JFK assassination

Minutes before the assassination. Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News, via Wikimedia Commons.

After 60 years, the major media still won’t tell the truth about the JFK assassination

by David Talbot | Nov 21, 2023

Two weeks ago, I was asked by the Opinion section of the New York Times to write an essay on the JFK assassination nearly 60 years later. This was a major breakthrough because the newspaper of record has always embraced the official version of the assassination, even as the Warren Report, based on the “magic bullet” and all that nonsense, has grown increasingly tattered over the years. In 2015, when The Devil’s Chessboard—my book about CIA spymaster Allen Dulles and the national security state’s war with President Kennedy—was published, the Times refused to review it. (Nonetheless, the book was a New York Times bestseller.)

So it represented something of a milestone when The Times commissioned me to write a JFK article. I turned in a sober, detailed piece that was, if anything, TOO kind to the Times and the corporate media. The Times killed it anyway. (Below, you can read what my editor emailed me.) Sigh.

So, unfortunately, when it comes to the Big Media and JFK, we’re still at square one at 60. The New York Times is STILL part of the cover-up.

A few days later, I was scheduled by Ben Wecht of the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University to give the closing speech at its annual conference, which is the best gathering of JFK experts in the country. I spoke about the Times and Big Media’s role in the Kennedy cover-up.

Here is my speech:

I regret that I can’t be in Pittsburgh in person. I may be virtual, but I’m live from San Francisco.

I will keep my remarks fairly brief as I close out this very informative conference today. I know you’re all rushing to return home. But I do want to leave you with something provocative. So here goes.

“History,” Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the White House aide to President Kennedy and Harvard historian, was fond of saying, “is an ongoing argument.”

No subject embroils academics and journalists more than the JFK assassination, even 60 years later. But the American people are a different story. There, a substantial majority has long been of one mind.

Poll after poll ever since the shots rang out in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza has showed that most Americans believe President Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. According to a new Gallup survey, the percentage of lone gunman skeptics remains a solid 65 percent of adult Americans, with the largest numbers of those skeptics pointing at the federal government (20 percent) and specifically the CIA (16 percent) as the likely culprits—numbers that are sharply up in recent years.

Despite this unshakeable public conviction, and a growing body of evidence to the contrary, the US media has remained stubbornly, even perversely, wedded to the single assassin version of Dallas. The Guardian, one of the more liberal newspapers in the English-language world, just ran a worshipful profile of aging Secret Service agent Clint Hill, who still clings to the tattered Warren Report, despite (among other recent revelations) his former Secret Service colleague Paul Landis’s assertion that there was nothing “magic” about the magic bullet at all.

Shaking his head sagely, Guardian correspondent David Smith opined, “In an age of division, disinformation and internet-fueled movements such as QAnon, conspiracy theories about who killed Kennedy and why are thriving as never before.”

I would bet that David Smith has barely cracked the surface of the JFK story. Journalists for the mainstream press routinely offer their judgments on subjects they know little about. Newspaper and TV reporters are captives of relentless deadlines and a pack mentality. Despite their feisty reputations and their insatiable habit of awarding themselves with prizes, they are a timid lot. They are loath to bite the hands that feed them. This story is so epic—involving a brazen assault on American democracy—you would think the Fourth Estate would show a little humility in its ignorance. It never has.

As I wrote in my book The Devils’ Chessboard, Cold War-era national security officials like Allen Dulles enjoyed a cozy relationship with the corporate media. Dulles, the CIA director linked by me and other historians with the JFK assassination and cover-up, got himself appointed to the Warren Commission, playing so active a role that some observers said it should have been called the Dulles Commission.

After the Warren Report was released in 1964, Newsweek National Affairs Editor John Jay Iselin sent Dulles a gushing note, thanking him for helping the magazine direct its coverage of the report’s 26 volumes on a tight deadline. Newsweek’s cover story on the Warren Report, Iselin told Dulles “was made easier through your kindness in giving us some idea of what to be on the watch for.”

Dulles was on a nickname basis with New York Times executives and journalists throughout his career. When Dulles was named CIA director in 1953, Times general manager Julius Ochs Adler – “Julie,” as Dulles affectionately called him—warmly congratulated his friend “Allie.” Times columnist C. L. Sulzberger was also a reliable advocate during Dulles’s reign as spymaster, with Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame later exposing their close connection in a Rolling Stone investigative article about the CIA’s media assets.

These days the press is so close to the national security state that the CIA doesn’t need a clandestine program like Operation Mockingbird to infiltrate it. Every night you can see a parade of former CIA, FBI, NSA and Pentagon officials on liberal news networks like MSNBC or CNN.

Essentially, from Ukraine to China to the Middle East, the corporate media acts as a mouthpiece for US empire. National security reporters soon learn that there is no access for them in Langley and Washington if they don’t report the official line. It’s clear to them: no access, no career.

What the press conveniently forgets, in its disdain for the “conspiracy culture,” is that the American people have been lied to by their government (and the obedient media) time after time. From Dallas to the Gulf of Tonkin to Iran-Contra to 9/11 to WMD—to Trump and Biden’s presidential decisions to allow the CIA to illegally keep secret some 4,000 government documents related to the Kennedy assassination.

A message to David Smith and the rest of the smug press corps: This refusal to come clean about some of our biggest national traumas is what has led to widespread public skepticism about authorities, about official pronouncements. There is a direct line between these government lies and the growth of QAnon and other crazy subcultures.

By the way, some conspiracy theories are cracked. And some are true. Do you think power prefers to operate in the open?

Now for some good news. As I’ve long observed, quoting Leonard Cohen, there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. The official version of what happened six decades ago in Dallas is so widely rejected, is so patently absurd, that even the Big Media is catching up to the truth.

It’s a mixed bag this anniversary season. Yes, we have useful idiots like the Guardian’s David Smith. But we also have documentaries like JFK: What the Doctors Saw on Paramount+, the blunt eyewitness testimony of several members of the surgical team that worked on the mortally wounded Kennedy at Parkland Memorial Hospital and saw with their own trained eyes that he had been struck by bullets from the front and rear. In other words, clear evidence of a conspiracy.

On the November 22 anniversary, we can watch on several streaming platforms the opening episode of Four Died Trying, a documentary series on the history-changing assassinations of the 1960s. This month, there is also the multipart podcast Who Killed JFK? produced by Hollywood actor and filmmaker Rob Reiner, who teamed up with longtime Kennedy assassination author Dick Russell.

You can also detect a slow movement in the right direction by the corporate press. In recent months, Peter Baker, The New York Times’s White House correspondent, has covered two important developments in the Kennedy case, the Landis revelation about the magic bullet and the discovery that the CIA was secretly reading Oswald’s mail before the Kennedy assassination. This was an eye-popping story because the agency had long claimed that Oswald was off its radar before the assassination—a dubious assertion about a former Marine who defected to the Soviet Union, threatening to reveal military secrets, and then returned to this country with a Russian wife. Baker is clearly open to new information about the JFK case.

And New York magazine recently featured a generally positive profile of JFK expert Jefferson Morley, the dogged journalist who sometimes succeeds in making the mainstream press do its job—though strangely the magazine’s editors chose to delete the positive quotes about Morley from other Kennedy authorities.

Despite this flirtation with the truth, The New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media remain largely wedded to the official version of Dallas. Last week, I was asked by a Times opinion editor to write a JFK assassination op-ed – a landmark event considering my reputation. Unfortunately, the newspaper of record rejected my measured article. “The piece is rich and fascinating,” the editor emailed me, “but I don’t think I can move forward with it. The fascinating mobius strip of truth and conspiracy is very tricky for Times Opinion.” Whatever that means.

So, yes, the mainstream press is, let’s say kindly, a work in progress as we near the 60th milestone of the JFK assassination. The news media is still trailing far behind public opinion, even the Times Opinion section.

But if the mainstream press’s progress has been slow—some would say glacial—Hollywood, unfortunately, is even worse. The dream factory is where the truth goes to die. And the entertainment industry has even more power to shape public consciousness than the daily news barrage.

After Oliver Stone’s explosive movie JFK was released in 1991, the CIA reportedly vowed that another film like that—which blamed Kennedy’s murder on powerful government plotters—would never be made. The agency was right. The CIA now operates a branch office in Hollywood which has done a very effective job at making sure that U.S. spies are portrayed in a heroic light and in canceling screen projects which take a different view.

After they were published, my New York Times-bestselling books – Brothers, on Robert Kennedy’s hidden search for the truth about the murder of his brother, and The Devil’s Chessboard, about the rise of Allen Dulles and his central involvement in the JFK assassination—were optioned by major studios and filmmakers. But neither book has come close to reaching the screen. “They’ll never make your books in Hollywood,” Oliver Stone told me several years ago. So far, he’s been right.

What I’m about to tell you is painful. Darkly comic. Sure, it happens every day in Hollywood—after all, it’s Hollywood, Jake. But there’s a political dimension to my frustration. Yes, Oliver was probably right—they’ll never make movies or TV shows from my books. Or from anyone’s books, if you tell the truth about the Kennedy assassination.

A few years ago, I was sitting at a studio conference table with big producers and a major left-wing director. They wanted our feature to say the Mafia killed JFK, case closed. Wellll, I said, organized crime did play a role—gangsters are often recruited by the CIA to do the spy agency’s dirty work. But, as my books demonstrate, Dallas was a national security operation. The movie producers just looked at me like I wasn’t getting it. Later, the director said to me on the phone: We both know it’s bullshit. But let’s take the money and run. I didn’t. Now I hear director Barry Levinson and writer David Mamet are making a new movie. It says gangsters killed Kennedy. That one is getting made.

Hollywood continues to confound me and thwart me. Continues to buy the rights to my books and do nothing with them. I was raised there. My father Lyle Talbot was a cofounder of the Screen Actors Guild. My son Joe Talbot is the widely acclaimed director of The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I’ve learned how to write fiction and screenplays.

I even collaborated with Oliver Stone on a screenplay. That’s right. It hasn’t gone in front of the cameras yet. Maybe it will someday.

Yes, we must admit—‚we’ve been losing the big media war. The corporate news media has been slow, very slow, to let in the light. And Hollywood, the other communications bastion, remains a twilight zone, a largely impregnable fortress. The land of superhero spies and fantastical propaganda.

So, what should we do at this point? Sixty years later. When the White House still sides with the CIA, in brazen violation of the law, and keeps some 4,000 documents about the Kennedy assassination secret. When our vigilant, watchdog press rouses itself and growls… “Oh, well. So it goes.”

By the way, while researching The Devil’s Chessboard, I filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the CIA and State Department for the travel records and passport history of William Harvey. He was the assassinations chief for the CIA during the Cold War and a Kennedy hater. Before the JFK assassination, Harvey was spotted by his CIA deputy flying from Rome, where he was stationed at the time, to Dallas. A court ruled that the government could keep Harvey’s travel records hidden, though he died many years ago.

So, given all this official stonewalling, what should we do? Keep doing it ourselves. Keep ignoring the government and the big media gatekeepers. If the New York publishers and Hollywood studios persist in blocking us, we’ll keep going around them with podcasts and blogs and documentaries. That’s what we’ve always done.

If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own. That’s what Scoop Nisker, the late great San Francisco radio host, used to say.

I have a saying of my own: The best story wins. We have the truth on our side. And guess what? It’s a much better story.

Keep saying what The New York Times doesn’t want to hear. Keep digging up information that will never get you on CNN.

Someday our citizens army will win.

Let me add one final comment as we depart, with apologies to my good friend Jeff Morley, who has done so much to advance the JFK case. Jeff spoke earlier today. It was a very good speech, but I must disagree with one of his statements. When it comes to understanding this murder most foul, we are more than just “warm.” We are hot, very hot.

Yes, there are crucial gaps in our understanding of the crime—like the names of the snipers who shot the president and who exactly financed the operation. But we know the larger truth. Top officials in the CIA and military organized the killing of President Kennedy and its cover-up. They killed him because JFK was trying to wind down the Cold War and was threatening the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower belatedly warned the American people about. In other words, Kennedy was confronting a very lucrative racket. We’ve been at war ever since Dallas.

In 2019, a list of prominent Americans signed a so-called Truth and Reconciliation public statement, which said in part: “A growing body of evidence strongly indicates that the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy was organized at high levels of the US power structure, and was implemented by top elements of the US national security apparatus using, among others, figures in the criminal underworld to help carry out the crime and cover-up.”

This powerful and definitive statement, which I helped organize, was signed among others by G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel of the House Assassinations Committee; Dr. Robert McClelland of the Parkland Memorial Hospital surgical team; Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg; former Secret Service hero Abraham Bolden; and a who’s-who list of leading JFK researchers including Dr. Cyril Wecht, Dr. Gary Aguilar, James Douglass, Peter Dale Scott; Rex Bradford; James DiEugenio; John Newman—and Jeff Morley.

Sixty years after Dallas, let’s state loudly and clearly what we know. Even when the mainstream press and Hollywood refuse to listen.

The truth will out.

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