Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Part Two: The Forgotten Conspiracy

In this morning’s edition of the Austin American-Statesman, on page A2, the following correction appears:

A story on Sunday's Page B3 should not have implied that all government investigations into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman. The U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s said it "believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy." (LINK)

Again, my thanks to the American-Statesman for making this correction.

And now, a few final words on the subject ...

The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) was no small investigation. It was a big deal in the Seventies. After all, this was the second government investigation of John Kennedy’s assassination, launched in response to a decade of public discontent over the Warren Commission Report. And when its findings were released, it confirmed what most of us suspected, that the assassination was a conspiracy.

Yet, today this investigation is largely forgotten ...

It is not taught in school (a 1999 study showed that high school textbooks barely deal with the basic facts of the assassination, let alone get into the complexities), and it is not mentioned in most news stories on the assassination.

Try a Google news search for “Warren Commission.” Now, try another for “House Select Committee on Assassinations.”

When I tried those searches earlier today, “Warren Commission” resulted in 3,118 news stories, while “House Select Committee on Assassinations” resulted in only 53 (one of the more prominent results being this morning's correction in the American-Statesman).

That is why I call the HSCA the Forgotten Investigation ...

How could such a thing happen? How could a congressional investigation into such an important matter fall so far down the Memory Hole?

It was, as I say, a big deal in the Seventies. The HSCA made headlines every day, it seemed, and when its findings were released, stating that the president’s death was probably the result of a conspiracy, the news resounded like a thunderclap across the land.

Yet, today, almost three decades later, the investigation is mentioned so little that it might as well have never happened.

How could this be?

Looking back on those times, the 1970s, when news about the HSCA was at fever pitch, I recall an incident, which at the time had no particular meaning for me, but which now I see was a portent of doom for the HSCA …

I was second shift supervisor in the printing office of a major Texas university. (I am not naming the university, as I have no wish to embarrass the guilty party, an otherwise nice guy. He might still be alive, and word travels on the Internet.)

My job involved the nightly supervision of the production of the university’s daily newspaper. I worked closely with the student staff, whose offices were across the hall from the printing office, and on Fridays would meet with them and their professors for a weekly critique of their performance and mine. If my proofreader missed a typo, for instance, I would hear about it and pass the criticism along to the proofreader. But, as this was a journalism class, more time was spent on the students’ performance. The professors would mark up copies of the previous week’s newspapers and go over the mistakes—mistakes of grammar, unsubstantiated statements, and so forth.

One day, the head of the department held up a copy of the paper, pointed to a big red X he had scrawled across the lead story, and in a shaking voice said, “This is unacceptable.”

The students glanced at one another in confusion, then leaned in to hear what was unacceptable about the story, a wire story that had been torn right off the AP teletype machine and reproduced in the student newspaper, as was the standard practice.

The story concerned acoustical tests that had been conducted by the HSCA in Dealey Plaza (using a Dallas police motorcycle officer’s Dictabelt recording of the gunshots for comparison). The results showed the strong likelihood of two gunmen.

“I was in the motorcade that day,” the professor said, curling his lips in disdain, “and I heard the shots myself. They were echoing all over the place, and that’s all they were—echoes bouncing off the buildings. It is outrageous to claim that those echoes were extra gunshots. Outrageous.”

“You were in the motorcade?” someone asked.

“Yes, in the press bus.”

The students were impressed. I, however, recalled a conversation I had overheard several years earlier between my father, a weekly newspaper publisher, and one of his friends, a reporter who had been in the motorcade.

His friend had complained that the press buses (there were actually two) were the worst possible places for a reporter to be because they were too far back to see anything. He also indicated it was not the best place to hear anything either.

Why this journalism professor, a man of some esteem in the profession, held a different opinion, I have no idea. And, in any case, what did his opinion matter? The HSCA's acoustical tests were still news. So what was the problem with the story?

The student editor said, “I don't get it. It’s just an AP story. All the papers are running it.”

“I don’t care,” snarled the professor. “The problem is, you made it the lead story.”

“But I’m not the only one. The Dallas—”

“I don’t care. Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy.”

Was this man's attitude representative of a prevailing attitude towards the HSCA in the journalism profession? Does it have any bearing on anything outside that classroom, or anything going on today?

I don't know, but the scarcity with which the HSCA is mentioned in news articles today causes me to wonder.

The scarcity cannot be due to ignorance. True, the HSCA released its findings at a time when today's younger journalists had not yet been born, therefore they might be excused for their ignorance. But there are still a great many journalists working today—many of them in senior positions—who, like myself, are old enough to remember the HSCA. So, why do they not mention it?

It is not for lack of opportunity. Every year, on the anniversary of Kennedy's death, articles are written on the subject. They will mention the Warren Commission. They will mention the fact that there are conspiracy theories that 75% of the public believes for some reason. And they will mention Oliver Stone’s film JFK. But rarely will they mention the findings of the HSCA.

There is something else they will not mention: the recommendations of the HSCA.

Fortunately, the report is available in the National Archives, so you can read the recommendations yourself on line. They are in the summary:

IV. Recommendations for further investigation

A. The Department of Justice should contract for the examination of a film taken by Charles L. Bronson to determine its significance if any, to the assassination of President Kennedy.

B. The National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice of the Department of Justice and the National Science Foundation should make a study of the theory and application of the principles of acoustics to forensic questions, using the materials available in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as a case study.

C. The Department of Justice should review the committee's findings and report in the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and after completion of the recommended investigation enumerated in sections A and B, analyze whether further official investigation is warranted in either case. The Department of Justice should report its analyses to the Judiciary Committee.

There it is, in black and white. In 1979, the HSCA, after investigating the greatest crime in our nation’s history, sent its report to the Justice Department, with the recommendation that the department pursue the matter further. And the Justice Department has sat on the report ever since.

Now, there’s a scandal for you—a scandal the major media (which presumably thrives on big, sensational stories with “-gate” as the suffix) seems oddly reluctant to explore.

The HSCA report is not perfect. I do not agree with all its conclusions. The HSCA, for instance, concluded that Oswald fired on the president. I disagree; the best research indicates that Oswald was on a lower floor of the Schoolbook Depository during the shooting and that another man, possibly Mac Wallace, fired from the Depository, while another fired from the knoll.

Nor do I believe the conspiracy was limited to a handful of Cuban exiles and organized crime figures, as the HSCA concluded. I believe the conspiracy was much larger in scope, involving the CIA, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Yet, despite these differences of opinion, I still regard the HSCA as important. It was a start in the right direction, and when it was released, offered us the best hope that the full truth might be revealed and justice served.

This has not happened. Four presidential administrations have come and gone since the HSCA report was issued, and not one attorney general has seen fit to act on its recommendations. As a result, with each passing year, more witnesses, more key players in the conspiracy have died, making it likely that by the time the Justice Department gets around to doing its job, there will be no one left alive to prosecute.

Which of course is the best explanation for why the House Select Committee on Assassinations has become the forgotten investigation ...

In closing, here are two letters written by a White House insider who knew JFK better than most, his personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln. Click to enlarge ..