In the lead up to the final declassification of the long awaited secret files on President Kennedy’s assassination, there were literally dozens of TV broadcast segments alerting the public to what President Trump had decided to do and what it all meant. Not one of these programs went beyond the surface of the event. And most of them relied on nothing but general information, questionable guests, and past clichés about the case to create their segments. Incredibly, the MSM even trotted out Mr. Plagiarism, Gerald Posner, for some appearances. No one noted that Posner has not done any work of the JFK case in twenty years. And his discredited book Case Closed was written and published before the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) in 1994. Therefore, not only was Posner not familiar with the current batch of declassified files, he was not aware of what was in the two million pages declassified from 1994-1998. But that did not stop Michael Smerconish from hosting him on his CNN show as an authority.
But probably the worst of the segments happened to be one of the longest ones, timing in at almost ten minutes. This took place on October 25th, the day before the documents were supposed to be released. It was on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.
MSNBC has a reputation, and a niche, in cable television as being a liberal haven. Compared to say Fox, that is true. But many would question just how liberal, and honest, the cable network is. For instance, Melissa Harris-Perry was an acute, well-informed host who really tried to book rarely heard voices onto her program. In fact, her show was the only Sunday talk show that did not utilize a majority of white males as guests. After four years, she was forced out in early 2016. She concluded that, since she was an African-American female, they did not want to hear her comments on election returns that year. Try and find anything online, or anywhere else, that Maddow said or wrote about Perry’s highly publicized dispute with management. My other point would be this: How liberal and honest can MSNBC be if Chris Matthews is the longstanding bellwether of the network? This is the man who actually wrote a book—Kennedy and Nixon—that tried to equate the political career of John Kennedy with that of Richard Nixon. He then wrote a completely inadequate biography of JFK. In all the years I listened to the Bay-area blowhard, I never heard anything but inside-the-beltway pabulum from the man. For this he makes five million a year. Nice work if you can get it.
Maddow has followed the Matthews paradigm on the Kennedy case, and she has also steered away from Perry’s dangerous list of guests. Her show on October 25th is a prime exhibit for what is wrong with cable news. It also demonstrates why the so-called cable revolution—begun by Ted Turner back in 1979—has been such a disappointment. Maddow’s program started off with her spoken intro to the subject of the long delayed release of the JFK assassination files. She began by showing footage of Oswald being held in detention. (To her credit, she did say Oswald was the “alleged” assassin.) She then said that as Oswald was being transferred in the basement of the Dallas jail, he was shot and killed. She added that NBC had a reporter there covering that event. His name was Tom Pettit . She then ran the NBC footage of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald. Pettit said three times that “Oswald has been shot”, and he topped it off with, “There’s no question Oswald has been shot.”
After this memorable footage was shown, Maddow said not one word about it. She just left it with Pettit ’s rather vapid and repetitive, “Oswald has been shot.” No comment on how Jack Ruby entered the building, or how the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that the Warren Commission was dead wrong when they wrote Ruby came down the Main Street ramp. No observations on how the Dallas Police covered up that Ruby had help entering the building, and that even the Warren Commission suspected such was the case. (Reclaiming Parkland, by James DiEugenio, pp. 229-30) Nor did she mention that the night before, Oswald had attempted to make a call to one John Hurt in North Carolina, a former military intelligence officer. But that call was aborted on orders of the Secret Service. Nor did she say that Ruby had called the police the night before and warned dispatcher Billy Grammer not to transport Oswald the next day or “We are going to kill him.” (ibid, p. 224, italics added) Maddow did not even state that this event meant there would be no trial for Oswald, and thus he would not have any defense against the Dallas Police charges. Nor did she say that when the Warren Commission was constructed, they failed to give Oswald any defense at all, while violating almost every protection constitutionally afforded to the accused.
Instead of any of that, which seems pretty important in setting the table for the JFK case, what did Maddow talk about instead? Well, Maddow seems to think Tom Pettit is more important then the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby. She now mentioned his presidential interviews and some of the broadcast awards he had garnered. She chose to do that because she wanted to set up something that was really kind of inexcusable. The Pettit synopsis was used to bridge the time gap from 1963 to the release of Oliver Stone’s film JFK in 1991. She described the film as positing a theory for a broader conspiracy in the Kennedy case. She then added that there had always been theories like that, without describing any of the evidence that Stone’s film advanced. Including how Ruby actually did get into the police basement.
Our hostess then added that Stone’s film caused the enactment of the JFK Act in 1992. But she did not say that the last title card of the film noted that the files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations—which shuttered in 1978—were classified for over fifty years. The exposure of that fact embarrassed some of the people who were involved with that classification, like Committee Chairman Louis Stokes. And this caused hearings to be held on Capitol Hill to declassify the remaining files and let Americans see what was being kept secret. Besides missing much of that, she then added something completely unwarranted. She said the idea behind this law was to “tamp down some of the assassination conspiracy theories”. The idea behind the law was to eliminate the secrecy that enshrouded one of the most pivotal events of the second half of the twentieth century. To let the public in on what, until then, only certain people in the executive intelligence community were allowed to know. And thus let the public make up its own mind about the matter. The irony of her pronouncements here is that they were all done against the background of scenes from Stone’s film.
From here, Maddow then segued to 1993. And we now saw why she built up Tom Pettit . Because she now cuts to Pettit ’s original segment from the first day that the JFK Act declassified any of the long secret files. This was before the Assassination Records Review Board was even constructed. Consequently, if one attempted on that day to see these files, more often than not, what you would get is a RIF notice. Which meant that the file had been tagged by its originating agency—be it the FBI, CIA, or State Department—and it would remain secret until the yet to be appointed Review Board ordered it declassified. And the vast majority of the 2 million pages that were to be declassified had to go through that process.
Why did she choose to show this particular report? Because Pettit ’s segment is pretty much worthless. He shows us documents that he does not even know had already been declassified and are a part of the Warren Commission volumes. And he relates facts that anyone with any familiarity with the case would have already known. For example, that Oswald had defected to the Soviet Union and returned with a Russian wife. Pettit would then smugly and stupidly say, “We already knew that.” Which would be a little like saying that President Kennedy was killed in Dallas in 1963; but we already knew that.
Pettit began his report by saying the documents released that day showed that the CIA was deeply involved in the JFK investigation. This is false on two counts. The two chief investigative arms of the Warren Commission were the FBI and the Secret Service. The CIA was mainly involved with Oswald in Russia and Mexico. (And also trying to get information on foreign authors the Commission wanted to discredit, like Thomas Buchanan and Joachim Joesten.) What is quite puzzling about the Warren Commission is that the CIA produced little about Oswald in either country. In fact, as was demonstrated in the documents released this past July by the National Archives, the Agency, in the immediate days after the assassination, could not find any evidence that Oswald had been in Mexico City. This failure was driving them to distraction. Because they were stuck with audiotapes, allegedly of Oswald’s voice, in the Cuban and Russian consulates in Mexico City. So the question now became: How did the CIA capture his voice, but have no evidence he was there? And the answer to this was that—as the FBI soon discovered—it was not Oswald’s voice on the tapes. So the Agency decided to turn over this evidentiary problem about Oswald being in Mexico City to their friends in the Mexican government, specifically the Interior Department.
Yet, in another document released this past July—which Maddow or her staff could have easily attained—it is shown that the men involved in running that investigation were not at all cooperative with the Warren Commission representatives sent to investigate the crime. In fact, as the rough draft of Commission lawyer David Slawson’s report reveals, he, William Coleman and Howard Willens were given the run around by the officers running the Mexican arm of the investigation. (Slawson Report “Trip to Mexico City” 4/22/64) This is an important point that was smudged in the final draft of Slawson’s report, which was declassified twenty years ago by the ARRB. Again, Maddow’s staff could have easily gotten hold of that report, too. The reports would have shown that the three Warren Commission representatives had all of one meeting with the man running the inquiry in Mexico. That man, Luis Echeverria, would soon become the President of Mexico.
In reading that rough draft, they also would have learned that CIA station chief Winston Scott lied to the Commission attorneys on a key point: Namely, why he could produce no pictures of Oswald in Mexico City. (Slawson report, p. 25) Scott told his visitors that the reasons there were no photos were that the CIA was limited to daylight hours, there was not enough manpower, lack of funds, and no artificial light. This was nonsense. To take just one example: the Soviet consulate was covered by (at least) two cameras. One operated from 2 PM until darkness each day except Sunday (when the consulate was not open). The other operated from dawn to 2 PM, except Sunday. Since today we know that Oswald was supposed to be at the Soviet consulate on Friday and Saturday before 2 PM, the CIA should have four photos of him. (See John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, p. 356; DiEugenio, p. 292) Scott was blowing smoke at the Commission—which is understandable on his part. What is not understandable is that the three investigators readily accepted it.
But since neither Maddow nor her staff has looked at these July 2017 hidden files, she sticks with Tom Pettit back in 1993. What does Tom tell us? Well, I hate to inform Rachel of this, but Tom misinformed his audience. He told them that in these declassified files it is revealed that Oswald returned home by bus from Mexico City under the name of H. O. Lee. Tom is wrong here on two points. That information was not declassified in 1993. It is in the Commission volumes, labeled as Commission Exhibit 2530 Commission Exhibit 2530. So when Pettit then adds his refrain, “We already knew that.” Well duh? Tom, it’s in the 26 volumes, so why are you showing it to us? But there is something even worse about CE 2530, and Pettit was not going to tell us about it. And Maddow’s staff did not fact check his 24 year old report.
As noted above, the CIA decided to solve its problem about Oswald being/or not being in Mexico City by turning over its inquiry to Echeverria, who was a friend and colleague of Scott. (Jefferson Morley, Our Man In Mexico, pp. 262, 275) The FBI did not join this inquiry until February. A point that surprised even the Commission lawyers in Mexico. (Slawson rough draft, p. 65) When the Bureau did finally arrive, they had problems with what Echeverria had done. For instance, there was no record of Oswald leaving Mexico through the border by bus, but there was a record he left by car. (FBI cable to Mexico City 3/12/64) The Bureau did not want that information to stand because Oswald had no car and probably could not drive, implying Oswald was with someone. After a while, the FBI finally thought they located the buses Oswald used to leave Mexico. But they could not locate his name on a bus manifest. (ibid) Through a confidential informant, they then discovered that his name was supposed to be on a reservation request made out by a travel agency. But when they found the travel agency and the reservation number, the woman said that particular form was blank. Then another confidential source showed up at the travel agency and discovered a carbon of this form with O. H. Lee’s name on it. But when the FBI checked on the exchange of this form for a ticket, the attendant said the man she recalled exchanging it was tall with a great deal of hair. This could not have been Oswald. (John Armstrong, Harvey and Lee, p. 685)
This is what Tom Pettit did not tell us about “what we already knew” because he didn’t know it. And this is the quality of the fact-checking Maddow’s staff did. If you can believe it, based on Pettit ’s fraudulent first day report, Rhodes scholar Maddow labeled the entire ARRB process “a bust”. This about a four year long inquiry that declassified 2 million pages of documents, produced Chief Counsel Jeremy Gunn’s milestone inquiry into the medical evidence, and yielded a largely unredacted version of the finest study of Mexico City, the HSCA’s Lopez Report. That report makes Slawson’s two Mexico City reports look like kindergarten coloring books. But again, the viewer does not know this since Maddow and her staff likely never read the Lopez Report. Which, again, they could have easily secured if they called the National Archives.
Maddow concluded by guesting another alleged authority, author and former New York Times reporter Philip Shenon; even though Shenon had been on MSNBC three days earlier. One thing she could have asked Shenon is: Why in your book A Cruel and Shocking Act, do you say that Earl Warren, in some kind of deal with the Kennedys, refused to have the Commission look at the autopsy X rays and photos? First of all, the Kennedys had no control over the autopsy evidence in 1964; it was the property of the Secret Service. Secondly, during an exchange in the Commission’s executive session hearings, it was revealed to John McCloy that the Commission did have a secured room that housed this evidence. (Gerald McKnight, Breach of Trust, p. 171)
But there is no way she was going to ask Shenon about the problems with his book. She then began to characterize those interested in this subject as being “crazy” about the next day’s release. There was not one comment on why on earth it would be necessary to keep 3100 files and tens of thousands of documents secret 54 years after Kennedy was killed. In other words, it was the critics who were touched, not those who want secrecy ad infinitum. When she asked Shenon just what was going to be released, he escaped into some gas about how much the government knew about Oswald. When in fact, just by looking at the National Archives spreadsheet, one can see that there are documents on the CIA/Cuban exile base JM/WAVE, the alleged CIA assassination program ZR/Rifle, and files on suspects like Bill Harvey, David Phillips, Howard Hunt and James Angleton. Harvey, Phillips and Hunt were all in Dallas in November for no apparent reason.
But Shenon was allowed to spew his usual pap about how the CIA and FBI somehow knew that Oswald was talking about killing the president in advance. As I showed near the end of my review of Shenon’s ersatz book, the evidence he uses for this was all created after the fact by the most dubious sources and in the most dubious places. And it has been decimated by experts like John Newman and Arnaldo Fernandez.
The wrap up to all this was so condescending, it was almost a parody. Maddow asked Shenon something like: how much crazinesss do you expect about this tomorrow? (The second time she used the C-word in regard to those who are interested in the case.) And also, do you expect a lot of tumult tomorrow? To which Shenon said, sight unseen, that a lot of the documents should be difficult to decipher, but it would be like Christmas for the army of conspiracy theorists looking for material to support their concepts. When I used the word parody above, I meant that the back-and-forth was parodic of the two conversants. Because Maddow never asked Shenon about his bizarre theory that somehow Castro controlled Oswald through Silvia Duran in Mexico City at the Cuban consulate and she knew he was ready to strike for Fidel.
But if Maddow and her staff had done their homework, and really wanted to educate and interest their audience, she would have confronted Shenon with a record declassified this past July. It was an FBI document, dated February 1, 1967. The Bureau’s William Brannigan had discovered through the CIA that Shenon’s employer, The New York Times, had now lost faith in the Oswald-did-it confection. They were now engaged in a “special project involving a full-scale exposé of the Warren Report.” The memo said that this Times project would conclude that the Commission’s conclusions were not reliable. That investigative project was never enacted. And one can only guess that when the Agency got that report, they forwarded it to former Warren Commissioner Allen Dulles, who got in contact with Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of the Times, because Dulles was a good friend of the family. Since Maddow is part of that mediaocracy, this would have been too far outside the confines for her to bring up. In fact it would have blown up the whole segment.
Maddow’s show was pretty much symptomatic of the MSM’s attitude toward these releases. It was Leslie Nielson/Frank Drebin time from The Naked Gun. Well if you ignore what happened in Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia just two years after Kennedy was killed, then yep it’s just a board game for kids on Christmas. But personally, I think it’s pretty difficult to ignore the deaths of about 5.5 million people, most of them innocent, defenseless civilians. It’s like asking someone to forget about the Holocaust.
What these shows do is all too easy. In this one Maddow’s staff fished out some archival footage from NBC, did some research on Pettit, got permission to show parts of JFK and called up Shenon. As shown above, it results in nothing but aimless and uninformed banter. Great for the highly paid participants, but a disservice to the causes of public information, history and democracy. On this issue, all of these recent programs, not just Maddow’s, are pretty much indistiguishable from the likes of Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. In the cause of journalistic irresponsibility, on the subject of JFK, left meets right. The hosts and producers simply don’t know anything and really don’t care to learn. Which is bad since, as shown above, it is an epochal subject. But unfortunately, it strikes at the feet of the Power Elite, the one that Shenon and Maddow work for and prosper at.
I don’t really mean to single out Maddow. As I said, I did not see one good program in this ongoing boring and ultimately stultifying circus. But I did want to show that even some of the most promising figures in the media have succumbed to the radioactivity of the JFK case. Maddow attended Stanford and Oxford. She has a Ph. D. in philosophy. But as director Martin Ritt once said of actor Richard Burton, “I don’t care how talented he is. It’s how he uses that talent that concerns me.” Whatever promise Maddow showed in her early days back at WRSI in Northampton Mass. or at Air America, she has now settled into a formulaic, smooth oiled-rail routine at MSNBC. I’d wish her well on that success, but it’s not the success I had imagined for her.