In discussing not only the JFK assassination but other history of the era, we are all frequently frustrated by the extent to which the establishment media seems to simply have repeated official story lines – even when some of their on reporters held information which might have challenged it. For example we now know that Life Magazine conducted a secret JFK inquiry after the Warren Commission report was issued, and pursued a number of interesting open leads – especially on Oswald in New Orleans. Wallace Millam even found archived files from that inquiry.
There is a tendency to view such media control as reflecting the hidden hand if the CIA and in many instances that can be shown to be true. Still, a broader view reveals that in many instances it was simply an artifact if the Cold War worldview. It must be especially difficult for non-baby boomers to accept that for some two decades, the press often did restrain itself from stories dealing with national security, or in some instances stories which might do no more than create diplomatic problems or just make America “look bad” to the world.
An interesting incident from 1958 to illustrates that point; one related to something as innocent as the International Geophysical Year. During that international effort countries around the world were sharing a variety of atmospheric and other observations. Some were coming from the first satellites to be launched by Russia and the United States. But during that same period the U.S. also conducted a series of large scale atomic tests, including high altitude shots to test certain theories related to missile detection and interception. The results of the explosions were detected by a variety of international observations but the government wanted to keep the atomic tests themselves from being officially acknowledged.
Reporters for no less a media giant than the New York Times were all over the atomic testing – project Argus – and knew that the IGY community would be announcing and discussing the observations that revealed the tests. Ultimately the reporters took the their scoop the paper’s publisher, president and managing editor. The response they received was that the paper would print nothing “which would do the country harm.” The White House would be notified and if they ame back with a negative response the story would not see print.
In this instance the White House failed to respond at all – but after publication the Deputy Secretary of /Defense chided the paper, saying the government ought to control the timing of such information. This whole story is presented in Chapter 8 of Walter Sullivan’s book, “Assault on the Unknown”. It’s certainly seems a far from today’s media practices – something from another world. And it makes one wonder if we really know all there is to know about calls from LBJ to Henry Luce after the assassination.