About noon that day Sammie Abbott, a citizen activist and later mayor of Takoma Park, Maryland, came to the CTIA office in downtown Washington, D.C. He brought with him a copy of Leonard's book review. Sammie's description of its very negative tenor about Garrison caused me to read his copy. It was a later edition and did not read like Mr. Leonard's original review, and had been skillfully and drastically altered.
The "Mysteries Persist" heading had been removed. The first two sentences remained--"Frankly, I prefer to believe that the Warren Commission did a poor job, rather than a dishonest one. I like to think that Mr. Garrison invented monsters to explain incompetence" -- but the remainder of the two paragraphs criticizing the official account of the assassination had been surgically removed.
When the Shaw trial took place, I was a student at the University of Wisconsin School of Law. I'd followed proceedings leading up to the 1969 trial with intense interest. I took out subscriptions to both the New Orleans States-Item and the New Orleans Times-Picayune during 1967-1969. When the trial began in January 1969, a friend and I persuaded "The Daily Cardinal," the University of Wisconsin student newspaper, to issue us cards entitling us to attend the trial as representatives of the press. During the semester break, we drove to New Orleans for the first two weeks of the trial. I watched the Zapruder film being played over and over, years before it was released to the American public, and personally witnessed the testimony of Vernon Bundy and the witnesses from Clinton, Louisiana .
Given my fairly intimate knowledge of the Garrison case and press coverage of it--and of the Kennedy assassination in general -- a bad review of Garrison's book didn't shock me. What did shock me was the blatant revision of the original review that completely warped its meaning. The New York Times, I thought, was publishing like a Saigon newspaper trying to sell disinformation as news at the height of the war in Vietnam.
What could explain the forces at work that produced such an egregious breach of American journalism? The writer Jerry Policoff investigated the startling (and still undisclosed) circumstances of the fabricated review. When he and John Leonard met at a symposium at New York University, they had a lengthy private conversation about it. Policoff reports, "John Leonard told me the revision of his review angered him, that it was done without his knowledge or consent, and that he'd been all over the building trying to uncover who had censored and altered it. He said that no one at the Times would tell him who was responsible, and he remained angry about it many years later. He also told me that he wasn't responsible for the many conflicted reviews of JFK conspiracy books when he became editor of the Times Book Review section. He said those books usually landed on his desk with reviewers pre-assigned to them."
In evaluating what the news media have to say in this season of news about the upcoming 50 th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, it may be worth keeping this unsavory history fully in mind. Further, in anticipation of next year's 50th anniversary reportage about the issuance of the Warren Report and its 26 volumes of supporting materials, it will be important to follow whether or not the Times will focus on the critical issues and new research that emerged as a result of the JFK Records Act of 1992 .
Since the Warren Report was issued 49 years ago, some 5 million pages of formerly classified records -- most never seen by the Warren Commission -- have been released. About a million pages are held by AARC , and they are also available at MaryFerrell.org . These records include primary evidence, testimonies, tapes, reports, operational records, and millions of memoranda from all corners of the U.S. national security complex. And, during the last 5 decades, new technologies have been developed and scientific advances have affected some of the 50-year-old conclusions reached by the government and the press.
These materials have inevitably impacted a large number of issues, investigations, and now-tarnished conclusions reached by the Warren Commission. Worrisome new areas of inquiry include covert actions against Cuba and other countries in every quadrant of the globe. Also of major importance, there is now a very large body of declassified records that document many of the covert activities undertaken against Cuba. There is also much detailed information about many of the assassination attempts against Cuban Premier Fidel Castro. All of these matters are relevant to the study of the assassination of President Kennedy.
And, much more is known now than was known during the Warren Commission or Church Committee investigations about American involvement in the assassinations of the Congo's first democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and that of General Rafael Trujillo, the despot of the Dominican Republic. The 1973 overthrow of the democratically-elected President Salvador Allende of Chile involved familiar CIA personnel.
Declassified records also show that the FBI and the Warren Commission regularly failed to delve into key areas of investigative interest, particularly where investigation could have exposed activities conducted by the very agencies and related groups that ran them. Counter-intelligence operations and other illegal domestic activities of CIA rarely surfaced. Records of some of these programs were withheld from top officials of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, never received legislative oversight, and were then kept from members of the Warren Commission and its investigators. Some of these withheld materials confirm illegal projects and operations specifically designed to skirt legal requirements. And then there are many areas of investigation that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, FBI Director Hoover, and others, tamped down as soon as they appeared about to surface, because they might embarrass top brass in the Pentagon, FBI, State or CIA. Most important, as we now know from the already-released records, the Warren Commission's most active member, ex-CIA Director Allen Dulles, and two of his closest Agency aides, James Jesus Angleton and Richard Helms - and their closest aides - skillfully kept some of the most relevant assassination-related materials well beyond the reach of the Commission and its staff.
Based on the huge body of materials released since 1992, studies have now been completed by Kennedy assassination historians, journalists, researchers and writers, and a wealth of vital new information has emerged to fill in large gaps in the historical record. To date, much of the Warren report and its evidence has had to be reconsidered in light of the already-declassified records, and a surprising number of Warren Commission presumptions have been undermined or eliminated.
The question which must be raised and pressed throughout the coming year is whether the New York Times will focus on its obligation to publish information independent of government-provided sourcing that can enable the public to exercise its democratic accountability over government institutions. The Times needs to lead with its best journalists reporting on what has been uncovered in the last half century, and to apply pressure to ensure that remaining withheld records are finally released.
In 1992, Congress promised that such records would be released promptly. They have not been. All withheld records should be released now so that the ongoing debate generated by the 50 th anniversary will be one that is fully informed.
50 years of secrecy is more than enough.
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