American Assassination History for Dummies
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"Like what?" asked [editor A.M.] Rosenthal, always the hard-nosed reporter.
"Like assassinations!" Ford blurted out, quickly adding, "That’s off the record."
By standard mainstream journalism rules, Ford’s "blurt" wasn’t off the record. But more importantly: fuck the rules, this was bombshell news, from the highest (and bumblingest) source in the land! Tom Wicker and Rosenthal both insisted on publishing the scoop — Wicker was convinced that Ford meant to blurt it out for reasons unknown, it was hard to imagine someone who spent decades close to J Edgar Hoover and other intelligence officials could be that unbelievably stupid.
But cowardice won the day — Wicker and Rosenthal were overruled by the rest of the Times execs and editors who were there, and they had to sit on their scoop and watch while a grandstanding jackass (in the good sense) named Daniel Schorr stole it from under their noses.
Yep, that crusty old voice on NPR was once one of the pushiest assholes in journalism. Schorr, who worked for CBS News during the post-Watergate era, had heard the rumors about Ford’s "assassination gaffe" at the New York Times. Schorr had assumed that Ford was talking about domestic assassinations of Americans, but he needed confirmation from someone high up. So he arranged an off-the-record interview with CIA chief William Colby, and got another "gaffe" scoop:
Finally, I said, as casually as I could, that I had heard President Ford had a problem about the CIA and assassinations. Colby fell silent.
"Has the CIA ever killed anybody in this country?" I asked directly.
His reply was quick and even: "Not in this country."
"Not in this country!" I stared at Colby as it sank in on me that I had been on the wrong track, but had now been put unintentionally on the right one.
Two gaffes, two Chevy Chase fall-on-their-faces screw-ups buy two of the highest and most experienced lawyer-intelligence officials in the land. What’re the odds!
Then again, there really was something of a whiff of failure in the air those years — Hell, even our assassins couldn’t hit the side of a barn if they stood right in front shooting, as Sara Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme proved that year, the Lucille Balls of would-be presidential assassins...
This is where the slapstick ends, and things get deadly serious and depressing. Over the next several months, the Church Commission and Pike Commission exposed a number of CIA assassination plots — in the Congo, Haiti, Chile, Cuba, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, who knew where else — and the public reacted with genuine shock and horror. Not just the public, but most of the Liberal Establishment was shocked and horrified also — Democrats and Republicans, back when they had "moderate" and "liberal" Republicans in Congress. Hypocrites, sure, but after a couple of decades with the Col. Jessups who dominate our political discourse today, I’d take those old pre-Carter Cold War liberal hypocrites any day.
The CIA assassination program shocked the public more than any other revelation from that period. JFK and MLK conspiracy theories went mainstream. Robert Redford wouldn’t take a script if he wasn’t being chased by CIA villains. Everyone hated the CIA in America, and the fastest way to becoming a hero was being hated right back — like Daniel Schorr was.
In mid-1975, Schorr was anointed "CIA Enemy No 1" by none other than ex-CIA director and silver-spoon fascist Richard Helms himself — which Schorr proudly recounted in his memoir Clearing The Air:
Though, in a sense, my broadcast about assassination plots may have helped to spark the investigation that had brought Helms back [from Teheran, where Helms served as US ambassador], I was not thinking of it in personal terms as I waited in the corridor, with three or four other reporters, for him to emerge from the Vice President’s office and to invite him to be interviewed before camera staked out in the press room across the hall.