I had not wanted to mention the Great Unpleasantness of 50 Years Ago on this anniversary. I enjoy doing the unexpected, and thus had hoped to spend this morning writing about something else. But I must respond to a particularly egregious article in Slate.
Ron Rosenbaum is a gifted writer (I enjoyed Explaining Hitler
) who has been doing bad work on the JFK case since, like, forever. In his latest
, he apes the line taken by Phil Shenon's rather vile opus, A Cruel and Shocking Act
. As noted in an earlier post, Shenon's book tries to resurrect a false story about Oswald in Mexico City -- a story told by a far-right Mexican writer named Elena Garro, who was a friend to Borges and other surrealists. Her tale was discredited ages ago, and in my view, Shenon has done nothing to make it more palatable.
Frankly, Garro was never a credible witness. (Even Win Scott of the CIA called her "a nut.") How would you have reacted if, on September 14, 2001, Ann Coulter told a teevee interviewer that she went to party where she saw Mohammed Atta taking orders from Bill Clinton?
The Garro story is even worse than that. Her claim led the corrupt Mexican security service to mete out brutal treatment to one Sylvia Duran, a Mexican woman who worked at the Cuban embassy, and who, as part of her job, dealt with a strange vistor claiming to be Lee Harvey Oswald. She happened to be Garro's relative. Due to their sharp political differences, Garro despised her.
Oddly, Rosenbaum doesn't mention this personal aminus. Neither does he mention the fact that, in the first version
of Garro's tale makes no mention of the "red-haired negro" who would later play such an insidious role in the tale. It's also worth noting that Shenon's alleged new witness is nowhere to be seen. In other words, the story "just grew" over time.
Neither does he mention the Gilberto Alvarado story
, which mirrors the Garro fib in its details, particularly the bit about the "red haired negro" who pushed (and paid) Oswald to kill JFK. The two stories were obviously concocted in concert: The tall, red-headed black man plays a key role in both. (I suspect that this mythic figure was intended to draw Malcolm X into this yarn. Many people don't know that Malcolm met with and supported Castro.)
Alvarado later turned out to be a spook in the employ of the CIA's David Atlee Phillips. He admitted
that his tale was a lie. That admission destroys Garro's credibility as well, since the two tales went hand-in-hand.
Read Rosenbaum's story. He never mentions Alvarado.
Incidentally, he also says that "conspiracy theorists" accuse Sylvia Duran of being CIA. Really? I've never heard that claim before. Anyone who did make that strange assertion is an outlier.
It gets worse. Rosenbaum mentions that Desmond Fitzgerald of the CIA represented himself as an agent of Robert F. Kennedy when he (Fitzgerald) dealt with Rolando Cubela, whom the CIA wanted to kill Castro. Rosenbaum:
I would raise this question: What is the moral difference between JFK trying repeatedly to murder Castro and Castro trying to murder him? One difference is that we don’t have any solid evidence that Castro tried to murder JFK.
And yet we are supposed to revere JFK and revile Fidel?
To those who know the truth, Rosenbaum's lie has an emitic effect. Des Fitzgerald despised
RFK. Fitz later admitted that he lied when he pretended to work at RFK's behest, knowing full well that the younger Kennedy had forbidden any attempt on Castro.
These facts came out years ago. Rosenbaum must know them, but he doesn't mention them. There is ample evidence that John Kennedy -- understandably scared by the missile crisis -- did not
want Castro assassinated. It has been firmly established that he sent out peace feelers to Castro
, using a French journalist named Jean Daniel as a go-between.
If you want the truth of the matter, read JFK and the Unspeakable
by Jim Douglass.
Rosenbaum's mendacity gets even worse. He nowhere mentions that Oswald was provably impersonated when he dealt with the Cubans and the Russians. Even J. Edgar Hoover made this admission in private discussion with LBJ.
The Oswald claimant who spoke to Sylvia Duran had blonde hair. Despite torturous treatment from the Mexican secret service, Duran never swayed from that description, which others in the embassy backed up. The Cubans eventually produced photos of blondie -- and frankly, I think these shots are the real deal.
Rosenbaum shows his true colors when he sings the praises of Edward Epstein -- the spooked-up journalist who destroyed his reputation forever by acting as James Angleton's personal media whore. I view Shenon as little more than the latest incarnation of Epstein.
Rosenbaum may be a gifted wordsmith, but with this essay, he has turned into something worse than shit. Dung is useful. It can make flowers grow. Rosenbaum makes truth die.
This humble blog played a small role in destroying Gerald Posner, who did his own version of the Epstein/Shenon dance back in the 1990s. The exposure of Posner's penchant for plagiarism was done by "Greg," a contributor to these pages. Pretty soon, I'll discuss the strange case of Gus Russo, a man with whom I had a personal run-in. He was up to the same Posnerian tricks.
And you can bet that I'll be keeping an eye on Shenon and Rosenbaum.
Now let's zoom out to take in a wider picture:
Clearly, you can attain endless media hosannas -- not to mention a comfortable living -- if you have an entertaining way with words and if you are willing to smear anyone named Kennedy or Clinton. Major pundits will laud you as a hard-nosed realist. You will appear on television.You will be considered serious
by the sort of people who nodded their heads gravely when Bush said we needed to invade Iraq.
Thus, someone like C. David Heymann
(author of a pack of lies titled Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story
) kept getting huge book contracts even after he had been caught concocting quotes and claiming falsely to be a Pulitzer Prize nominee. (Almost needless to say, there is no
evidence of a Jackie/RFK romance.)
Thus, Gerry Posner continued to receive huge book contracts, even after it was disclosed that he never spoke to important JFK witnesses he claimed to have interviewed, and that he had misrepresented other key evidence. (Even before Case Closed
, some Posner-watchers suspected that he did not do his own writing on his book about Mengele.)
Thus, Gus Russo's Epstein-ish anti-Kennedy book Live By the Sword
received a huge push, despite -- or because of -- his known ties to CIA bigwigs and his history of misrepresenting himself.
Thus, Vincent Bugliosi received a rumored million bucks to write an ultra-lengthy defense of the Warren Commission -- and his publisher allowed him to take twenty years
on the project. That sort of arrangement is usually unheard-of in the world of publishing. As anyone with any sense would have predicted, the work sold poorly. Frankly, I don't see how any book not written by J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer could justify that kind of advance. Under normal circumstances, no
publisher tolerates such outrageous tardiness, even from the most famous of authors. DiEugenio's Reclaiming Parkland
does an excellent job of puncturing Bugliosi's many fibs. If you want a pared-down rejoinder to Bugliosi, go here
Thus, Phil Shenon has received massive publicity (and a strong advance) for his book, even though Shenon is the sort of writer who feels comfortable saying that the "magic bullet" has been scientifically linked to the fragments in John Connally's wrist and to Oswald's rifle. Shenon never mentions the fact that this link depends on something called Neutron Activation Analysis, a test now inadmissible in court; it has been called "junk science." (I don't have the time to discuss all of the other issues surrounding that bullet -- from which no fragments are missing
. Suffice it to say that this piece
will surprise even those who know the case well.)
Consider: Shenon had the help of a "team" in writing his book. He also seems to have had a hefty travel budget. In other words, he must have had a supersized advance from his publisher. After the financial failure of Bugliosi's book, why would any publisher make the investment?
It's hard -- almost impossible -- to make a living as a writer these days. But there is one sure road to financial security: Tell lies about the Kennedys or the Clintons. You can be as sloppy or deceptive as you please. All sins will be forgiven. You will be published by a major house, you will be paid well, and your book will get the kind of "push" that most authors envy.
Meanwhile, the people who try to tell the truth operate entirely on their own dime and in defiance of nonstop smears. One repeatedly hears that these researchers are motivated by money -- even though their books never get the major publishing deals or the publicity handed out to creatures like Heymann, Posner and Shenon. With a very few exceptions, researchers in this field lose
money. When they speak at lectures, they (almost always) are not paid.
The oft-heard allegation of a low pecuniary motive is not just untrue, it's infuriating.
There's another popular canard you may have encountered: The researchers are routinely damned as "ideologues" or Kennedy hagiographers.
In the past, I've had the opportunity to speak to many of these citizen investigators. Although they were often anxious to lose themselves in a discussion of the evidence, they usually did not display much enthusiasm for any talk that reeked of ideology. The vast majority of these people are not extremists. Some of them don't even seem very interested in what you might call "normal" left/right politics. A few Warren Commission critics (like John Judge) began as left-wing opponents of JFK, while others (like Mary Ferrell) lambasted Kennedy from the right. Professor Joan Mellen seems to despise RFK almost as much as Rosenbaum does. David Talbot
began as a Kennedy-basher and an admirer of Rosenbaum; Talbot changed his tune only because the evidence forced a change.
Despite the cartoonish misrepresentations offered by the pundits on television, the honest assassination researchers are not gloppy naifs with idealized paintings of Kennedy hanging over their sofas. They are not hagiographers; they are historians. And if what they have to say about JFK's Cuba or Vietnam policies differs from the picture presented by creatures like Ron Rosenbaum -- well, that's because they've read a whole bunch of FOIA documents that you never have.
Perhaps the finest expert on the Mexico mystery (which we discussed in the post below this one) is John Newman. Previously, he was an analyst for the Army and the NSA. Even though I briefly met Newman some years ago, I still have little idea as to what his politics are like. His background indicates that he is probably somewhat more conservative than I am. But I can tell you this: For a long time, Newman resisted embracing any conspiratorial explanation of the assassination, preferring to trace Kennedy's Vietnam policy, as revealed in documents released via the Freedom of Information Act. When he came out with the first edition of his book on the CIA's Oswald file, he remained an agnostic on the assassination itself. Newman reluctantly came over to the pro-conspiracy position only because the evidence forced him to go there.
Forget Rosenbaum and forget Shenon. Read John Newman
It is instructive to compare that 1999 Newman essay (actually, it's the transcript of a presentation) to the Rosenbaum piece that inspired this rejoinder. After you've read both, ask yourself: Which writer is truly guilty of making arguments based on emotion and appeals to ideology? Which writer is guilty of making ad hominem arguments? And which writer concentrates on a dispassionate appraisal of the documentary evidence trail?
(And yes, I know that this
blog post has been anything but dispassionate. I'm angry. No use pretending otherwise.)