The Touchstone, February/March 1997
JFK CONSPIRACY: THE INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY AND COWARDICE OF ALEXANDER COCKBURN AND NOAM CHOMSKY
When JFK came out in 1991, I felt Oliver Stone hit the nail on the head. During 1992, some progressive/liberal writers, including Alexander Cockburn of The Nation, criticized Stone, and said there was no conspiracy, and even if there was, it did not matter because Kennedy, despite his great personal charisma, dynamic speaking, etc., was underneath, the same as all the other power-hungry and money-loving capitalists.
I asked Alexander Cockburn about JFK when he visited TAMU in 1992 (with the help of Danny Yeager and The Touchstone), but he seemed bored talking about Kennedy. As I sat and chatted with Mr. Cockburn along with the rest of the Touchstone gang (as it existed back in 1992) around a table at a local College Station restaurant, I was extremely puzzled and just could not understand how someone as educated, well-read, and perceptive about so many national and world affairs as Mr. Cockburn could really believe a complete load of crap like the Warren Commission report. It just did not make sense.
I learned a little later that Noam Chomsky also took the position that there was no conspiracy. Most of what I know about Mr. Chomsky is what I read in his occasional editorials in the now-defunct Lies Of Our Times magazine, and through the movie Manufacturing Consent (a biography of Mr. Chomsky worth watching, especially for the section on the N.Y. Times and East Timor).
Now, an answer as to why these and other progressive writers smart enough to know better, support (at least publicly) the Warren Commission has surfaced in the Jan-Feb issue of Probe (the newsletter of Citizens for Truth about the Kennedy Assassination, http://www.webcom.com/ctka).
According to a Probe article by Ray Marcus, back in early 1969 Mr. Chomsky met with several Kennedy experts and spent several hours looking at and discussing assassination photos. Mr. Chomsky even cancelled several appointments to have extra time. There was a followup meeting with Mr. Chomsky, which also lasted several hours. These meetings were ostensibly to try to do something to reopen the case. According to the Probe article, Mr. Chomsky indicated he was very interested, but had to give the matter careful consideration before committing.
After the meeting, Selwyn Bromberger, an MIT philosophy professor who had sit in on the discussion, said to the author: "If they are strong enough to kill the President and strong enough to cover it up, then they are too strong to confront directly... if they feel sufficiently threatened, they may move to open totalitarian rule." According to the author, Mr. Chomsky had given every indication that he believed there was a conspiracy at these meetings. However, Mr. Chomsky never got involved with trying to reopen the case.
The same Probe article mentions that (the late) I.F. Stone, another leading progressive writer of the past, also took a position supportive of the Warren Commission in I.F. Stone's Weekly for Oct. 5, 1964.
Alexander Cockburn now writes for CounterPunch, a solid bi-weekly newsletter associated with the liberal Institute for Policy Studies. CounterPunch is fine, and worth reading, although its articles are never authored. CounterPunch also overly dwells on Washington D.C. politicians, like the tabloids, except that CounterPunch emphasizes financial instead of sexual misdeeds—i.e., it follows the money. (Recently CounterPunch was also the only organization of about 20 which refused my renewal check, subject to a simple agreement not to release my name or pester me with junk mail—more on this in a future issue of The Touchstone).
It has now become clear to me that leading progressive/left/liberal thinkers and writers like I.F. Stone, Noam Chomsky and Alexander Cockburn will only criticize the monied and powerful to the extent that they think it is safe for them to do. This is no different in principle from what the mainstream news media does: critiques are within a constrained margin of what is acceptable and not acceptable to the powers that be.
The only difference is that Mr. Chomsky and Mr. Cockburn have much wider margins than ABC (now owned by Disney), NBC (owned by General Electric), CBS (owned by Westinghouse), The Washington Post (with long ties to the intelligence community), and the N.Y. Times (so biased that the previously mentioned Lies Of Our Times was created to combat the rampant disinformation).
Mr. Chomsky and Mr. Cockburn are also really no different than Dan Rather. Mr. Rather publicly supports the Warren Commission, but has a private position on the assassination we have not heard. On specials about Kennedy, Mr. Rather will spout some mealy-mouthed nonsense like "The mystery of the assassination burns like an eternal flame" while the camera pans over Rather's shoulder to the Kennedy torch that burns at Arlington Cemetery.
To some extent Mr. Chomsky and Mr. Cockburn practice what the Kennedy research community is often accused of—they have created a cottage industry—standard left-wing/liberal criticisms of power. Their critiques are well-meaning and accurate, and provide a comfortable if not wealthy living, but don't really make a substantial dent in the problems they write about. Mr. Chomsky has been writing for over 30 years now, yet how many people have even heard of Noam Chomsky—even after the feature film about him (Manufacturing Consent) was produced? Has corporate power been reigned in any? How many Americans know about East Timor?
I hope these and all progressive writers will develop the courage to speak all of the truth that they know, or at least be honest about it, because even repeated, sharp, and direct-to-the-point criticisms of power, are not worth much if they are deliberately mis-aimed against the most important and critical problem: That forces in the supposedly constitutional democracy of the U.S. will murder democratically elected leaders like John F. Kennedy (and progressive leaders like Robert F. Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and get away with it.