Saturday, October 15, 2005

Who Shot John?

Every fall, as the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination approaches, a new account exculpating his killers emerges. So I was not surprised by the story on page 22 of Rupert Murdock’s Chicago Sun-Times — “Mob boss ordered JFK hit, book says.” (Jim Ritter, 10/10/2005)

The new book is JFK and Sam, by Antoinette Giancana, Dr. John Hughes (neurologist), and Dr. Thomas Jobe (psychiatrist). The essence of the story comes from Antoinette, the daughter of Sam Giancana, an organized crime figure of some renown. According to the authors, Sam Giancana helped rig the 1960 election in Chicago in expectation of John Kennedy’s future cooperation. But J.F.K reneged on the deal, sending his brother — then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy — after the Mafia boys. Sam, it is claimed, retaliated.

To Jim Ritter’s credit, he cites William Brashler’s criticism. Brashler, arguably a top authority on Sam Giancana, is the author of The Don: The Life and Death of Sam Giancana (1977). Brashler interviewed Antoinette for his book and concluded that she knew next to nothing about her father’s business.

To Ritter’s shame, he also cites the assessment of Ruth Ann Rugg, of the Sixth Floor Museum at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. Ritter writes that “[c]onspiracy buffs have proposed 250 theories” about the assassination, but Rugg says the only credible account is the lone gunman story. A drifter named Lee Oswald defected to the Soviet Union, re-defected to the U.S., and killed the President. Alas, many people find it hard to accept the fact that an insignificant loner could so affect history. “We want to believe that there was more to it, that there were huge forces involved.”

Pop psychological diagnoses, unfortunately, are poor substitutes for facts. The presidency, for instance, wasn’t the only office contested in 1960. Here in Chicago, Democrat Benjamin Adamowski was successfully fighting organized crime. After a dispute with Daley’s machine, Adamowski bolted the party and ran for state’s attorney in 1960 as a Republican. Organized crime had a strong interest in defeating Adamowski, so they worked to get out the vote.

Did that help J.F.K.? Yes. Does that mean gangsters backed J.F.K.? No. As a Senator in the late 1950s, John Kennedy served on the [John] McClennan Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management. Robert Kennedy was the committee’s chief counsel. His sharp questioning of Sam Giancana made headlines. His war with Jimmy Hoffa became legendary. Robert Kennedy wrote about organized crime in his book, The Enemy Within, where he described organized crime as the Private Government. His book was published in February of 1960, months before his brother received the Democratic nomination. The Kennedys’s pursuit of mobsters was well documented. Are we really to believe that Giancana and Hoffa wanted the Kennedys to hold high office?

Incidentally, Senator John Kennedy was elected President by a razor-slim majority in the popular vote. Yet in the electoral college, where Illinois had 27 votes, he beat Vice-President Richard Milhous Nixon by 84 votes. If Kennedy had lost Illinois, he still would have carried the electoral college by 30 votes. Winning Illinois certainly didn't hurt J.F.K., but the state was not as critical as Kennedy critics claim.

In my previous post, Free the Files, I noted the success of the 1992 Assassination Records Collection Act. One result was the declassification of F.B.I. documents on the surveillance of Giancana before, during, and after the 1960 elections. Supporters of the-mob-did-it story don’t quote those documents, and it’s not hard to understand why. Those documents don’t contain anything to support the claim that mobsters backed J.F.K. And federal investigations uncovered no evidence that mob bosses knew in advance about the assassination, discussed it with anyone, or hired anybody to pull the triggers.

In the process of rebutting JFK and Sam, the Chicago Sun-Times advanced the equally silly story that a disgruntled loner did the deed. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Lee Oswald killed anyone. By way of clarification, I will close with the questions posed by New Orleans Parish District Attorney Earling Carothers (Jim) Garrison, the only man to bring a trial in the murder of the President. Could the mob send Oswald to Russia and get him back? Could the mob change J.F.K.’s motorcade route in Dallas? Could the mob illegally remove J.F.K.’s body from Dallas and arrange a military autopsy in Washington, D.C.? Could the mob appoint a presidential commission to classify the evidence for 75 years? Could the Russians do that? The Cubans? Who did that?



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