JFK and the Questions That Still Haunt Us
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because something this right is probably not wrong.
By Eugene S. Robinson
There was a time, not so long ago, that when phones rang, you had no idea who was calling. Call it the Russian roulette phone challenge, but it could have been anyone calling, and even more so when you’re editor-in-chief-ing high-profile magazines in Los Angeles.
“Is this Eugene Robinson?”
“You’re going to need to talk to me.” A voice, insistent, urgent, but measured. It was Mike Golden. Investigative journalist, he told me.
And we were off to the races. Very specifically, the fact that he had the last interview on record with James Earl Ray.
“The man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr.?” I asked.
“Yeah. Right.” And like he was talking to a child, Golden started the spiel. Not to a totally unreceptive audience. Oliver Stone’s award-winning film JFK had hit eight years earlier, in 1991, and those “in the know” had bit hard, drinking deeply and fully of whatever was out there that questioned the consensus reality around President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. From Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah “Tink” Thompson to the Warren Commission itself, we found the first Warren Commission that alleged no conspiracy much less credible than the second one that did. And we found fellow travelers wherever we could.
But Golden had the inside scoop. A scoop he was ready to spill. In fact, a scoop he had been spilling, but for a willing audience of listeners. Listeners already steeped in the late political historian and radio personality Mae Brussell, or Dave Emory, would be well familiar with the spill’s finer points: Conspiracy and collusion in high places resulted in the 35th president of the United States of America getting whacked.
The U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations had stated that “Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy…
And everything after that? In total dispute. And there was a lot to dispute: Lee Harvey Oswald’s “guilt” and the quality of his “patsy-ness” along with ballistic physics; the puffs of smoke from beyond the fence by the train rails behind the grassy knoll where Woody Harrelson’s late dad, a convicted assassin (look it up), was loitering; and what the Zapruder film shows and later forensics could prove. Beyond that, a cast of characters — from folks in the mob to the former head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Algerian hit men and the mysterious and shadowy Raul, who was shuttling around suitcases stuffed with $100,000 to whoever might need such things.
Think this sounds crazy? No more or less than anything else happening in America in the 1960s. And in the face of the irregularities connected to the assassination of Martin Luther King and Ray’s assertion that he was also a patsy, Golden asked me, “What do you think it means that the King family believes him now?”
It’s this willingness to keep asking questions that causes Golden to dismiss nothing-to-see-here, lone-gunmen theorists. Because the likelihood that Oswald shot the presidential party’s limo that afternoon in Dealey Plaza, ultimately killing President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963? “Exceedingly low. Zero for a person with an ounce of brains.”
But listening to him on the phone and in subsequent conversations? Not the same as publishing his extended meditations on the early ’60s swirl around the assassinations of Kennedy and later King. And for sure legal departments would take issue with unsupported accusations of various political players’ ties with pornography, then known as “stag films,” involving teenagers. However, in the balance, the assassinations of Jack and Robert Kennedy, along with Martin Luther King, demanded attention be paid.
So we greenlit the article. Along tight parameters, mostly in a word count guaranteed to keep it under four printed pages. Any more than that would have hospitalized our fact-checker.
“And next up on the editorial calendar: faked moon landings, Hitler in Argentina and Area 51 revealed.” Mikel Husband, one of my editors, was waving the copy at me. Serious journalist, super skeptical. But all the fact-checking had cleared it, Golden had talked to Ray and Ray’s claims about what did or did not happen around the assassination of King were compelling enough to sway members of the King family. On the JFK assassination? The U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations had stated that “Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy,” even if they weren’t able to identify the other gunman or men.
It held enough water for me, and so publish it we did. And where there was expected a tsunami on the piece’s release? Not much of a ripple. Yeah, no matter what we find out or what was revealed at the end of the day, the same three guys were dead, but those true believers like me, like Golden, expected/wanted there to be … something more.
That more eventually showed up, in the form of a page ripped out of a book and sent to me by a friend. Circled on the page was the following:
“America was never innocent … You can’t lose what you lacked at conception.” It was from James Ellroy’s American Tabloid. “The real Trinity of Camelot was Look Good, Kick Ass, Get Laid … Jack got whacked at the optimum moment to assure his sainthood.” Ellroy goes on to, ultimately, side with Golden here in a weirdly paradoxical way when he closes with his desire to “cast light on a few men who attended his ascent and facilitated his fall. They were rogue cops and shakedown artists. They were wiretappers and soldiers of fortune and faggot lounge entertainers. Had one second of their lives deviated off course, American History would not exist as we know it.”
For better or worse? Yeah.
Or, like Golden said, well in advance of publishing his book Been to the Mountaintop, Went Over the Edge: Who Killed JFK, MLK & RFK: “If you don’t keep telling people what you think really happened, it will happen again.”