Who Killed JFK?
The Media Whitewash
By Carl Oglesby
Oliver Stone's current film-in-progress, "JFK," dealing with the
assassination of President John F. Kennedy, is still months from
theaters, but already the project has been sharply attacked by
journalists who ordinarily could not care less what Hollywood has to
say about such great events as the Dealey Plaza shooting of November
The attack on Stone has enlisted (at least) the "Boston Globe"
(editorial), the "Boston Herald", the "Washington Post", the
"Chicago Tribune", and "Time" magazine, and several other outlets
were known to have been prowling the "JFK" set for angles. The
intensity of this interest contrasts sharply with 1979, when the
House Assassinations Committee published its finding of probable
conspiracy in the JFK assassination, and the mass media reacted with
one day of headlines and then a long, bored yawn.
How are we to understand this strange inconsistency? It is, of
course, dangerous to attack the official report of a congressional
committee; better to let it die a silent death. But a Hollywood
film cannot be ignored; a major production by a leading director
must be discredited, and if it can be done before the film is even
made, so much the better.
"JFK" is based chiefly on Louisiana Judge Jim Garrison's 1988
memoir, "On the Trail of the Assassins" (New York: Sheridan Square
Press), in which Garrison tells of his frustrated attempts to expose
the conspiracy that he (and the vast majority of the American
people) believes responsible for the murder at Dealey Plaza.
Garrison has argued since 1967 that Oswald was telling the truth
when he called himself a "patsy." He believes that JFK was killed
and Oswald framed by a rightwing "parallel government" seemingly
much like "the Enterprise" discovered in the Iran-contra scandal in
the 1980s and currently being rediscovered in the emerging BCCI
The conspirators of 1963, Garrison has theorized, grew alarmed at
JFK's moves toward de-escalation in Vietnam, normalization of U.S.
relations with Cuba, and detente with the Soviet Union. They hit
upon a violent but otherwise easy remedy for the problem of JFK's
emerging pacifism, Garrison believes, in the promotion by crossfire
of Vice President Lyndon Johnson.
Stone hardly expected a movie with such a challenging message to
escape notice, but he was startled to find himself under sharp
attack while "JFK" was still being filmed. "Since when are movies
judged," he said angrily, "sight-unseen, before completion and on
the basis of a pirated first-draft screenplay?"
THE IGNORANT CRITICS
The first out of his corner was Jon Margolis, a syndicated
"Chicago Tribune" columnist who assured his readers in May, when
Stone had barely begun filming in Dallas, that "JFK" would prove "an
insult to the intelligence" and "decency" ("JFK Movie and Book
Attempt to Rewrite History," May 14, p. 19). Margolis had not seen
one page of the first-draft screenplay (now in its sixth draft), but
even so he felt qualified to warn his readers that Stone was making
not just a bad movie but an evil one. "There is a point," Margolis
fumed, "at which intellectual myopia becomes morally repugnant. Mr
Stone's new movie proves that he has passed that point. But then so
has [producer] Time-Warner and so will anyone who pays American
money to see the film."
What bothered Margolis so much about "JFK" is that it is based on
Garrison, whom Margolis described as "bizarre" for having "in 1969
[1967 actually] claimed that the assassination of President Kennedy
was a conspiracy by some officials of the Central Intelligence
Since Margolis and other critics of the "JFK" project are getting
their backs up about facts, it is important to note here that this
is not at all what Garrison said. In two books and countless
interviews, Garrison has argued that the most likely incubator of an
anti-JFK conspiracy was the cesspool of Mafia hit men assembled by
the CIA in its now-infamous Operation Mongoose, its JFK-era program
to murder Fidel Castro.
But Garrison also rejects the theory that the Mafia did it by
itself, a theory promoted mainly by G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel
of the House Assassinations Committee (HAC) of 1978 and co-author
(with HAC writer Richard Billings) of "The Plot to Kill the
President" (New York: Times Books, 1981). "If the Mafia did it,"
Garrison told "LOOT," "why did the government so hastily abandon the
investigation? Why did it become so eagerly the chief artist of the
More important, Garrison's investigation of Oswald established
that this presumed leftwing loner was associated in the period just
before the assassination with three individuals who had clear ties
to the CIA and its anti-Castro operations, namely, Clay Shaw, David
Ferrie, and Guy Banister.
Garrison did not draw a conclusion from Oswald's ties to these
men. Rather he maintains that their presence in Oswald's story at
such a time cannot be presumed innocuous and dismissed out of hand.
The Assassinations Committee itself confirmed and puzzled over these
ties in 1978, and even Blakey, a fierce rival of Garrison, accepts
their central importance in the explanation of Oswald's role.
LARDNER GRINDS HIS AXE
The most serious attacks against the "JFK" project are those of
the "Washington Post"'s George Lardner, perhaps the dean of the
Washington intelligence press corps. Lardner covered the Warren
Commission during the 1960s, at one point ran a special "Post"
investigation of the case, and covered the House Select Committee on
Assassinations in the late 1970s.
Lardner's May 19 article on the front page of the Sunday "Post"
"Outlook" section, "On the Set: Dallas in Wonderland," ran to
almost seven column feet, and by far the greater part of that was
dedicated to the contemptuous dismissal of any thought that Garrison
has made a positive contribution to this case. Stone must be crazy
too, Lardner seemed to be saying, to be taking a nut like Garrison
And yet Lardner's particulars are oddly strained.
Lardner wrote, for example, that the Assassinations Committee
"may have" heard testimony linking Oswald with Ferrie and Ferrie
with the CIA. Lardner knows very well that the committee *did* hear
such testimony, no maybes about it, and that it found this testimony
convincing. Then Lardner implicitly denied that the committee heard
such testimony at all by adding grotesquely that it "may also have"
heard no such thing. Why does Lardner want unwary readers to think
that the well-established connections between Oswald, Ferrie, and
the CIA exist only in Garrison's imagination?
Lardner stooped to a still greater deception with respect to the
so-called "three tramps," the men who were arrested in the railroad
yard just north of Dealey Plaza right after the shooting and taken
to the police station, but then released without being identified.
Lardner knows that there is legitimate concern about these men. For
one thing, they were in exactly the area from which about half of
the Dealey Plaza eyewitnesses believed shots were fired. For
another, they do not look like ordinary tramps. Photos show that
their clothing and shoes were unworn and that they were freshly
shaved and barbered. But Lardner waved aside the question of their
disappeared identities with a high-handed ad hominem sniff that,
even if the police had taken their names, those who suspect a
conspiracy "would just insist the men had lied about who they were."
Lardner next poked fun at the pirated first-draft version of
Stone's screenplay for suggesting that as many as five or six shots
might have been fired in Dealey Plaza. "Is this the Kennedy
assassination," Lardner chortled, "or the Charge of the Light
Brigade?" As though only the ignorant could consider a fifth or
even, smirk, a sixth shot realistic.
But here is what the House Assassinations Committee's final
report said on page 68 about the number of shots detected on the
famous acoustics tape: "Six sequences of impulses that could have
been caused by a noise such as gunfire were initially identified as
having been transmitted over channel 1 [of police radio]. Thus,
they warranted further analysis." The committee analyzed only four
of these impulses because (a) it was short of funds and time when
the acoustics tape was discovered, (b) the impulses selected for
analysis conformed to timing sequences of the Zapruder film, and (c)
any fourth shot established a second gun and thus a conspiracy. All
four of these impulses turned out to be shots. Numbers one and six
remain to be analyzed. That is, the acoustics evidence shows that
there were at least four shots and perhaps as many as six.
Lardner's most interesting error is his charge that "JFK" mis-
states the impact of the assassination on the growth of the Vietnam
war. No doubt Stone's first-draft screenplay telescoped events in
suggesting that LBJ began escalating the Vietnam war the second day
after Dallas. Quietly and promptly, however, LBJ did indeed stop
the military build-down that JFK had begun; and as soon as LBJ won
the 1964 election as the peace candidate, he started taking the lid
off. Motivated by a carefully staged pretext, the Gulf of Tonkin
"incident," the bombing of North Vietnam began in February 1965. It
is puzzling to see such a sophisticated journalist as Lardner trying
to finesse the fact that Kennedy was moving toward de-escalation
when he was killed and that the massive explosion of the U.S. war
effort occurred under Johnson. In this sense, it is not only
reasonable but necessary to see the JFK assassination as a major
turning point in the war.
Strangest of all is that Lardner himself has come to believe in a
Dealey Plaza conspiracy, admitting that the Assassinations
Committee's findings in this respect "still seem more plausible than
any of the criticisms" and subsequently restating the point in a
tossed-off "acknowledgment that a probable conspiracy took place."
The reader will search Lardner's writing in vain, however, for
the slightest elaboration of this point even though it is obviously
the crux of the entire debate. My own JFK file, for example,
contains 19 clippings with Lardner's byline and several "Washington
Post" clippings by other writers from the period in which the
Assassinations Committee announced its conspiracy findings. The
only piece I can find among these that so much as whispers of
support for the committee's work was written by myself and Jeff
Goldberg ("Did the Mob Kill Kennedy?" "Washington Post" Outlook
section, February 25, 1979).
If the Warren critics were a mere handful of quacks jabbering
about UFOs, as Lardner insinuates, one might understand the venom he
and other mainstreamers bring to this debate.
But this is simply not the case. The "Post"'s own poll shows
that 56 percent of us-75 percent of those with an opinion-believe a
conspiracy was afoot at Dallas. And it was the U.S. Congress,
after a year-long, $4 million, expert investigation, that concluded,
"President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of
THE RELUCTANT MEDIA
So what is it with the American news media and the JFK murder?
Why do normally skeptical journalists reserve their most hostile
skepticism for those who have tried to keep this case on the
national agenda? What is it about Dealey Plaza that not even the
massive disbelief of the American people and the imprimatur of the
Congress can legitimate this issue to the news media?
As one who has followed this case closely and actively for nearly
20 years-and who has often heard the charge of "paranoia" as a
response to the bill of particulars-I find it increasingly hard to
resist concluding that the media's strange rage for silence in this
matter presents us with a textbook case of denial, disassociation,
and double-think. I hear frustration and fear in the reasoning of
Lardner and Margolis and their comrades who constantly erect straw
men to destroy and whose basic response to those who would argue the
facts is yet another dose of ad hominem character assassination, as
we are beholding in the media's response to Stone and Garrison:
+ Frustration because the media cannot stop Stone's movie from
carrying the thesis of a JFK conspiracy to a global audience
already strongly inclined to believe it.
+ Fear because the media cannot altogether suppress a doubt in
their collective mind that the essential message of "JFK" may
be correct after all, and that, if it is, their current
relationship to the government may have to change profoundly.
And perhaps a touch of shame, too, because in the persistence of
the mystery of JFK's death, there may be the beginning of an insight
that the media are staring their own greatest failure in the face.
FIRST SIDEBAR: ABOUT CLAY SHAW
It is true that Garrison could not convince the New Orleans jury
that Shaw had a motive to conspire against JFK. This is because he
could not prove that Shaw was a CIA agent. Had Garrison been able
to establish a Shaw link to the CIA, then JFK's adversarial
relationship with the CIA's Task Force W assassination plots against
Castro would have become material and a plausible Shaw motive might
have come into focus.
But in 1975, six years after Shaw's acquittal and a year after
his death, a CIA headquarters staff officer, Victor Marchetti,
disclosed that Garrison was right, that Shaw, and Ferrie as well,
were indeed connected to the CIA. Marchetti further revealed that
CIA Director Richard Helms-a supporter of the CIA-Mafia plots
against Castro-had committed the CIA to helping Shaw in his trouble
with Garrison. What the CIA might have done in this regard is not
known, but Marchetti's revelation gives us every reason to
presuppose a CIA hand in the wrecking of Garrison's case against
George Lardner is not impressed by the proof of a CIA connection
to Shaw. He responds dismissively that Shaw's CIA position was only
that of informant: Shaw, he writes, "was a widely traveled
businessman who had occasional contacts with the CIA's Domestic
Contact Service. Does that make him an assassin?" Of course not,
and Garrison never claimed it did. But it certainly does-or ought
to-stimulate an interest in Shaw's relationship to Oswald and
Ferrie. Is it not strikingly at variance with the Warren
Commission's lone-nut theory of Oswald to find him circulating
within a CIA orbit in the months just ahead of the assassination?
Why is Lardner so hot to turn away from this evidence?
How fascinating, moreover, that Lardner should claim with such an
air of finality to know all about Shaw's ties to the CIA, since a
thing like this could only be known for a certainty to a highly
placed CIA officer. And if Lardner is not (mirabile dictu) himself
an officer of the CIA, then all he can plausibly claim to know about
Shaw is what the CIA chooses to tell him. Has George Lardner not
heard that the CIA lies?
Reprinted with permission from "Lies Of Our Times", September 1991,
copyright (o) 1991 by the Institute for Media Analysis, Inc. and
Sheridan Square Press, Inc. Subscriptions to LOOT are $2year (U.S.),
from LOOT, 145 W. 4th St., New York, NY 10012.
yer friendly neighborhood ratman
ko.yan.nis.qatsi (from the Hopi Language) n. 1. crazy life. 2. life
in turmoil. 3. life out of balance. 4. life disintegrating.
5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.