A deluge of stories commemorated the 25th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death–from Time to the National Enquirer, from Geraldo Rivera to MacNeil/Lehrer–including over 30 hours of primetime programming. The media took a second look at the possibility of a second gunman in reports ranging from the serious (PBS Nova’s probe of the scientific evidence) to the ludicrous (Time’s theory that Oswald was aiming at Connally not Kennedy).
Perhaps worst of all was Jack Anderson’s American Expose: Who Murdered JFK?, a two-hour syndicated special which claimed–with flashy graphics and flimsy proof–that Fidel Castro masterminded Kennedy’s death in retaliation for CIA plots against the Cuban leader. Anderson’s tale has Castro and the Mafia–bitter enemies since Castro ran the Mob out of Havana in 1959–working together to kill JFK. How Castro (or the Mafia, for that matter) orchestrated a US government cover-up of the evidence is not satisfactorily explained. Nor why Castro, then secretly negotiating with Kennedy to normalize relations, would have preferred the hawkish Lyndon Johnson as president. “Anderson seemed to listen to all the evidence presented,” one of his associates told Extra!, “but he was like a wild man insisting that the show must ultimately point to Castro.”
While Anderson’s mentor, Drew Pearson, often antagonized J. Edgar Hoover, Anderson earned high marks from the FBI chief. Hoover once described Anderson as “a good boy,” “a nice looking fellow,” and a “smooth talker” (J. Edgar Hoover, Personal Files, 7/1/69), Hoover’s fondness for Anderson may have had something to do with the fact that for years Anderson tipped off the FBI about his and Pearson’s column before it appeared. Anderson also sought Hoover’s help when writing about mutual adversaries.
Among Anderson’s adversaries were the Kennedys. Extra! has obtained an FBI document, dated May 21, 1968, indicating that Anderson proposed to the Bureau that he write a column accusing Robert Kennedy–not J. Edgar Hoover–of instigating the wiretap on Martin Luther King. “Kennedy should receive a death blow prior to the Oregon primary,” the document quotes Anderson as telling the FBI. Kennedy lost that primary shortly before he was murdered in June 1968.
During the previous year, Anderson had a six-hour conversation with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who was then investigating the JFK assassination. Anderson proceeded to brief the FBI on Garrison’s case. According to an FBI memo (4/4/67), Anderson felt that Garrison had made a convincing case that the CIA was behind JFK’s death.
But the CIA got off clean in Anderson’s recent TV special, which featured the tale of gangster Johnny Roselli, one of the mobsters hired by the Agency to kill Castro in 1960. Although the death plots failed, Roselli figured he’d done well, for, in his words, he “now had the government by the ass.” Roselli thought he could avoid prosecution by threatening to expose the CIA/Mafia alliance.
In 1967, while facing racketeering charges, Roselli leaked a story to Jack Anderson, whose columns began to refer to a Mafia skeleton in the CIA’s closet. Roselli added a new twist–the theory that Castro retaliated and killed JFK. A 1978 probe of Anderson’s columns by the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded:
The public dissemination of the details of the plots correspond remarkably with the efforts of John Roselli to prevent his deportation [and] prosecution…. These coincidences plus other evidence indicate that John Roselli manipulated the facts of the plot into a retaliation theory in efforts to force the CIA to intervene favorably in his legal affairs.
In other words, Roselli manipulated Anderson for his own purposes. According to former Mafioso James (“Jimmy the Weasel”) Frattiano, Roselli said of the “Castro killed Kennedy” theory: “The whole thing has been a scam…all bullshit” (The Last Mafioso, Ovid DeMaris). Roselli was murdered in 1976, but Anderson has kept his discredited tale alive.
—Robert Ranftel is a FAIR research associate.
JFK Dies Again
If one were to list the greatest media blunders in the JFK case (there have been many), near the top would be Dan Rather’s description of the Zapruder film, the famous home movie of the assassination. The film, not shown on TV until 12 years after the fact, shows the fatal shot driving Kennedy’s head sharply and indisputably backwards–suggesting a bullet fired from the front, and therefore a second gunman. But Rather, then a cub reporter for CBS and the first TV correspondent to view the film, told the nation that Kennedy’s head was propelled forward.
In his 1977 book The Camera Never Sleeps, Rather explained that his error resulted from a rushed report, delivered without notes, after viewing the film only once. But Rather’s gaffe may have more to do with how easily reporters are swayed by official stories. Authorities claimed that all shots were fired by a lone gunman from the rear, and that’s how Rather saw it–even though the film footage he saw contradicted the official line.
There was also the New York Times editorial (1/7/79) shortly after the House Select Committee on Assassinations rejected the Warren Commission verdict of no conspiracy in the JFK case. Pondering the newly disclosed audio evidence of more than one gunman in Dallas, the Times suggested that perhaps two lone nuts had fired at Kennedy: “The word [conspiracy] is freighted with dark connotations of malevolence perpetrated by enemies, foreign or political. Yet two maniacs instead of one might be more like it.”