Friday, 23 August 2013 20:21

Elegy for Roger Feinman

One definition of the heroic is someone who sacrifices his own personal well being for a cause outside himself. Knowing full well that the odds against him triumphing are very high. Roger took that heroic gamble. Not once, but twice. He lost both times. Few of us, maybe no one, could display that kind of courage for a cause, writes Jim DiEugenio.


feinman
Roger Feinman

Roger Feinman Esq. passed away in New York City in mid-October of a heart condition. I did not meet Roger until 1993 at an ASK Symposium in Dallas. I was standing outside the main hall with John Newman when Roger approached us both and congratulated us on our recent books, Destiny Betrayed and JFK and Vietnam. He congratulated John without qualification and me with some qualification. When I got to know Jerry Policoff a bit better, I found out why mine was qualified.

Both men had studied at the foot of the illustrious Sylvia Meagher. And as most people know, Sylvia had little time or affection for Jim Garrison. Since my book centered on Garrison, Roger had reservations about it. (Although I also learned from Jerry that Sylvia’s attitude toward Garrison changed slightly later in life.) Since Roger, like Sylvia, lived in New York, he was even closer to her than Policoff was. Having Sylvia as a mentor had its (plentiful) attributes and its drawbacks. On one hand, Sylvia had a strong devotion to core texts in the field. Consequently, one had to study the Warren Commission and House Select Committee volumes, and the supporting documents, at length and in depth. And very few people anywhere knew those volumes as well as she did. As is proven by the fact that she indexed them both. She was also a stickler for pure academic form. That is, one had to follow standard footnote and sourcing guidelines. And these should be attached to only credible sources. Finally, one should be analytical in one’s approach to the evidence in the case. For the authorities had decided much too early that Lee Harvey Oswald, and he alone, was guilty. Therefore, they had deprived the man of any kind of proper defense. One of the functions of the critical community was to balance the scales of justice in that regard.

One of Sylvia’s drawbacks was that she rarely wanted to go beyond the core volumes. That is, she confined her approach to weighing the evidence in them and deciding the Warren Commission had not solved the crime--but actually helped cover it up. Hence the title of her excellent book Accessories After the Fact. She did not actually get out in the field and find other sources. Also, she tended to accept certain things in the Warren Report that to her, and to other first generation critics, just seemed too outlandish to question. For instance, Oswald’s possession of both the rifle and handgun as depicted in the famous backyard photographs. Consequently, when Jim Garrison began to go beyond the Warren Commission volumes in his inquiry—and to be tripped up by hidden forces both within and outside the mainstream press—she parted ways with him. She actually became one of his harsher critics. Hence Roger’s reservations about my first book. (I should note here, Sylvia was not alone in this attitude toward Garrison. Other first generation critics, like Paul Hoch and Josiah Thompson, felt the same way toward the DA.)

As Roger began to make his own way in the field, he began to concentrate on two areas. His first area of interest was the media. He later developed a strong interest in the medical evidence. Concerning the first, Roger probably developed an interest in the media because he worked for CBS News. He was lucky enough to have secured a job there at a relatively young age as a news writer. And he had a promising future in a (then) thriving corporation. His idols there were the illustrious Edward R. Murrow, and the less famous Joe Wershba, who, ironically, died just a few months before Roger did. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/16/national/main20063216.shtml)

Wershba had assisted Murrow on his famous See it Now series, including the two segments that attacked Senator Joseph McCarthy, and helped end his demagogic and pernicious career. But Roger also noted what CBS had done to Murrow after that famous interlude. They essentially had bought him off and placed him in a gilded cage by giving him a lot of money to do innocuous celebrity interviews with people like Liberace. As Roger had deduced, William Paley and the top brass at CBS decided that no journalist, especially a crusader like Murrow, should ever have that kind of power again.

Which makes what he did later at CBS even more admirable. Roger thoroughly understood that his company was up to its neck in the cover up of President Kennedy’s assassination. In fact, one could cogently argue that, from 1963-75, no other broadcast outlet did more to prop up the Warren Commission farce than did CBS. They prepared three news specials in that time period to support the Commission. These all came at crucial times in that time period. The first one was in 1964 to accompany the release of the Warren Report. The second was in 1967 to calm a public that was becoming anxious about what Jim Garrison was doing in New Orleans. The third was in 1975 at the time of the Church Committee exposure of the crimes of the CIA and FBI, and the Schweiker-Hart subcommittee report on the failure of those two agencies to properly relay information to the Commission.

Instead of being quiet, playing along, and watching his bank account grow and his life prosper, Roger did something that very few of us would do. He began to write internal memoranda exposing how the practices used in the assembling of the multi–part 1967 series clearly violated the written journalistic standards of the network. As an employee, Roger had access to both the people involved in the making of that series, and through them, the documents used in its preparation. To say that these sources cinched his case is an understatement. They showed how the show’s producer, Les Midgley, had succumbed to pressure from above in his original conception of the show.

His first idea was to show the viewer some of the points of controversy that the critics had developed. Then open up the program to a scholarly debate between some of the more prominent critics and the actual staffers on the Warren Commission. Wouldn’t it have been lovely to see Arlen Specter defend the "Single Bullet Theory" against Mark Lane? Or to listen to David Belin explain to Sylvia Meagher how the original rifle reportedly found, the Mauser, became a Mannlicher Carcano? Or to have Wesley Liebeler explain to Richard Popkin how all those reported sightings of a Second Oswald were either mistaken or didn’t matter? Even the one at Sylvia Odio’s apartment in Dallas. And to hear all this knowing that tens of millions were watching? What a great exercise in democracy: to have a thorough airing in public about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of President Kennedy. Especially while his successor, Lyndon Johnson, was escalating the Vietnam War to absurd and frightening heights.

It was not to be. There was virtually no debate at all on this series. It was essentially a multi-part and one-sided endorsement of the Commission; the main talking heads being Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. In his memoranda, Roger showed, with specific examples arranged in time sequence, how Midgley’s original conception was completely altered. Further, he named names all the way up the ladder. This included Dick Salant, president of CBS News. He then showed just how badly CBS had compromised itself to the Warren Commission forces. Midgley actually had Commissioner John McCloy act as a consultant to the program. Except this was done outside of normal channels, through his daughter, who worked at CBS and who functioned as a go-between between Midgley and McCloy. To conceal how badly CBS had compromised its own journalistic standards, Midgley then kept McCloy’s name off the program. In other words, the public never knew that CBS had consulted with a Warren Commissioner on a show that was actually supposed to judge the quality of work the Commission did. Of course, this would have been admitting to a national audience that the program was an extension of the Commission itself. And therefore was a cover up of a cover up.

Midgley’s career was not at all hurt by his caving into pressure. In fact, it prospered. (http://articles.latimes.com/2002/jun/29/local/me-midgley29) He spent 34 years at CBS, retiring in 1980 after winning several awards. On the other hand, Roger’s was hurt. Fatally. He was first warned to stop composing and forwarding his critical memoranda about the Kennedy coverage. Unlike Midgley, Roger would not compromise. So CBS now began termination procedures against him. The procedures turned out to be successful. Roger lost his job, career, and future at CBS over his desire for them to tell the truth about the Kennedy assassination. To me, this episode is an object lesson which illustrates the fact that journalism is compromised by its managers being too close to centers of power. So much so that the Power Elite—in the person of John McCloy-- then actually dictates what the truth about an epochal event is. Roger resisted the hypocrisy. He was shown the door.

Roger then decided to go to law school. He graduated from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. He was a practicing lawyer for a number of years until, again, his career got caught up in the Kennedy case. The Power Elite deeply resented the impact that Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK had on the public. It created exactly what Midgley had been directed not to do: a public debate about Kennedy’s assassination. And the debate was everywhere, and it went on for months on end.

Finally, Random House and Bob Loomis had had enough. Loomis, a Random House executive, now played the role of Dick Salant. He decided to orchestrate a quelling of the debate. He did this by hiring Gerald Posner to write a cover up book on the Kennedy case. Entitled Case Closed, the book was ridiculous on its face. Because Congress had not yet released 2 million pages on the Kennedy assassination. These were going to be declassified as a result of passage of the JFK Act, which was a direct result of the Stone film. So how could Posner close the case without this important information? Further, if Posner had closed the case, why was this information still being withheld?

Loomis, and his friends in Washington and New York, helped arrange an extravaganza of a book tour for Posner the likes of which had rarely, if ever, been seen. He was featured on ABC in primetime, his book was excerpted with a cover story in US News and World Report. This was meant, of course, to distract attention from what was going to be released in those files. In order to cut off another debate. How intent was Random House to crush the critics and drown out their message? Loomis and Harold Evans, then president of Random House, decided to take out a large ad in the New York Times. It was in two parts and it was meant to deride the critics and exalt Posner and his book. The first part took the pictures of some prominent critics, like Bob Groden and Jim Garrison, and excerpted quotes from them out of context. At the top of the ad in large letters were the words: "Guilty of Misleading the American Public". For Roger, this was one more example of corporate arrogance and the irresponsible use of power in the face of a complex and crucial event like the Kennedy case.

So when Groden came to Roger and said he felt like his name and work had been smeared by the ad, Roger agreed to take on his case. If he had known what was in store for him, and the relationship between the judge in the case and Random House’s lawyer, he may not have done so. Because the judge clearly favored Random House, since he had been a clerk for Earl Warren. On just that basis, he should have recused himself. But he did not. When Roger protested the perceived bias, and the resultant favoritism that he felt short circuited the process and robbed his client of his day in court, he lost another career. He was disbarred.

Roger spent the last quarter of his life in his small New York apartment working off and on as a computer programmer. He never lost his interest in the case, which had actually brought him much personal sorrow and grief. And he never lost his interest in the medical evidence. He supported the work of Dr. Randy Robertson, which he felt proved a conspiracy in the JFK case. And he criticized the work of David Lifton with a very long essay—Between the Signal and the Noise-- criticizing his book Best Evidence. I had the privilege of communicating with Roger in those years via an e-mail chain set up between Milicent Cranor, Gary Schoener, Jerry Policoff, and myself. Roger never lost his spirit about what had happened to the USA as a result of the assassinations of the sixties, and he was a keen student of how the political system had evolved and declined since then. I got to see him at several conferences. It was always a pleasure to talk to him about CBS and what he had learned there through the documents he had spirited out when he left.

One definition of the heroic is someone who sacrifices his own personal well being for a cause outside himself. Knowing full well that the odds against him triumphing are very high. Roger took that heroic gamble. Not once, but twice. He lost both times. Few of us, maybe no one, could display that kind of courage for a cause.

For that, he should be saluted on his passing.


(The following are links to some of Roger’s work)

Between the Signal and the Noise (http://karws.gso.uri.edu/jfk/the_critics/Feinman/Feinmanbio.html)

When Sonia Sotomayor’s Honesty, Independence and Integrity were Tested”. This article describes how Roger was disbarred over the Groden vs Random House case

“CBS News and the Lone Assassin Story”, this is the script for Roger’s excellent visual essay on how Les Midgley’s CBS series covered up for the Warren Commission in 1967. Use this link.

See now also "How CBS Aided the JFK Cover-up" by Jim DiEugenio.

 

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