Since at least the early 1960s television and major news media have been the primary platforms upon which the American public learns about and interprets its world. Indeed, journalism is the first blueprint of history. Yet to what degree have our news and history been censored? And how much of recent history is the product of propaganda, spin, and perhaps even the machinations of the US government.
Our guest on this fiftieth episode of Real Politik is Donald Jeffries. He is the author of Hidden History: An Exposé of Modern Crimes, Conspiracies, and Cover-ups in American Politics (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014). Jeffries has been researching the JFK assassination since the mid-1970s when he was a student volunteer on Mark Lane’s Citizens Committee of Inquiry.
Hidden History begins with a comprehensive overview and discussion of President Kennedy’s assassination that the author has been studying for over forty years. The assassinations of JFK and Robert Kennedy less than five years later both made a profound impression on him. “When JFK was killed I was seven years old,” Jeffries recalls.
As a Catholic family, like most Catholic families, were pro-Kennedy and proud of the fact that he was president. It kind of devastated everyone that I knew in my family, and they had the TV on constantly. Those are some of my earliest memories, especially of television, watching the funeral and little John-John saluting the casket and so forth. Even at that time I remember we were driving to mass on the Sunday when Oswald was shot. I remember my dad getting all upset and saying, “Now we’ll never know the truth.” And I remember at the time thinking, even as a seven year old I could put it together: Oh, Ruby shot him to shut him up. When Robert Kennedy was running for president in ’68, as a twelve-year old I was politically aware, and I was really following the primaries. I was really rooting strong for him. I remember I went to bed. We were on the east coast and the California primary was obviously on late and I had to go to sleep for school the next day. But the first thing I did when I woke up, I jumped up and ask my dad, “Did Bobby Kennedy win the California Primary.” He said, “Yeah, he did, but he was shot.” It really, really had an impact on me. A strong impact.
Jeffries maintains that the JFK assassination essentially defined his generation in ways no other event could, while it also initiated a skepticism toward governing elites who could potentially do anything to maintain their power.
I think that for my generation, the baby boomer generation, that was a seminal event. I don’t think it’s cliche at all to say that we lost our innocence that day as a nation, because I think we really were transformed. All those people who were older than me at the time who had volunteered for the Peace Corps and that were really enthralled with JFK’s idealism–the way he could talk and his good looks–it was such a shattering experience. And I think psychologically it was such an impact on the country to go from JFK–this elegant, urbane, good looking guy–to LBJ, who was such a crude, hack, party politician, who was not articulate and just looked like a big dope. He had a slew of corruption behind him from when he first entered Congress. I even think that things that like the civil rights bill, if it had been passed under JFK I think it would have been accepted differently. I think the fact it was done under LBJ, nobody really thought he actually believed in it. This is not to mention what happened policy-wise, especially with Vietnam, there were massive changes.
A good portion of the terrain examined in Hidden History involves the number of suspicious and often inexplicable deaths surrounding the JFK assassination investigations and many of the presidential administrations since then. One such unusual death was that of comedian and actor Freddie Prinze. One day while working with Mark Lane’s Citizens’ Committee of Inquiry, Lane “got a call from Hollywood–from Freddie Prinze–he came and told us, myself and another young guy,” Jeffries recalls.
He was really excited. He kind of blurted it out. Freddie Prinze was obsessed with the Kennedy assassination. Apparently it’s all he was doing. This was near his final days. That had such an impact on me, because if I had not been there that day I would never have associated Freddie Prinze’s alleged suicide with all the other mysterious deaths in this case. They had a made-for-TV movie shortly after that, a typically sensationalist thing, stressing drugs and all that kind of stuff. No mention was ever made about the Kennedy assassination. That’s what I object to so much about our media, because I know personally how inaccurate that was … Who knows how many other people may have had some interest that we don’t know about?
Jeffries notes that a basic theme of Hidden History is that mainstream American journalism itself has failed the public. “We can go back to the Kennedy assassination. I have an exact quote in my book. NBC News agreed to a statement that said, “We will not broadcast anything that is not in consonance with the FBI’s version of events.” They agreed to that right in the immediate aftermath of the assassination. So in 1963 this was one of the three major networks officially agreed on paper to report only what the government wanted it to report. I don’t know what different that was from what Pravda was doing during the Cold War.” The mass media’s acting as an appendage of the US government remains apparent today, he notes. “In recent years we’ve seen how the media is willing,” in this regard.
Last year the New York Times was caught forging a photo trying to whip up the constant war fever against Russia. They were caught doctoring photographs trying to claim they were Russian troops when they weren’t … You can go back to the Lindbergh kidnapping, when one of the reporters later admitted he wrote an incriminating phone number in the pantry to try to make Richard Bruno Hauptmann look guilty. I don’t know how good the media has ever been but I think that we’re just more aware of what they’re doing now. It’s really despicable that you can have professional journalists doing that kind of stuff. It’s bad enough when they’re not asking the questions they should be asking. When they don’t have a healthy skepticism. But when you’re actually trying to frame people. They’ve been caught doing that.
Professor James F. Tracy is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. James Tracy’s work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. James is editor of Union for Democratic Communication’s Journal Democratic Communiqué and a contributor to Project Censored’s forthcoming publication Censored 2013: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2011-2012. Additional writings and information are accessible at memoryholeblog.com.