If you had asked me in the mid-1970s -- when I started having my first daydreams about becoming a journalist -- what was the one story that would be my dream article to write in the course of a career, the answer would have been a no-brainer: Finding the real killers of John F. Kennedy. I was hardly alone in that notion. I read in an interview with a one-time Bill Clinton confident who fell out of favor named Webb Hubbell that when Clinton became president in 1993 he asked his pal to check out two things: What really happened in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 -- and whether space aliens really landed in Roswell.
Here's what we can say for sure today: We'll figure out Roswell long before we figure out Dealey Plaza.
Except that today I can reveal for the first time....aw, who am I kidding? Actually, it would be a nice little story to say that on this day, 49 years and 363 days after the assassination of the 35th president, the 4-year-old boy who saw his mother crying in an Ossining, N.Y., kitchen, finally realized that the mysteries of Dallas are unknowable. Except I kind of reached that conclusion by the 40th anniversary, maybe earlier.
Look, I still believe that it's more likely that JFK's death was the result of conspiracy (Jack Ruby? Umbrella Man? C'mon!) and not because Lee Harvey Oswald acted as a lone nut. But at some point when we talk about politics, what we know really happened matters more than what we speculate happened. In the aftermath of Dallas, isn't it more important that LBJ escalated Vietnam -- and that it was wrong -- than endlessly guessing whether or not Kennedy would have ended the war?
But I will say this: What I learned when I finally did come of age and become a journalist is that -- whatever the facts -- there's no excuse for excessive government secrecy.
It's hard to believe, but after 50 years, there are still thousands of pages of government records that would be of an enormous interest to journalists and to citizen investigators that are still kept under lock and key. Actually, the initial plan was to keep some records sealed even longer (is that suspicious?...you bet) but during the mini-uproar after Oliver Stone's 1992 movie "JFK," Washington enacted something called The Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act. Yet even that kept key files under wraps until 2017, four more years from now.
Stu Bykofsky wrote an excellent column on this the other day, and I want to second that. There is no excuse not to release these files -- immediately. It's hard to imagine a legitimate reason for not opening the vault. The Cold War and the Vietnam War have been over for decades. The key people named in the files have passed away. So...the records contain information that might be embarrassing to the U.S. government? Have you ever picked up the newspaper? The U.S. government is embarrassed every single day. The only reasons that fuel the imagination for maintaining this secrecy are sinister ones -- which is exactly why they should be made public.
What could be in there? The former Washington Post journalist Jefferson Morley -- who operates a fantastic website that pushes on a regular basis for the opening up of these records -- has a valuable overview of the spies who are still out in the cold -- people like E. Howard Hunt, David Atlee Phillips and George Joannidess who knew where America's bodies were buried.
It's time to unearth their secrets. We can look back now and see that the government's largely successful cover-up of what the CIA and others were really up to in the early 1960s, and whether that had anything to do with the death of an American president, ushered in a U.S. secrecy state that continues to this day. The government's inclination to keep the citizenry inthe dark about targeted assassinations abroad or unprecedented warrantless spying on Americans at home has grown stronger and stronger with each passing year, 50 in all. It's a long, long road back, but we need to take the very first step.
Release the JFK assassination files...today!