Tag Archives: Jim Garrison

JFK, Mass Media, and the Origins of ‘Conspiracy Theory’

Prefatory Note on Censorship in Academe

This study was written in 2013-14 as part of my academic research as Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. I have had numerous papers addressing news coverage of historical events published in academic journals over the past two decades. However, this was the first attempt to offer a scholarly treatment of a research object related to a conspiracy–how the news media “framed” New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s JFK assassination inquiry.

When I presented the paper at the Association For Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Montreal Conference in 2014 the panel respondent congratulated me on what he deemed to be a very well-researched and written manuscript. He further remarked that it was at most a draft or two away from submission for editorial review at a scholarly journal. I was also confident the study would eventually achieve publication. 

The paper was subsequently rejected by five journals out-of-hand. The editors refused to even send the paper out for review, which never occurred to me before. Notably, each editor provided a different reason for not wanting to give it further consideration. What is more, three of the venues had published my work in previous years. The paper nevertheless offers a timely contribution to understanding the historical origins of the term “conspiracy theory” and its development from perhaps the most momentous event in 20th century American politics.

This helped me to further realize how despite celebrated notions of unbridled inquiry and academic freedom, certain subjects so historically central to the nation’s history in fact remain taboo among academics–those entrusted by society to research such matters–vis-á-vis their counterparts in professional journalism, with both camps still proceeding in tacit agreement to police the boundaries of permissible discourse and thought. -JFT


Introduction

“It appears that certain elements of the mass media have an active interest in preventing this case from ever coming to trial at all and find it necessary to employ against me every smear device in the book.” –Jim Garrison (Playboy 1967)

The news media’s failure to interrogate and question the “the lone assassin” theory by the 1964 Presidents Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, otherwise known as the Warren Commission, should be recognized as one of the greatest episodes of journalistic misconduct in US history. The mass media have played a pivotal role in the coverup of the Kennedy (JFK) assassination that they unabashedly practice to this day. New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation of the November 22, 1963 event was the first substantial challenge to the official narrative. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) countered Garrison’s efforts by calling upon its media assets to directly attack, defame, even sabotage the inquiry.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

From this episode the CIA developed one of its most potent psychological weapons against political dissent: the “conspiracy theory” label. Over its 50-year lifespan the label has time and again demonstrated its effectiveness in policing the public sphere by calling into question the credibility and even the sanity of journalists, academics, or any other public figure that dares question authorized myths for the masses.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #81

In early 1967 free-lance journalist Fred Powledge travelled to New Orleans to report on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation of the JFK assassination for New Republic magazine.

In one interview with Garrison the embattled DA told of the “’tremendous pressure from some sections of the Eastern press, especially those with connections with the administration’… that was causing potentially important witnesses who had initially contacted his office to become reluctant to come forward.”

New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison

“’I couldn’t  contradict that,” Powledge observed in his June 17, 1967 article.

I had known, since the assassination, that the most influential purveyors of news in the nation had gone out of their way to present the Warren Commission side of the story, and ignore or downplay those who dissented. One organ of communication, I later learned, even sought the CIA’s advice on how to treat the story about the investigation. This, if Garrison’s allegations about CIA involvement are correct, is roughly comparable to a newspaper’s asking “Bull” Connor how he would handle a story on the Birmingham Freedom Ride massacre, and then following his advice.

“The Work of Ray Marcus,” Appendix VIII, in E. Martin Schotz, History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy, Brookline MA: Kurtz, Ulmer and DeLucia Book Publishers, 1996, 252.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #75

Abetting the CIA’s efforts to subvert the only criminal investigation ever conducted on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, US news media gave defendant, OSS veteran and CIA asset Clay Shaw overwhelmingly positive coverage while pillorying Garrison at every turn. This included the marshaling of the country’s major television networks to produce programs targeting the Garrison inquiry.

As the district attorney explained in an address to the New Orleans Academy of Trial Lawyers several months after Shaw’s trial ended, “The news media have attacked me for what they consider improper methods and accused me of trying Shaw in the newspaper. They have done this in spite of the fact that since the day Shaw was charged I have consistently refused to mention his name publicly. On the other hand,” Garrison continued,

in their zeal to help the defendant, I have been personally attacked by every newspaper from the New York Times to the Nairobi Express. N.B.C. put an hour nationwide television show to criticize me and my investigation using prisoners that I convicted and sent to the Penitentiary. It’s really not hard to figure out why I am not the most popular man at the Angola State Penitentiary or the Parish Prison. Every charge that was raised on [NBC’s] program has been investigated and proven to be false.

William Davy, Let Justice Be Done: New Light on the Jim Garrison Investigation, Jordan Publishing, 1999.

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