizations asking for the funds to come to America. He finally wrote to Senator Kennedy since he knew he had a strong interest in African affairs. Kennedy arranged for the funds to be transferred through his family's foundation. So, in one way, what we saw in 1997, 2003 and this past April 16th, was an extension of Casey's influence as it extended down through the years. One might also add to this list, ABC's biased and strongly criticized mini-series The Path to 911. The network has become the home for rightwing hatchet jobs.

The day after the debate debacle, a diarist on Daily Kos unsuspectingly got to the heart of the matter. He talked about a conversation he had with one of the ABC executives while he worked there. They were at a funeral wake and they began arguing about the "patriotism" of William Casey during the Iran/Contra scandal. The executive said that Casey had been a great hero during that whole sorry affair. The employee demurred. In his eyes, great American heroes were people like King, Lincoln, and the Kennedys. The executive walked away in a huff. The poster apparently was not aware that the executive had probably known Casey. And the Casey directed Cap Cities takeover probably put the man in his place. And ABC in its place.

Apparently, a lot of the blogosphere is now awakening to this painful fact. Unfortunately, we in the reality-based assassination community have been living with it for over a decade. At least we won't be alone anymore.

Last modified on Monday, 31 October 2016 01:10
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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