Before Oliver Stone’s movie on the Kennedy assassination was filmed, national news media began an effort to destroy JFK in the eyes of the public. But moviegoers turned out in droves to see JFK and make up their own minds about a film journalists had savaged as irresponsible and paranoid.
FAIR noticed that the news outlets and journalists that attacked JFK the most vociferously were the ones with the longest records of error and obstruction in defense of the flawed Warren Commission inquiry, which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone. Indeed, the factual and artistic license taken by Stone in creating his movie often paled in comparison to the gross inaccuracies peddled in national news reports over the last three decades.
DAN RATHER. The CBS anchor asked of JFK (12/16/91): “Is it an outright rewrite of history?” On the day after the assassination, as the CBS reporter covering JFK’s trip to Dallas, Rather rewrote the most important piece of evidence in the case: the Zapruder film.
The first journalist to view the 20-second film of the assassination, taken by Abraham Zapruder with his home movie camera, Rather reported to a national audience that the fatal head shot drove Kennedy “violently forward.” As viewers of JFK know, the Zapruder footage shows just the opposite: Kennedy’s head is driven violently backward, suggesting the fatal shot may have been fired from the Grassy Knoll area in front of the motorcade. But the government theory, announced within hours of the killing, had all shots fired by Oswald from behind Kennedy in the Book Depository.
Dan Rather later explained (in his book The Camera Never Blinks) that he made this mistake because his viewing of the film was so rushed. But this error (in the government’s favor) didn’t hurt Rather’s career; in fact, his rise up the CBS ladder was aided by major reporting assignments on documentaries (in 1964, 1967 and 1975) that did evidentiary somersaults in defense of the Warren Commission.
TIME-LIFE, INC. Time-Life paid $150,000 to buy all rights to the Zapruder film, and instead of making it available to experts or journalists, spent the next decade trying to prevent the footage from being seen or studied (Publisher’s Weekly, “Life Sues to Enjoin Book on Assassination of Kennedy,” 12/25/67). Life publisher C.D. Jackson, who ordered the Zapruder film kept from public view, was a close CIA associate (New Times, 10/1/76).
While hoarding the Zapruder film, Life magazine repeatedly distorted what the footage showed. One Life article (10/2/64) claimed that the fatal shot caused Kennedy’s “skull to explode forward.” Another argued (12/6/63) that Oswald had shot JFK in the throat from the rear by claiming—falsely—that the film showed the president turning far around to wave to someone in the crowd.
Meanwhile, Time magazine assailed Warren Commission critics as “leftists,” “Communists,” or, in the case of Bertrand Russell, “that sometime philosopher” (6/12/64). Six months before JFK opened, with the movie only half-filmed, a Time subheadline (6/10/91) referred to Oliver Stone’s “strange, widely disputed take on the Kennedy assassination.”
NEW YORK TIMES. The “paper of record” has broken all records in heavy lifting for the Warren Commission. From day one in Dallas to opening night for JFK, the New York Times has specialized in the selective usage of evidence while denouncing people like Oliver Stone for doing the same.
Besides publishing editions of the Warren Report, the New York Times compiled a book, The Witnesses, which offered highly selective “highlights” of testimony before the commission. The book included a witness’ statement that he’d seen a man with a rifle on the sixth floor of the Book Depository, but not his testimony that he’d actually seen two men there, and that an FBI agent told him to “forget it.” Deleted from the testimony of Abraham Zapruder and others were their impressions that shots were fired from in front of JFK. Omitted from the testimony of the autopsy surgeon was the bizarre admission that he’d burned the notes and draft of his autopsy.
The day after the Warren Report was released (9/28/64), Anthony Lewis, then the Times’ Supreme Court reporter, wrote that “the commission analyzed every issue in exhaustive, almost archeological detail.” Still supporting the Warren Report 27 years later, Lewis (1/9/92) claimed that TV was fascinated with Stone but “has no time for the man who knows more of the actual facts of the assassination than anyone else: David Belin, who was counsel to the Warren Commission and has seen every document, every CIA file.” Belin, who was also executive director of the Rockefeller Commission’s 1975 whitewash of the CIA, has been lavished with media attention for decades (most recently, he was on Nightline–1/22/92–and had an anti-Stone op-ed with Gerald Ford in the Washington Post, 12/17/91). Lewis, who normally supports freedom of information, asks the public to rely not on the CIA files themselves, but on what a government lawyer says the files say.
After the House Assassinations Committee concluded in 1979 that two gunman had probably fired at JFK, Times editors were unswayed (1/7/79): “To the lay public, the word ‘conspiracy’ is freighted with dark connotations of malevolence perpetrated by enemies. But ‘two maniacs instead of one’ might be more like it.”
Is Oliver Stone’s conspiracy theory any more absurd than the New York Times’ invention of the “two maniacs” theory? Ironically, one of the Times’ many recent critiques of JFK (by Tom Wicker, 12/15/91) was headlined: “Does JFK Conspire Against Reason?”
WASHINGTON POST. Throughout the 1960s, the Washington Post denounced proponents of a JFK murder conspiracy as irresponsible kooks. But in 1976, the Post promoted its own kooky conspiracy theories…as long as the finger pointed at Fidel Castro. One Post article speculated that Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy of Castro and the Mafia (who’d been thrown out of Havana by Castro). Seven months before JFK opened, the Post returned from kookdom to denunciation mode, accusing Stone of exploiting “the edge of paranoia.”
JACK ANDERSON. The columnist has excoriated JFK for relying on dubious sources such as Jim Garrison. In the mid-1970s, Anderson penned “Castro killed JFK” columns sourced to Frank Sturgis, the Watergate burglar whose anti-Castro guerrilla activities had been shut down by the Kennedy administration. On the day after the assassination, Sturgis says an FBI agent told him, “Frank, if there’s anyone capable of killing the president, you’re one guy that can do it.” In August 1974, Sturgis told True magazine: “The liberals have twisted everything. If I had my chance, I’d kill every one of them.” On the subject of who killed JFK, Sturgis was a dubious source indeed.
Oliver Stone made a Hollywood movie, and chose a flawed hero in District Attorney Jim Garrison to drive his drama. Stone acknowledges that his movie is a work of fiction, a “countermyth” to the “lone assassin myth.”
Journalists, however, aren’t supposed to deal in myth but in facts. In the JFK assassination, they failed. Perhaps that explains the ferocity of their attack on JFK .
Editor Says Thumbs Down on JFK Review
The crossfire aimed at JFK has claimed at feast one bystander—Pat Dowell, a movie critic for Washingtonian magazine, who resigned in protest after editor Jack Limpert spiked her review of the Oliver Stone movie (Washington City Paper, 1/24/92). After Limpert killed the capsule review, which said, “If you didn’t already doubt the Warren Commission report, you will after seeing Oliver Stone’s brilliantly crafted indictment of history as an official story,” Dowell wrote in protest: “The editors of Time, Newsweek and the [Washington] Post… have all sputtered in protest about JFK’s controversial speculations, but those editors felt no need to soften, censor or omit the rave reviews of the movie by their critics.”
Dowell demanded that editor Limpert run her review or accept her resignation: “I cannot in good conscience keep my job at the price of tailoring my evaluation of a film’s merits to fit someone else’s idea of political (or cinematic) correctness.”
Limpert accepted her resignation. “My job,” he wrote her, “is to protect the magazine’s reputation and it seemed to me that Stone’s film went to the heart of what kind of city this is.”
Dowell told the New York Post (1/25/92) that her former editor “identifies with the Washington elite who are policy makers, pundits and government officials, who are accused in the film of possibly taking part in a conspiracy or at least in a cover-up…. I think the heart of Washington is the rest of us poor schmoes.”