When the Warren Commission’s report came out on September 24, 1963, TIME’s writers worked thirty-six hours straight to prepare a summary of the report for the magazine’s next issue. Fifty years later, TIME magazine stands by its treatment of the Commission’s report. I don’t know exactly what that tells you about the magazine, but it’s not good. To give you the flavor of their fiftieth anniversary story:
“We worked through the night and into a second night,” recalls Marshall Loeb, now 85. “The mood was one of determination to get the story done.”
In addition to recounting the events that surrounded the assassination, the Commission’s report debunked the major conspiracy theories that had emerged in the year after that day. Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. He and Jack Ruby had no connection. There was no foreign conspiracy, nor was there a domestic one.
But what the report lacked in scandal it made up for in detail. “Its great value comes from the thoroughness with which the Commission carried out its investigation, from its laying to rest many malignant rumors and speculations, and from its fascinating wealth of detail by which future historians can abide,” noted TIME’s story on the report.
Look at the three short sentences that end the second paragraph: Lee Oswald acted alone. He and Jack Ruby did not know each other. No conspiracy existed. To stand by these statements, given what we know now, is nearly lunatic. I know the Warren Commission believers say exactly the same thing about the skeptics. Each party tells the other, “You have to be crazy to believe those things.” The two sides do speak past each other in that regard.
The difference is that, in 2014, the Warren Report is completely discredited. It is not discredited by a bunch of nuts who somehow persuaded people they were rational. It is discredited by rational people who did careful work. To pretend that this work does not exist, as TIME does, shows not only ignorance about the work itself, but an amazing blind spot about the impact this research has had on the way people think about the crime. You might call it Rip Van Winkle journalism. TIME acts as if fifty years of investigation into why Kennedy died do not exist.
The title of this post refers to the subtitle of James Douglass’s outstanding book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. TIME magazine’s October 2, 1964 cover reminds us that the same questions – why he died and why it matters – apply to the murder of Lee Oswald as well.