Wednesday, 15 April 1998 22:27

CBS and the RFK Case

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An excerpt from Lisa Pease's analysis of CBS's proposal to interview 'by chance' Sirhan Sirhan.


From the March-April, 1998 issue (Vol. 5 No. 3) of Probe


Late last year, it looked like the RFK case had finally gotten a big break. Two newsman – Philip Shimkin, a CBS producer in New York, and Robert Buechler, of CBS News in San Francisco – had written to Sirhan Sirhan in prison, asking for an interview based on his recent and new claim of innocence at his last parole hearing. Sirhan forwarded CBS's letter to his trusted researcher, to whom he has granted limited power of attorney, Rose Lynn Mangan. Mangan called up CBS and asked them to put in writing their intentions. They responded with little information, writing only that they wanted an interview with Sirhan to discuss developments in his case for a possible segment on Bryant Gumbel's show Public Eye. Mangan told them that prison rules generally do not allow for on-camera interviews of prisoners, but that the two men could come to see Sirhan as visitors, and sent them the requisite forms.

The two went to see Sirhan in the company of Mangan, Sirhan's brother Adel, and Sirhan's current lawyer Larry Teeter. During the conversation, the two CBS men suggested staging a "chance encounter" with Sirhan where they could "happen" upon him in the yard outside, and film him through the fence. A genuine chance encounter with a prisoner in a public area is not prohibited. But Mangan smelled a rat, and asked Teeter to follow up with the Department of Corrections, saying that she would only recommend that Sirhan give an interview if CBS obtained written permission from the Warden. Teeter wrote to the Department of Corrections, informing them of the proposed plan (without mentioning CBS or the people involved by name), and asked the Department for guidance. A Senior Staff Counsel responded, saying that while the media "may interview randomly encountered inmates in general population areas," the Department "vigorously objects to any plans to circumvent the Department's media policy i.e., by prearranging to have a specific inmate present at a particular place and time." In response to the query of what punishment might be enacted in the event of such an accident, the Department responded that "Enforcement of these policies include [sic] disciplinary action against the inmate and statewide exclusion of the media or legal personnel involved." In other words, had Sirhan agreed to go ahead with this plot, he might have been cut off from his lawyer, his brother, his researcher and the very media people he was hoping to reach.

Why would CBS propose such a scheme? Was this approach genuinely based in a serious interest in the case, or was some other motivation at work? Shimkin and Buechler had shown particular interest in some of Mangan's latest research, but when she showed it to them they immediately strove to find fault with it, hardly the kind of objective approach for which the group had been hoping. The CBS men suggested hiring their own expert to examine the findings in Mangan's research. Mangan said that she would want to be present at the examination. This suggestion caused the men to suggest that would be tantamount to having Mangan run the show. As the evidence is extremely complex, Mangan wanted to be present herself to make sure that were there any questions, she would be available to answer and explain, rather than have someone guess and misinterpret what she had presented. When the CBS men flatly refused this offer, Mangan, who for years has felt that nothing would be a greater boon to this case than some serious publicity, balked, and told them "Give me back my papers." The men went into shock, not dreaming she could be serious. They told her that the very papers they had earlier ridiculed were critical to the show's success, and that they would not do a segment if she withdrew the papers at this time. "Give me back my papers," Mangan repeated. She also suggested that CBS hire three experts, not just one. She suggested as an additional two both Cyril Wecht and Henry Lee, forensic experts whom she felt would do their best to deal honestly with the evidence. Using only one expert left the door open for a rigged situation, or suspicions of such. The men refused to assent to any of these suggestions, and drove off visibly perturbed by what had transpired. The Sirhan brothers, Teeter, and Mangan herself were predictably disappointed. Perhaps they would have been less so had they remembered the broadcast CBS did on the Sirhan case back in 1975.

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The rest of this article can be found in The Assassinations, edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 23:15
Lisa Pease

Lisa Pease was co-editor with Jim DiEugenio of Probe Magazine and also edited with him The Assassinations.  She has written a number of ground-breaking essays on the connections between Freeport Sulphur, the Eastern Establishment and the CIA, on James Angleton, and on Sirhan and the RFK assassination.  Lisa is currently finishing her book on the latter subject, the product of more than two decades of research.  She also runs a blogspot on recent history and current events.

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