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Saturday, 29 November 2008 10:57

Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked – Update

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Author James DiEugenio updates his review of Larry Hancock's Someone Would Have Talked with further observations about the problem of its questionable source material.


Reader Ron Williams forwarded me an interesting observation about my critique of Someone Would Have Talked. It directly impacts the crucial Alsop/Johnson phone call. But the implicative scope is wider, since it touches on another criticism I made of Hancock, i.e. his reliance on dubious sources. It forced me to revisit the actual record as declassified by the ARRB. Going back to those documents, and Donald Gibson's original work, makes the formation of the Warren Commission even more clear. And what Hancock does even more puzzling.

For instance, Hancock's account completely eliminates the November 24th phone call from Eugene Rostow to Bill Moyers. Yet, to my knowledge, this is the first time anyone approached the White House recommending, in his own words, "A presidential commission be appointed of very distinguished citizens in the very near future." (Probe, Vol. 3 No. 4 p. 27). Rostow actually proposed "a commission of seven or nine people ... to look into the whole affair of the murder of the President." (Ibid) This is, of course, precisely what will be formed to investigate the crime. Further, Rostow tells Moyers that he has already suggested this idea to Nick Katzenbach, but he seemed too groggy to pass it on. Which is why he wants to repeat the proposal to Moyers. Now he can be sure Johnson will hear it. Rostow concludes the Moyers call by saying this commission should end up writing a report on the murder of JFK. In fact, Gibson's splendid essay presents evidence that, after Rostow talked to Katzenbach, the assistant Attorney General relayed the message to J. Edgar Hoover that same day. (Ibid) Hoover then discussed the idea with LBJ aide Walter Jenkins. Jenkins then prepared a memo on the commission concept for the president. The Rostow call to Katzenbach was within about 90 minutes of the death of Oswald. All of this critical information is missing from Hancock's presentation. To the point that I could not even find Rostow's name in his index. Yet Rostow appears to be the first person to propogate the idea of a commission He then aggressively pushed it on the White House.

Clearly, someone had passed the idea to President Johnson by the 25th. And he is unambiguously against it. That day, in a call with Hoover he calls the idea "very bad". (Ibid p. 28) He fears that it will leave the public impression that the White House is controlling the investigation. He tells Hoover that what he himself wants is an FBI report coupled with a Texas court of inquiry. Right after this conversation with Hoover, the pivotal Alsop/Johnson call ensues. Hancock distorts it at the outset by writing "Johnson called Alsop." (Hancock, p. 327) He can write this because he has heavily -- and I mean heavily -- edited the call. At the top of the conversation, Johnson tells Alsop, "I appreciate very much your calling ... " (Italics added) This is in the transcript. I don't see how Hancock could have missed it. But one reason he might have brings up the sourcing problem I mentioned above. If you look at his footnotes for his discussion of this call, he sources--of all people--Max Holland. He uses Holland's book called The Kennedy Assassination Tapes. Why Hancock would entrust such an important call to one of the most rabid defenders of the Warren Commission on the planet escapes me. Clearly Holland's agenda is to detract from the fact that Johnson is being manipulated into creating the Warren Commission by forces -- not just outside the White House -- but outside the government. But if you read the full transcript, that is precisely what happens.

From the beginning of the conversation, Johnson tells Alsop that he favors an FBI investigation coupled with a Texas inquiry. Alsop reveals to Johnson that he has already been in contact with Dean Acheson, the Washington Post, and Bill Moyers! So right here, it seems clear that Alsop's efforts have been coupled with Rostow's previous call to Moyers. But the reader does not know that since Hancock never mentions the Rostow call of the previous day. Alsop's agenda, clear from the start, is to talk Johnson into appointing the same blue ribbon type of panel that Rostow has pushed on Moyers and Katzenbach. And he is trying to impress LBJ with some of the heavy hitters that he implies are behind it. For instance, he mentions Dean Acheson's name four times. He even suggests Acheson for one of the positions on the commission. Johnson continually parries. He tells Alsop that his lawyers have said this White House commission would be improper. A president would be interfering in something that is more properly in the jurisdiction of a local authority. Which, of course, is true. Alsop strikes this down--plus every other argument that Johnson makes. He is clearly intent on changing Johnson's mind. It is obvious by the end of the call that Alsop's browbeating has weakened Johnson from his original position. And within 72 hours, Johnson decides to support the blue ribbon panel. (Probe, Vol. 3 No. 4 p. 30) Which, prior to the call, he opposed.

Another source Hancock uses here is Michael Beschloss. Yet Beschloss also distorted and curtailed the Alsop call, and the creation of the Warren Commission in his book Taking Charge (1997). Amazingly, Beschloss eliminated the Rostow call to Moyers from the book. As Gibson noted, "An eminent historian has a phone call relating to the creation of the most famous and controversial presidential commission in American history and he just leaves it out." (Probe, Vol. 5 No. 5 p. 8) About the Alsop call, Beschloss mischaracterizes it in his prÈcis, as to both its origin and intent. First, he implies that Johnson made the call. Second he comments that the purpose of the call is for LBJ to prod "one of the most powerful columnists of the time to turn Washington Post colleagues against the notion of the commission." (Beschloss p. 32) As Gibson notes, this is not accurate. The purpose of the call was to convince Johnson to form the commission that Rostow had suggested the day before. Beschloss then, among other things, leaves out three of the four references Alsop makes to Acheson. Beschloss, like Holland, wishes to alleviate any notion in the reader that forces outside the government are pushing Johnson into doing something he does not want to do. Which is the impression that is left if the transcript were presented even close to its full form.

One of the glories of the ARRB is that those interested in President Kennedy and his assassination finally got to look at formerly concealed or redacted documents in their entirety. That is, without them being mediated by the likes of compromised academics like Robert Blakey or William Manchester. Yet, that is what Hancock does here. Instead of the transcripts themselves, he gives us compromised versions by Holland and Beschloss. Why he would not use a fuller version of the primary sources, or a reliable author like Gibson, is baffling. But to rely on a monomaniacal and pernicious figure like Max Holland is beyond baffling. It's incomprehensible.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 23:07
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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