Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fact Checking Emily Meinhardt, Or Why Liberals Need To Believe That Someone Else Killed JFK

I should have written a response to this piece as soon as I saw it. Alas time is fleeting and there are just too d--- many things to blog about all the time so I got distracted. I hope you accept my sincerest apologies. I shall try to make it up to you in this post. Please know that I am separating each post with hyphens to make it more manageable.

In any event, let's get started on a point by point refutation of Emily Meinhardt's piece on Mort Sahl, governmental cynicism, and conspiracy theory. Ms. Meinhardt entitles the piece "Questioning Americanism."

In "Questioning Americanism,"Ms. Meinhardt poses the question "What if the government killed the president? What if high-ranking political officials collaborated to preserve the status quo? What if a nation's highest court of justice covered up the truth?"

Meinhardt poses these questions to set the stage for her larger question of whether or not JFK was killed by the U.S. government. These are questions that have been posed to her by political conspiracy theorist turned comedian turned CMC professor and which have led Ms. Meinhard to be skeptical of government. (If you'll recall at the time, I wrote a very critical piece on this blog when I discovered Sahl was a Claremont McKenna professor. Ms. Meinhardt commented on the blog immediately after the post went up.)

Progressives, we know, must believe that JFK was killed by someone other than Oswald because Oswald is a far leftist and well, you can't have a far leftist kill the golden boy. It doesn't do well for the movement. Take this quotation from Ms. JFK as Exhibit A.

He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights . . . . It's — it had to be some silly little Communist. (Manchester, Death of a President, p. 407)
And so, when a far leftist can't be the culprit, you must look to the government or a "climate of hate."

We know from Skeptic Magazine and others that there was a lone gunman. We know that the mechanics of conspiracy theory dictates that it would be exceptionally hard for everyone to conceal a presidential assassination. Do you really think that the leaky D.C. could keep that a secret?


Never mind all that, let's return to the substance of the article in question. Let's go to paragraph 2.
Last fall, I took a class with the legendary political satirist Mort Sahl, who spent four years investigating the assassination of President Kennedy alongside New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. Together, they debunked the findings of the Warren Commission and struggled to piece together the truth about Kennedy’s assassination. Hollywood blacklisted Mort Sahl because of his involvement with the investigation, and he lost his career.
Ms. Meinhardt, in the comments section of this blog, said that
CMC should be honored to have Mort Sahl on campus. To borrow from Hillary Clinton's book title, he is truly living history. More important than his speechwriting for Kennedy was his invovlement in Jim Garrison's investigation of JFK's assasintation. By helping in that effort, he was doing something truly revolutionary...
Therefore to get to the kernel of the Mort Sahl story we must examine Jim Garrison, a district attorney from New Orleans, whose veracity was often in question.

James Piereson, author of Camelot and the Cultural Revolution: How the Assassination of John F. Kennedy Shattered American Liberalism, has a great quotation about Jim Garrison on National Review Online which more or less sums up my views of him.
...Using Jim Garrison as a credible authority on the Kennedy assassination is akin to citing Rosie O’Donnell as an authority on the collapse of the Twin Towers. It is not possible to claim that Kennedy was shot from the grassy knoll without at the same time claiming that the autopsy (which said he was shot from the rear) was wrong or fabricated.
Dave Reitzes, a JFK researcher, has done the digging and come up with dozens of occasions where Garrison lied under oath. Simply put, Garrison cannot be considered a credible source on the JFK assassination and yet Sahl uses him repeatedly. For Meinhardt to suggest that Sahl is credible is difficult.

Meinhardt's insistence that Sahl was blacklisted is also complicated. While it may be true that Sahl was blacklisted, it's far more likely that he just wasn't popular. After all, he was doing his routine and making fun of Kennedy and the Warren Commission. Chances are Americans didn't take to mocking of an assassinated president or the commission report that followed suit.


Meinhardt mentions Kennedy's brain and the controversy surrounding what happened with it. (Whether or not he had one in the first place is an open question. PT Boat 109 being a rather perfect example. Essentially, JFK was allowing his men to sleep on deck when they were rammed by the Japanese destroyer and split in two. Had JFK not been connected he would have gotten a court martial instead of a Navy Cross. My grandfather, Dwight L. Johnson, by the way, got a Navy Cross as well. Control F to find his citation here. In WWII, they only gave medals of honor to dead men.)

Back to Meinhardt...
For example, we have no idea as to the location of President Kennedy’s brain, which was removed from his body for further analysis. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations attempted to locate President Kennedy’s brain with no success.
Actually, that's just untrue. Here's what actually happened, according to the House Select Committee. There's a long and complicated story about it, but the long and short of it is that the president's brain is with him in his coffin. Sorry to disappoint.


Meinhardt then reports that Sahl encouraged the students to read communist propaganda, like the newspaper of the Communist Party. Ms. Meinhardt tries to create a false moral equivalence between the real censorship of the Cuban dictatorship and that of CBS over Dan Rather.

She cites Dan Rather.
For example, CBS silenced Dan Rather, ex-news correspondent for the network, for reporting on Bush’s failure to fulfill National Guard duty. An investigation team assigned by network President Les Moonves could not either prove or disprove the authenticity of the now infamous Killian documents, yet Moonves fired the report’s entire production team.
The truth is much more nuanced. Dan Rather and CBS used documents that they had not vetted. They were thought to be forgeries by half a dozen different experts. It was so bad that Rather himself apologized for it. Though he later famously said that the documents were wrong, but the underlying story was true.

Of course, Rather has a history of shoddy reporting that goes back to the Kennedy assassination where Rather got his start.

Here's how Robert Huffaker, a Dallas journalist and author of When The News Went Live: Dallas 1963, tells it on p. 102. (I can't copy and paste, so please tolerate an error or two.)

There was a story that some Dallas schoolchildren has cheered when the announcement was made that school was to be dismissed because the president had been killed. It wasn't clear whether it had happened at all -- of it it had, whether the children had reacted only to the news that they were to be let out of classes. But the story had, as they say, legs. This was Dallas with its reputation destroyed--a cesspool of right-wing hatred, a town that "killed" the president. Many journalists were blaming the city, often with the words "disgrace" and "shame."
Eddie Barker strongly doubted the allegation, which a tipster had called in as true. Barker knew and distrusted the source. He warned Dan Rather away from the story and told him, "Frankly we don't need that." Eddie felt assured that Dan had agreed not to use it, but then Rather fed it to CBS anyway, and CBS aired it.
Eddie, known for a fiery temper that at times resulted in trash cans being kicked around the office, blew his stack and evicted Rather and the CBS crew from our newsroom, where they had been headquartered.
KRLD News countered the story by arranging for me to interview one of the school's teachers live during our six o'clock newscast. Conducting the five-minute interview, I asked the questions everyone would have. Did the children applaud the announcement of the president's death? Did they applaud when school was cancelled? [sic] The teacher calmly denied that the children in her school had reacted to the presidents death with anything but the sorrow we all shared. She knew of no other school where it might have happened. If it had occurred, the entire school system would have known.
Rather was wrong. He misled the nation then and he was fired for misleading the nation again in Rathergate.


Meinhardt cites Sahl as saying the following, “We haven’t had a legal government since Jack Kennedy.” Ah yes, Camelot was a wonderful time. Too bad it was just as fictitious as King Arthur's court.

Unfortunately, America's Camelot had its fair number of seedy characters. One such character was Judith Campbell Exner, his mistress. Apparently, according to Washington Monthly, she got around and slept with a Mafia don at the same time she was messing about with JFK.

Here Meinhardt is again:
Good government should provide me with basic needs and secures my rights, and a democratic one should reflect my interests, right?
Good government should empower you to provide your own needs and not regulate or tax you until you can't provide for yourself. Government should reflect a plurality of interests, not exclusively yours.

She concludes with this statement:
But thank you, Mort Sahl, for shaking my foundation—my trust may be gone, but my faith remains.
Maybe that's why your trust in government is gone. You are expecting too much. After all, government ought to be limited. It ought not be something in which you place either your "faith" or your "trust" for governments are instituted by men, not demi-gods, and no, JFK was not a demi-god, much as Oliver Stone and others may want to portray him that way.

I'll end on a quotation from Madison's Federalist 51.
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
It's worthy advice. Such a the pity that the Democratic Party (and the Republican Party lately) seems more intent to creep further into spheres where it needn't and shouldn't be. And yet, I suppose it's not all bad. After all, if government or school administrators weren't always mucking it up, I wouldn't have any material for this blog.