1992 Village voice article on media killing the truth about JFK's murder-
Ellen McCloy, daughter of Warren Commission member, John McCloy, worked at CBS and acted as a courier between the network and her father.
CBS rigged an attempted recreation of the shooting, censored LBJ's comments, and browbeat a Dealey Plaza witness out of his account.
Walter Cronkite was complicit.
CBS decided to go ahead with a documentary series in the fall of 1966, as the cynicism about the assassination continued to mount. Books on the subject were starting to stimulate a national debate. Reports on the suppression of crucial evidence—including the fact the Warren Commission never even saw the actual autopsy photos and X-rays of JFK—had became parlor talk around the country. Buzz phrases like "magic bullet" were being used for the first time to express a growing cynicism. Public opinion polls indicated that a majority of the respondents had begun to doubt that Oswald was the whole story.
The CBS effort was nothing if not monumental. Whereas those who had come before had used fixed targets to test the magic bullet hypothesis, CBS went a giant step further, rigging up a moving target. But the money and manpower thrown at the project was undercut all along the way by errors in procedure and logic; if not motive. For instance, in trying to determine whether Oswald could possibly have fired all the rounds believed to have been squeezed off in Dealey Plaza, CBS used a rifle that was faster than Oswald's: capable of three shots in 4.1 seconds as opposed to 4.6 seconds for Oswald's. The 11 CBS marksmen fired 37 firing runs of three shots each; of those, an amazing 17 of the 37 runs were disqualified as Cronkite said "because of trouble with the rifle." And, even with their faster guns and time to practice, the 11 marksmen averaged 5.6 seconds to get off their three shots, with an average of 1.2 hits. Oswald, a notoriously bad shot firing with a slower gun, is alleged to have done much better—three shots and two direct hits in 5.6 seconds, with no warm-up. CBS neglected to inform its viewers of the poor total average hit ratio. How did CBS interpret these rifle tests? "It seems reasonable to say that an expert could fire that rifle in five seconds," intoned Walter Cronkite. "It seems equally reasonable to say that Oswald, under normal circumstances, would take longer. But these were not normal circumstances. Oswald was shooting at a president. So our answer is: probably fast enough."
Such lapses may well be explained by a perusal of internal CBS documents, generated in preparation for the 1967 documentary, that have been obtained by the Voice. The documents show the highly unusual role played by one Ellen McCloy, who for years had served as the administrative assistant to Richard Salant, head of CBS News. During the production of the CBS series, McCloy was one of only a handful of people who was cc'd on all 10 memos obtained by the Voice concerning the work in progress. (McCloy and Salant contend there was nothing unusual in this arrangement as she routinely received copies of Salant's correspondence.) But in this instance, she was more than a passive recipient, filing duplicates for her boss. She was passing along not her own opinions but those of "Dad."
Ellen McCloy's father, John J. McCloy, had not only served on the Warren Commission but had been Assistant Secretary of War, High Commissioner for West Germany, chair of the World Bank, chair of Chase Manhattan Bank, and head of the Ford Foundation. According to Kai Bird, author of the soon to be released biography The Chairman: John Jay McCloy—the Making of the American Establishment, McCloy was "the guy who greased the wheels between the world of Wall Street, big foundations, and Washington." McCloy himself acknowledged his agenda: showing that America was not "a banana republic, where a government can be changed by conspiracy."
Not only did McCloy appear in CBS's documentary, he also lurked about in the shadows, helping to steer and shape. A handwritten note on CBS stationery from Ellen McCloy to Les Midgley, producer of the series, gives the reader a feel for the close relationships between the McCloys and the CBS bunch.
The memo reads: "One comment that Dad [emphasis added] made after reading the `rough script' Mr. Salant wanted me to pass on toyou. It concerned a sentence (—or two—) that appears on the top of page 5C. ... Dad said: 1) he had no recollection of the President (LBJ) asking or urging the members of the Warren Commission to act `with speed.' 2) The phrase `In less than a year' again implies that the commission might have acted in haste. Dad suggests that you might say `after 8 1/2 months ... ' —Ellen" Or again: "Dad asked me to give you the enclosed. He said it shouldn't be considered a bribe ... maybe it's just a gift as the result of the birth of Luci's baby. `The old man' thanks you very much for the booklet!!! —Ellen"
On July 20, 1967, Midgley sent a letter to John McCloy thanking him for his "extremely kind and generous comments," adding, "Another member of your family also sweated this all out with us and did a fine job." Salant now contends that Ellen McCloy's presence on the CBS payroll did not prejudice the documentaries. "Should who her father was have disqualified her from the job?" he asks. "She was a very able lady. She worked for me for six years." Ellen McCloy concurs that she herself did nothing to influence the editorial content of the documentaries. "I would act as a conduit," McCloy explained. "I would take things home and they would ask me to ask my dad this or that."
He and producer Midgley remain proud of the series, and believe it holds up. "It still is the major journalistic inquiry into this 25 years later ... it was an independent inquiry."
But the McCloy memos, and a few others, certainly raise a question about how open-minded and thoroughgoing CBS was. Take, for instance, this April 26, 1967, memo from Salant to Midgley: "Is the question of whether Oswald was a CIA or FBI informant really so substantial that we have to deal with it?" The answer was, maybe. In CBS's June 28, 1967, program, Cronkite does indeed refer to Oswald's FBI connection in the following fashion: "The question of whether Oswald had any relationship with the FBI or the CIA is not frivolous. The agencies, of course, are silent. Although the Warren Commission had full power to conduct its own independent investigation, it permitted the FBI and the CIA to investigate themselves—and so cast a permanent shadow on the answers."
Although Salant asserts to this day that CBS was only after the truth, a recently released documentary indicates otherwise. Danny Schechter's Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy, features Walter Cronkite conceding that CBS News in 1970 censored Lyndon Johnson's own doubts about the lone-assassin theory. Cronkite tells Schechter that Johnson invoked "national security" to get CBS to edit out his remarks long after they had been captured on film. Cronkite and CBS, of course, reflexively complied.
But perhaps nothing revealed CBS's prejudice in the series more tellingly than the network's treatment of Orville Nix, a man who was wielding a movie camera across from the grassy knoll on that fateful day. Nix, who had worked for the General Service Administration as an air conditioning repairman in the Dallas Secret Service building, sold his footage to UPI for $5000 in 1963. But, according to his granddaughter Gayle Nix Jackson, the film only brought him heartache.
"The FBI had issued a dictum to all of Dallas's film labs that any assassination photos had to be turned over to the FBI immediately," recalls Gayle Jackson. "The lab called my granddad first and, like the good American he was, he rushed it to the FBI." Nix had to turn his camera over to the FBI as well. "They took the camera for five months. They said they needed to analyze it. They returned it in pieces," recalls Jackson. In 1967 Nix dutifully turned out for the CBS re-creation. Recalls his granddaughter: "His turn came to reenact what he saw. They said, `Mr. Nix, where did the shots come from?' He said, `From over there on that grassy knoll behind the picket fence.' Then it would be, `Cut!' We went through this six or seven times and each time it was, `Cut!' And then a producer stepped forward and said, `Orville, where did the Warren Commission say the shots came from?' My granddad said, `Well, the Texas Book Depository.' The producer said, `That's what you need to say.'" CBS producer Bernard Birnbaum, who worked on the documentary, denies the exchange. "We never tried to put any words in anybody's mouth, absolutely not," he told the Voice. Birnbaum says CBS did give Warren Commission critics air time and cites a segment of the documentary where another eyewitness contends shots came from the grassy knoll. "We were looking to disprove everything," he insists.
According to Jackson, her grandfather also told CBS that there were four shots fired during the assassination, an observation subsequently endorsed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1975, based on controversial acoustical evidence. But what did the CBS viewing audience hear from Nix? "Bang, bang, bang," as if to suggest that Nix also subscribed to the three-bang theory.
After being browbeaten by CBS, Orville Nix, a normally mild-mannered man, became furious. "He was hitting the steering wheel on the ride back home saying, `Why are they trying to make me feel like I am insane?'" Jackson recalls. She remembers that a year or so later, when District Attorney Jim Garrison called for Nix to testify, her grandfather wouldn't talk. He was afraid for his life.
How many other witnesses experienced the Orville Nix you-never-heard/saw-that phenomenon we will never know. But one other was Kenny O'Donnell, a confidant and adviser to JFK who was in the motorcade. In Tip O'Neill's book Man of The House, O'Neill describes a conversation with O'Donnell, who told him he was sure that two shots had come from the fence behind the grassy knoll. O'Neill said to O'Donnell, "That's not what you told the Warren Commission." O'Donnell responded, "You're right, I told the FBI what I had heard, but they said it couldn't have happened that way and that I must have been imagining things. So I testified the way they wanted me to. I just didn't want to stir up any more pain and trouble for the family."
Since Orville Nix's death in 1988, his granddaughter, a former loss-prevention executive, has been waging a one-woman war to get the original film back from UPI. She wants it analyzed to reveal the details that a copy does not provide. "You know my granddad believed in the Texas handshake, and that is how he made his deal with UPI." According to Jackson, the rights to the film were to revert to Nix's estate in 1988. After initially getting a green light from UPI for the return of the film, the then-media giant informed her that the attorney that granted her request was "no longer with the company." She was told to wait until 1991. Then on June 4, 1991, came a note from UPI's general counsel, Frank Kane. "UPI agrees that, in accordance with the oral agreement ... UPI hereby releases all rights over the Nix Film to Mr. Nix's heirs and assigns." There was only one problem. UPI no longer had the film. Jackson received a letter saying the film had gone to the Warren Commission and was supposedly housed in the National Archives. With the Warren Commission out of business, she contacted the National Archives only to learn that the original was not there either.
The last official place the film was said to have been was in the House Select Committee on Assassinations files. That Committee was convened in 1975 to investigate the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. The chief counsel for the HSCA, G. Robert Blakey, who has a penchant for gagging his staff via mandatory secrecy oaths, came clean with Nix's granddaughter about the fate of the family heirloom, says Jackson. "Blakey's the only one who takes full responsibility for the loss of the film because it was his committee that was supposed to assure that all evidence was returned to the rightful owner," Jackson says. So much for posterity's view of the grassy knoll on November 22, 1963. A former HSCA staff member, Gaeton Fonzi
, recalls that back at the time of the hearings the staff "heard rumors that Blakey planned to classify all of the committee files, but we didn't believe them because that would be too reminiscent of what the Warren Commission had done." In fact many of the files were classified and this same man, Blakey, is the one who has been recently assigned to help draft legislation about what will be released from the original Kennedy assassination files.