By James F. Tracy
The most efficient system of opinion management functions largely absent of the conscious intent or effort of intellectual governance. A society detached from its historical bearings will frequently resort to myths and falsehoods which over time form a coherent worldview resistant to unconventional perspectives. The informal priesthood beholden to such a belief system is ensconced in the officialdom of journalism and academe.
[Image credit: Wikimedia Commons]
Poorly understood “deep events” are especially helpful models where this hypothesis may be further postulated. For example, the “lone gunman” theory is strongly urged by such a ministry to obscure the many anomalies surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Persuasive observers are offered to reconfirm the laity’s faith in proper beliefs, particularly upon the anniversaries of such events, which act as powerful occasions where commemoration reaffirms belief.
On the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death longtime journalist and intelligence operative Hugh Aynesworth appeared across a broad array of major media outlets. He was, after all, the only man who claims to have witnessed JFK’s assassination, the aftermath of Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit’s murder, the apprehension of suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in a Texas movie theater, and Oswald’s murder two days later by Jack Ruby.
He has received accolades from American journalism’s finest. ”Hugh Aynesworth knows more about this tragic story and the reporters who reported it than anyone I know,” CBS News legend Bob Schieffer exclaims. ”I was proud of what we did on that story,” PBS’ Jim Lehrer remarks, “but really it was Hugh’s story from day one.” ”No one–repeat, no one–in America knows more about the Kennedy assassination,” says U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, and Business Week‘s Michael Ruby.
Aynesworth is a self-proclaimed “witness to history,” a devotee of the Warren Commission, and with such credentials and accolades is accordingly sought out by mainstream journalists to revalidate the official folklore.
“Aynesworth was at Dealey Plaza that day,” McClatchey News reports,
where the president was shot. “I heard three definite, distinct shots,” he said, “as did those trained observers, police and reporters.” Then he went to Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood after hearing a report on the police scanner, and arrived just after [Dallas police officer J. D.] Tippit was shot. Following that, Aynesworth dashed to a Texas theater and watched police arrest Oswald.
“Hugh Aynesworth, a former Dallas Morning News reporter, was the only person present to witness all three key moments of a tumultuous weekend,” the Times of London observes.
[T]he assassination of President Kennedy; the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald; and the moment when Jack Ruby, the violent nightclub boss, shot Oswald dead live on television … Aynesworth remembered standing right underneath the Texas School Book Depository 50 years ago as the President’s car passed by. “Everybody was ebullient, we were in a good mood. Then I heard what I thought was a motorcycle backfire. Only that was the first shot.” He heard on the police radio that an officer had been shot three miles away and persuaded a TV crew to given him a lift. Then they learnt that there was a suspect in the Texas Theatre cinema and he sprinted there. As he entered the lights went up … “I looked over and I was about fifteen feet from Oswald, he was right at 10 o’clock.”
On CNN’s Piers Morgan Live, Aynesworth goes slightly off script and requires the host’s intervention.
Aynesworth: You know, I don’t know how fast I reacted [upon the assassination] because it was such an instantaneous bedlam there. People were crying already, they were screaming, they were bumping into each other and I don’t know how I reacted or how fast but I knew somewhere in that first minutes [sic] my journalistic background kicked in. But it was just, wow, because we didn’t know who was shooting, we didn’t know how many were shooting, we didn’t know where they were shooting from.
Morgan: Now there were three shots you heard, you began to speak to witnesses, you grabbed a sort of make shift pencil and paper from a little boy I think you saw right?
Morgan: And began making notes, then you heard on a police radio that a police officer had been show, you know, if that was J. D. Tippit and that Lee Harvey Oswald was obviously on the run, you didn’t know who he was at the time but the suspect was on the run.
Aynesworth relates yet a different version of his recollections to National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep.
Inskeep: … Mr. Aynesworth, you were in that crowd. What did you do in the moments after that shooting Hugh Aynesworth?
Aynesworth: Well, I looked directly in front of me, across Houston Street; and I saw a man jumping up and down, and pointing up to the sixth floor window up there. I didn’t know what he’d known or what he’d seen or anything else, but I knew I had to get to him and find out. And as it turned out, he was the only real eyewitness that saw Oswald in the window.
“’Everyone was cheering when, zing, I heard something,'”Aynesworth similarly explained to the Chicago Daily Herald. “I will tell you there were three shots and no more. All of a sudden there was chaos. I thought I better start interviewing people.’” The unprepared Aynesworth then “pulled two utility bills from his back pocket to write on and bought a foot-long souvenir pencil from a little boy for 50 cents to take notes.”
In both broadcast and print news outlets Aynesworth’s recollections and good fortune to witness the varied historical events are accepted without question. “The problem is,” historian James DiEugenio observes, that it’s hard to locate “evidence for him being at any of these places at the time he says he was—let alone all four of them.” What is more, in the months leading up to the assassination Aynesworth was seeking an assignment in Cuba with the Central Intelligence Agency. While no specific documentation substantiates whether the CIA extended such a mission, it nevertheless places his assassination-related “eyewitness” accounts in a fresh light.
Aynesworth would go on to conduct a rival investigation into the assassination because he did not trust Earl Warren’s stewardship of President Johnson’s assassination investigation commission. In the process he developed a brief relationship with Oswald’s widow, Marina Oswald, thus arguably interfering with a key witness in the investigation.
Together with various other indiscretions documented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Aynesworth’s role in the aftermath of John Kennedy’s murder goes much deeper. In his recently updated volume, November 22, 1963: Witness to History, released in late 2013, the would-be reporter vehemently attacks New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison for the latter’s purportedly ill-conceived assassination investigation and prosecution of CIA operative Clay Shaw (1967-1969). What the author disingenuously excludes from the account is the principal role he played in hindering Garrison’s inquiry while posing as a journalist, a fact now well-established in light of extensive documentation released through the Assassination Records Review Board.
“Whatever his covert ties in 1963-1964,” DiEugenio notes, “by 1967 Aynesworth was on three payrolls. Ostensibly on the Newsweek staff, he was also being paid by Time-Life and by [Shaw’s personal attorney] Ed Wegmann, for whom he would do special assignments.” In fact, primary documents suggest how Wegmann relied on Aynesworth specifically to coordinate the infiltration of Garrison’s office, “find out who prospective witnesses were, and get to them before Garrison did.”
As Wegmann’s covert associate, “Aynesworth adopted the FBI’s strategy for his attacks on Jim Garrison,” Professor Joan Mellen observes. “Garrison is ‘losing his sanity,’ Aynesworth insisted. People who had changed their minds about testifying for Garrison were now ‘in danger of being harmed and possibly killed.’” When Aynesworth attempted to bribe a Louisiana police officer to keep him from testifying for Garrison on Oswald’s intelligence-related activities, Garrison finally had him subpoenaed before the Orleans Parish grand jury, a request the journalist-mole ultimately spurned.
Indeed, while Aynesworth conducted espionage for Shaw’s legal defense, he functioned ostensibly as a reporter, filing reports to Newsweek consisting primarily of “attacks on Garrison, profiles of [Shaw and Oswald cohort and CIA operative] David Ferrie, and hagiographies of Shaw.” Aynesworth even sent a rough draft of one such story to President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary, with an accompanying cover letter which read in part,
My interest in informing government officials of each step along the way is because of my intimate knowledge of what Jim Garrison is planning … I intend to make a complete report of my knowledge available to the FBI, as I have done in the past.
The moral dimension of Aynesworth’s clandestine activities under journalistic cover were not lost on his peers. “At least three members of the Shaw trial press went beyond the normal bounds of journalistic interest in the story,” Time magazine’s Roger Williams and the Baltimore Sun’s Michael Parks wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review.
Jim Phelan and Hugh Aynesworth, both fiercely anti-Garrison, became in effect special advisers to the defense. They consulted frequently with Shaw’s attorneys, passing along tips on all aspects of the case they knew best from time spent covering it as reporters. The two of them, says chief defense attorney F. Irvin Dymond, were “extremely valuable” to the Defense case.
In contrast, as the above suggests, today’s journalists appear oblivious to a complex and troubling history—one that involves their own profession deeply intertwined with America’s intelligence netherworld and similar forms of profound corruption. Both then and now, news media have acted to foster a certain preferred recollection of November 22, 1963 and subsequent deep events, this despite indisputable and copious evidence to the contrary.
Like their academic counterparts, journalists are bound to the dutiful maintenance of a sanctioned collective memory they are often too fearful to question or loath to interrogate. Together these are the guardians of a mythic and erroneous past; one that at once sustains and betrays present realities alongside the possibilities of future generations.
 Dust jacket blurbs. Hugh Aynesworth, November 22, 1963: Witness to History, Brown Publishing, 2013.
 Maria Recio, “Half a Century Later, JFK Conspiracies Still Thrive,” McClatchy Washington Bureau, November 15, 2013.
David Taylor, “After Decades of Conspiracies Over JFK, All That’s Left is Regret,” The Times (London), November 23, 2013.
 Piers Morgan, “JFK: 50 Years Later,” CNN, November 13, 2013.
 Steve Inskeep, “2 Reporters Recall The Assassination That Shocked the World,” National Public Radio, November 22, 2013.
 “Memories of Two Days in Dallas,” Chicago Daily Herald, November 21, 2013.
 James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed: JFK, Cuba, and the Garrison Case, Second Edition, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012, 249.
 DiEugenio Destiny Betrayed, 250.
 James DiEugenio, “The Obstruction of Garrison,” in James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, eds., The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X, Feral House, 2003, 26.
 DiEugenio, “The Obstruction of Garrison,” 27.
 Joan Mellen, A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination, and The Case that Should Have Changed History, Washington DC: Potomac Books, 2005, 152, 235-236. The article was published as Aynesworth, “The JFK ‘Conspiracy’,” Newsweek, May 15, 1967, 36, 38, 40.
 William Davy, Let Justice Be Done: New Light on the Jim Garrison Investigation, Reston VA: Jordan Publishing, 1999, 133. Aynesworth’s activities in this regard were not unusual. See Carl Bernstein, “The CIA and the Media: How America’s Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up,” Rolling Stone, October 20, 1977. Available at http://www.carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php
 Roger M. Williams and Michael Parks, “The Clay Shaw Trial: Reporter-Participants,” Columbia Journalism Review, Spring 1969, 38-41. Cited in Davy, 134.