On this week’s edition of Real Politik, Temple University Professor Joan Mellen joins James to discuss Jim Garrison’s landmark investigation of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the 50th anniversary of the Warren Commission Report’s release.
Professor Mellen is a New York Times best-selling author of over twenty books on film studies, popular culture, and biography. She is a foremost authority on the Garrison 1967-69 investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency’s attempts to undermine the probe. Mellen’s most recent titles include Our Man in Haiti: George de Mohrenschildt and the CIA in the Nightmare Republic (2012), The Great Game in Cuba: How the CIA Sabotaged Its Own Plot to Unseat Fidel Castro (2013), and a second edition of A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination, and the Case That Should Have Changed History (2005/2013).
Professor Mellen met Jim Garrison in 1969. “He had just lost the Shaw trial,” she recalls.
Clay Shaw was acquitted. And my husband and I went down to New Orleans to meet Jim Garrison because my husband had sent him a series of articles from the Paesa Sera newspaper that coincided with the March 1, 1967 arrest of Clay Shaw. Those articles pointed out that Shaw had been an officer of a CIA front called PERMINDEX. It had an Italian branch called Centro Mondiale Commerciale.
Garrison could not use those articles at the Shaw trial because they were foreign newspapers. They were [considered] hearsay. He didn’t have the resources to investigate in Italy. But he was grateful to have the articles and so he invited us to New Orleans, where he registered us at the Monteleone Hotel in the Quarter as Mr. and Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Mellen’s research has soundly addressed numerous inconsistencies and lacunae in JFK assassination research often propelled by typically sincere yet sometimes shoddy work. “The level of scholarship isn’t what it should be in this research community,” Professor Mellen remarks. This is due to the fact that conventional historians are reluctant to examine one of the most significant events in modern history. “It has to do with the co-opted media. The writers–especially the mainstream historians–don’t want to be ostracized as ‘conspiracy theorists,’ as ‘kooks,’ and to mention the Kennedy assassination is taboo.”
Mellen cites historian Robert Caro as an example. “Caro is very careful to say there were only three shots at Dealey Plaza” in his multi-volume biography of President Johnson. “That’s a signal to the mainstream media, to the mainstream critics, to the Pulitzer Committee, that he’s a good boy, and that he’s going to follow the findings of the Warren Commission, which have been totally discredited over all these years.”
Mellen notes how forthright and painstaking research into the Kennedy assassination tends to burst any romantic notions of political figures–including the Kennedys themselves. For example, evidence suggests Robert Kennedy actively pursued a mafia hitman to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro. “Now here’s Bobby Kennedy on the one hand pursuing the mafia. That’s what he was famous for. On the other hand, [he’s] looking for mafia figures to kill Castro. Bobby Kennedy had a lot to hide.”
Mellen continues. “The thing is, there can’t be too much sentimentality in this. If you’re going to do research and serious scholarship there’s no room for idealizing politicians, whether they’re named Kennedy or anything else.” Accordingly, “the Kennedy family have been destructive of any serious investigation. They do everything in their power to this day–long after the older generation is gone–not to participate. And people are shocked. ‘Why is this?’ It’s to protect Bobby Kennedy and what he was doing in those years, which is why many of Bobby Kennedy’s papers at the Kennedy Library are still sealed.”
When Jim Garrison passed on in 1992, he still harbored doubt on the worth of his investigation and prosecution of Clay Shaw, and this is how Mellen ends the book. “The original version of A Farewell to Justice ends with Jim Garrison calling Thomas Edward Beckham” shortly after Shaw’s acquittal, and “after Beckham has lied his head off at the Grand Jury,” Mellen notes. Beckham was a key witness and figure in the assassination plot. “Garrison asks [Beckham], ‘While tell me, was I close? Was I right about anything?'” In a rare interview, Beckham later told Mellen, “‘I wished I could have told him how close he was.'”
Professor Mellen will be speaking at the forthcoming Assassination Archive Resource Center Conference in Bethesda Maryland on September 27. More information is available at joanmellen.com/wordpress/