Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Who is Jim DiEugenio?

by GUS RUSSO / Spring, 1999

[Editor’s note: The following is Gus Russo’s response to Jim DiEugenio’s article, “Who is Gus Russo?”, originally posted on the Internet in 1999.]

Since the 1993 airing of the PBS Frontline episode, Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?, an astounding amount of half-truths and misinformation has made the rounds concerning yours truly. Until now, I had no desire to respond to these “critics,” since the old maxim “consider the source” more than clarified this flow of lunacy to anyone who had evolved beyond the homo erectus stage. However, one recent diatribe is so alarming it must be dealt with post haste.

I refer of course to an article that appeared in the January-February 1999 issue of an anti-government rag with a richly-deserved microscopic circulation. That piece of claptrap is entitled Probe, and purports to be the mouthpiece of a group who call themselves the Committee to Investigate the Kennedy Assassination (CTKA). (Many believe the title Probe is actually a thinly-veiled reference to a device that is employed by a cult with a fondness for proctological exams. I myself would never believe such a thing. But who knows?)

The guru of the “Probers” is an unrepentant Jim Garrison apologist who goes by the name Jim DiEugenio, and in this recent issue he authored an article (“Who is Gus Russo?”) that is more error-ridden than the 1965 New York Mets. What makes it dangerous, however, is the possibility that someone is using Jim's name in an elaborate smear campaign - a foreign intelligence apparatus perhaps (?). The proof is rooted not only in the unique history of Jim DiEugenio, but in a tell-tale oversight in the article, missed by the smear perpetrators. Even the best make mistakes.

Man with a mission

I first met the man "who represented himself as Jim DiEugenio in 1992. He seemed to be earnest, if overly brooding and paranoid. However, he gave the mistaken impression that he was a hard-working investigator who was writing a book on the Garrison saga. Although I had strong disagreements with DiEugenio over the Garrison scenario, we nonetheless had some overlapping interests and thus traded some information. I looked forward, however, to Jim's book, feeling that once he conducted first-hand interviews in New Orleans, he would come to the same beliefs as most New Orleaneans about the lunacy of the Jolly Green Giant.

Thus I was startled when his book, Destiny Betrayed, arrived. Two things stood out about this masterwork; he bought the Garrison demagoguery hook, line, and sinker; and this hard-working investigator's notes cite a total of eight original interviews – five with other researchers, two with Garrison aides, and one with the widow of a cop whose evidence against Clay Shaw was so tainted, the presiding judge disallowed it as unworthy of even Garrison's circus.

One-sided journalism

Nowhere in Destiny Betrayed is there seen an attempt to contact the countless dozens who fall prey to Jim's (Garrison or DiEugenio's) ad hominum vitriol. Everyone is accused of something, but virtually no one was contacted for their side of the story. Of course this is a common tactic usually perpetrated by those who fear that they might be confronted with a fact that destroys the melodramatic underpinnings of their thesis. But more than that, it is patently unfair and downright bad journalism to perpetrate such a shoddy work concerning a subject of such importance. (In my own book, Live By the Sword, I cited over 500 original interviews, in addition to over one thousand conducted on background. I wrote over four hundred letters requesting interviews to first-hand participants in the event, including all those I found at fault in my conclusion. For example, many aides to Robert Kennedy were approached.)

Not surprisingly, DiEugenio's predictable conclusion was that Garrison was correct in his anti-government harangue. My shock eventually faded, that is until I was sent the recent, cited, DiEugenio missive. The usual unchallenged incendiary was there – no surprise – however, I noticed something else that may shed some light on how such irresponsible poppycock came to be in the first place.

In an effort to de-fuse this insidious affront to the truth. I offer the following clarifications for the record. So kick your feet up and get comfortable, this may take awhile.

Dignity Betrayed

In his factually challenged article, DiEugenio delivers a full five and one-half page broadside which I urge you to read in order to fully appreciate the corrections that follow. That being said, let's confront this mayhem in order, shall we?

DiEugenio recounts the “Mark Lane” episode in which “Lane” admitted he could not find me after I criticized his “star witness” Marita Lorenz. This should have tipped DiEugenio off as to “Lane’s” investigative skills – all he had to do was ask Marita, who not only knew me but had my phone number. Or as my brother summarized. “How can ‘Lane’ hope to solve the Kennedy assassination when he can’t even find my brother?”

DiEugenio appears bemused by my interest in Delk Simpson. Of course, I had learned of and interviewed Simpson years before DiEugenio ever heard the name. Simpson was of interest since his son had told the HSCA that his father had been involved, in the Kennedy assassination with his buddy, LBJ’s military aide Col. Howard Burris. I had come learn of these names in 1986, after deciphering them from a manuscript of Robert Morrow's The Senator Must Die. Although Morrow did not divulge their names, he gave enough clues that allowed me conduct a long examination of State Department records and deduce their identities. To say Morrow was floored when I called him with their real names is putting it mildly. My interest elevated when I obtained a copy of George DeMohrenschildt’s addressbook which listed, among other curiosities the unlisted phone number of Howard Burris. Neither Simpson’s son nor Morrow was aware of this. It seemed pretty intriguing. In 1991, Frontline assigned me and two other reporters to run down the story.

Trotting the globe for Frontline

A small fortune was spent in travel and research. In the end, all the curiosities had benign explanations. Since DiEugenio regularly implies an “agenda” for Frontline, the question is begged: why spend thousands of dollars on a story if you intended on destroying it – and then not say a word about it? The reason is painfully obvious, except of course to the likes of DiEugenio. We were hopeful the story might stand up. When it didn't we moved on. We did this over and over again (e.g. interviews with Thomas Beckham, Ronald Augustinovich, Charles Harrelson, Robert Plumlee, the two surviving tramps, Capt. Marion Cooper, Chauncey Holt, and on and on.) Over one year was spent tracking down leads unresolved by the HSCA or others. One by one, these concoctions collapsed under the weight of hard scrutiny. What we were left with is the show that aired.

DiEugenio calls it significant that none of this work appears in my book. Why should it? I had no space, time, or desire to include every lead I've pursued over twenty years that ended up being bogus. I have a roomful of files on these investigations that have always been available to any open-minded person who wishes to come see them.

”Russo somehow heard of a new author [Posner],” DiEugenio writes ominously. The implication is that some hidden agenda brought us together. In fact, I met Gerald and his wife at the AARC in Washington, in 1991, when we stumbled over each other trying to get at the photocopier. He was researching his book, and. at the time had reached no conclusions about possible conspiracies (Yep, it’s true, DiEugenio. No hidden agenda there either.) I am proud to say we become great friends, despite some honest differences of opinion.

Phantom government assets

DiEugenio finds it curious that I am impressed with Jack Ruby's deathbed interview (of which I have a tape copy.) The interview is impressive. Has DiEugenio ever heard it? I doubt it. He dismisses it in his usual manner: the tape was made for an “FBI asset.” It’s DiEugenio’s recurring theme of last resort. When he has no facts, he relentlessly cites people as CIA or FBI assets – and with no evidence. Even if that were true, it would prove nothing, except only to the most rabid anti-government militia types, who wouldn’t know a FBI or CIA officer if they tripped over them.

If DiEugenio is so sure that everything associated with CIA is pure evil, he would have gotten a heated argument over three decades ago from two prominent Americans he pretends to revere:

”The CIA has done nothing but support policy... [It operates] with the cooperation of the National Security Council and under my instructions.” – President John F. Kennedy, 1963

”If the policy was wrong, it was not the product of the CIA but of each administration. We must not forget that we are not dealing with a dream world but with a very tough adversary.” – Senator Robert F. Kennedy, 1968

Of course, DiEugenio and his minions must know more than the naive, unworldly, and lesser-experienced Kennedy brothers. Obviously, the CIA has a checkered history, but upon close examination of their most glaring failures, it is interesting how many were, as JFK admitted, under White House instruction. But, hey, why let close examination get in the way of a good story?

The Fenton report

The infamous “Fenton Report.” When rumor circulated in the late eighties that the HSCA had a “confession tape” that was suppressed, I went into high gear. I was able to locate the tape, and interview the confessor in person, one Thomas Beckham. Beckham is a gregarious, erstwhile musician with whom I recorded a duet of “From A Jack To A King” on my interview tape when it became glaringly obvious that his story was nothing more than a bad joke. We had a jovial afternoon. Again, my files reflect the details. And again Frontline footed the bill for the research, hoping to turn up conspiracy evidence if it existed.

My “blurb” on the Morrow book, First Hand Knowledge: This episode can be filed under “a lesson well-learned.” Although I did write a blurb for Shapolsky, Morrow's publisher, the final version as it appeared on the book was inflated beyond what I had authorized. I later learned that this frequently happens in the PR game. In fact, Frontline threatened to sue Shapolsky over a “starburst” ad on the dust cover for saying the book was to be the “basis for a Frontline special.”

Both Morrow and Shapolsky knew this to be untrue, and even Morrow was surprised when this appeared on the cover. What I actually wrote was more along the lines of: “Explosive new material that needs to be investigated. An understanding of this may be crucial to the understanding of the JFK assassination.”

I was of course referring to the Burris/DeMohr connection and the flight Morrow said Ferrie took to Baltimore – which in fact he did take, but it was later determined had no bearing on Dallas. I had independently tracked down other corroboration for the incident (it's in my files). Most recently, in newly-released papers, Al Beauboeuf states that he flew with Ferrie to Baltimore. I have no regrets in pointing out the seriousness of that line of inquiry. I only regret that my quote was mangled by Shapolsky and taken out of context by tire likes of DiEugenio.

Rationally challenged

DiEugenio’s treatment of the 1993 Frontline program can only be described as approaching the zenith of mongoloid reasoning. He talks about an “imbalance from the other side.” This exhibits a type of paranoia wherein the afflicted polarize issues they can't understand or have no direct contact with - there's your imbalance (mental). It becomes like a war with “sides” competing for some sort of twisted idea of victory. Again the old bugaboo of CIA assets is raised, especially when it comes to Itek’s study of the Hughes film. In his typical scorched earth style, DiEugenio hurls accusations in all directions, seemingly without speaking with anyone at Itek (a “reporting” style made so infamous in Destiny Betrayed.) Here’s a prediction even Dionne Warwick could make: DiEugenio will accuse Pat Lambert, author of the brilliant False Witness, of being CIA. So what else is new?

Flirting perilously close to slander as he so often does, DiEugenio pretends to know about producer Mike Sullivan’s “bias.” I met with Mike on dozens of occasions and saw just the opposite, but then I’m not as gifted as DiEugenio who obviously has mastered remote viewing to observe Mike in his most secret, conspiratorial moments. I could go into great detail about my experience with Mike Sullivan’s total lack of agenda, but it would fill pages. Why do I have the feeling that DiEugenio’s first-hand knowledge of Mike Sullivan would strain to fill one word - zero?

Later, DiEugenio refers to “the talking heads that he [Russo] had on his PBS show.” Again, having no understanding of Mike Sullivan’s role, or in fact what an executive producer does in general, DiEugenio is off in the ozone once again. For the record, Mike wrote every word of the narration, picked every talking head, and wrote his show based on what he believed was the best of the raw data given him by our team of reporters. Any one of us would have shaded some things differently, but by and large I agree with most of Mike's calls – especially when he authorized one year of research to track down conspiracy leads. Scott Malone alone spent a fortune in Japan running down rumors of LHO’s alleged links to intelligence assets there.

The Dallas conference

DiEugenio’s treatment of a conference in Dallas is so fraught with error and leaps of logic that I get exhausted at the mere thought of dealing with it. So I’ll just point out some telling examples. He states unequivocally (as per his style) that Ed Butler “came into possession of some of Guy Banister's files.” I'm curious where that comes from, since, Ed Butler left me alone in the INCA offices to go through his voluminous files to my heart's content. (Again paid for by the “biased” Mike Sullivan.) And guess what DiEugenio? – no Banister files. Again, I guess I should yield here to DiEugenio’s third hand knowledge and remote viewing.

Next (for the umpteenth time), we get the tired “CIA asset” theme in dealing with the “compromised” scientist/CIA payee, Luis Alvarez – who somehow hoodwinked the naive Nobel Prize Committee in awarding him their coveted prize. Alvarez wouldn't have been so fortunate if the brilliant DiEugenio had been on the committee, that's for sure.

Still on the conference, DiEugenio assails me as an “anti-critic,” proving beyond any shadow of a doubt he didn't read my book, or read it as superficially as he must have read everything else. In the book, any blockhead will note that I skewer the CIA in Mexico City, the White House, the Church Committee, Allen Dulles, and on and on. Virtually no one escapes this tragic episode free of criticism. (One of the book's five “Parts” is entitled “A Coverup.”) Yet, in another staggering logic leap, that somehow renders me an “anti-critic.” This also applies to his implication that I “believe the conclusions of the Warren Report.” He added that I am “firmly in the Warren Commission camp.” DiEugenio must have been off at a remote viewing seminar when he skipped my section entitled “The Shortcomings of the Warren Report.”

DiEugenio’s next complete misrepresentation concerns the performance of Cyril Wecht at the conference, describing it as “a powerful peroration against equivocators.” The implication is that “equivocators” are people who attend the conference in search of the truth, whatever that might be, as opposed to the zealots who claim to know the truth, and only see these events as pep rallies. Funny, that description was not included on the ASK brochure sent to me. I can assure the reader that if it were, I would not have wasted my time there.

Close encounters of the foulest kind

As far as Wecht’s “ringing declaration” goes, it had the appearance to those of us cowering near the exit’s of a religious camp tent meeting or worse. At one point, at the height of Wecht’s anti-free-thinking tirade, a friend standing with me voiced what I had been simultaneously thinking; “Jonestown.” We decided to leave before the Kool-Aid was served.

Later, in the lobby, I encountered a hyped-up Wecht as I was entering the up escalator (DiEugenio goes out of his way to say which way we were going on the escalators, only to get that wrong as well.) According to ”JD,” Wecht “scolded” me over the Frontline show. Wrong again. It was I who initiated the conversation. As Wecht walked by, he looked like he was about to pop, still on a high from the stage/altar he had just left, I just couldn't resist. “Hey, Cyril,” I said. “Nice new religion you've got here.”

What happened next was astounding to anyone within earshot, and by that I mean the entire lobby and mezzanine of the giant Hyatt Hotel. Wecht launched into a stream of the most foul obscenities imaginable – at a decibel level that had the entire area stunned. His face turned a purple-red, as he used language that would get him ejected from the Springer Show. He accused myself, Bob Artwohl, Todd Vaughn, Mark Zaid and others of everything under the sun. What made the event even more surreal was the fact that while he was screaming, my escalator had reached the second floor, so those below only saw the good doctor screaming at the ceiling. He was eventually coaxed outdoors, where it was thought by some he was on the verge of a stroke. If he indeed suffered permanent damage, it would explain why, four years later, Wecht was seen on TV calling the most ludicrous rubber dummy a possible space alien (“Alien Autopsy” on Fox.)

What's the frequency, Kenneth?

Next, DiEugenio relates an episode where he was approached by a “man I had never seen before” who told him Russo and Zaid were “infiltrators.” What gave this man credibility to DiEugenio was that he had been in the SDS. Obviously, one can't even debate this kind of lunacy, however, I will say that only the National Institute of Mental Health would be interested in infiltrating this group, and I have never been a member.

Lunching with the Dark Side?

In his next section, dramatically entitled “Russo’s Fateful Meeting,” DiEugenio pretends to have the scoop on a 1994 lunch I attended with William Colby, Ted Shackley and five others in Washington. “Why was Russo there at all?” writes the rhetorical DiEugenio. He implies (his favorite tactic) that since the Frontline show was history, my attendance must have some sinister implication. The implicit agenda of such a meeting according to DiEugenio was to find a way to attack his beloved COPA claque. Of course, DiEugenio likes to indulge in selective amnesia, since he well knows, as he admits later in his article, that by that time I was writing a book on JFK and Cuba. The fact is that I wanted to get to know Shackley better in order to arrange a private interview. (Which I did and noted in my book. Duh.)

May the farce be with you

The truth is that these retired officials lunch about once a month to discuss (are you ready?) their kids, baseball, fishing, their wives, etc. In this instance, and about an hour and a half into the lunch, Ned Dolan and Joe Goulden, worried that the COPA meeting being held in DC might defame their old friend Dave Phillips. Ned suggested that either he or Joe write an article about their friend to balance the debate. Colby may have uttered two sentences, and I don't think Shackley said anything. Most seemed utterly disinterested. Someone suggested that Ned and Joe wait until a negative slant was aired by COPA, since it was far from certain that any responsible media would cover such an irrelevant event. Case Closed. I hate to deflate the COPA members’ inflated view of their own importance, but that discussion lasted all of 47 seconds, give or take.

There was no mention of “discrediting COPA.” In fact, there was not one mean-spirited, ad hominum statement - no COPA luminary mentioned by name. What a refreshing change from the arrogant, ugly, accusatory events staged by what DiEugenio proudly refers to as “the critics.”

Behind the scenes with Hersh

In his section on Seymour Hersh, DiEugenio again with no evidence, says “Russo apparently worked on the Judith Exner aspect of Hersh’s hatchet job.” And again (surprise), he couldn't be more mistaken. I had no input, or interest in the Exner story. My two chief assignments were Chicago, and the Kennedys in Los Angeles (esp. the Monroe rumors.) I located, among others, Murray Humphreys’ widow, and the man who introduced Joe Kennedy to Sam Giancana.

DiEugenio writes that Hersh and myself knew that one part of the Exner story (which as I said, I had no involvement with) “would be a tough one to swallow. So they had to come up with a corroborating witness.” This error negates the fact that I had known said witness, Marty Underwood, for years by the time I met Hersh. In fact, one of the reasons Sy brought me on board was because of my access to witnesses like Marty. In addition, Marty had told me the Exner corroboration before he knew I was working for Sy. He just thought I might be interested for my book. I wasn't. But when I recalled it, I gave it to Sy. Marty repeated the story for Hersh in my presence. DiEugenio who abhors calling first-hand witnesses, could have called Hersh before writing his fable, but this is Mr. Eight-Interviews-Let's-Write-a-Book DiEugenio.

So why did Marty refuse to appear on the ABC show? I’ll tell you the answer to what DiEugenio was too frightened to pick up the phone and ask anyone involved. Marty's sister talked him out of it, not because the information was wrong but out of loyalty to JFK, who had never talked out of school about his friend, Marty. It was a point no one could argue with. But the story was true.

On the Underwood/Mexico City story, DiEugenio wrote that Marty had written his notes of the trip “especially for the use of Hersh in his book.” While it is true that Marty told the Review Board that story, the fact is that the notes were given to me long before I met Hersh, and were for use in my book. By this time, Marty had decided to completely stonewall the board, owing to his dislike of director Gunn. Marty often called to laugh about how he was blowing them off, feigning illness, etc. I know for a fact that Marty's debrief of Win Scott happened, and Scott believed Fabian Escalante to be a prime suspect as a conspirator with Oswald. And not only did Marty give me his White House notes of his trip to Mexico City, he gave me intelligence reports provided him by the FBI's Sam Pappich on the other assassination exploits (in South America) of Fabian Escalante. The board never saw this material.

DiEugenio writes of “ABC’s exposure of the Monroe hoax.” Wrong. Lancer Productions initiated and paid for the forensic investigation ($100,000) that eventually found the flaws in the Cusack docs. I helped locate the experts used. Lancer is owned by Mark Obenhaus. The funds for that research eventually came out of monies that would have gone to Lancer and Hersh – not to mention how valuable the material (and the program) would have been if authentic. It is to Lancer's credit that, in spite of many studies that they paid for that indicated authenticity, Lancer was never satisfied. It’s what is known as “due diligence.” If DiEugenio had any familiarity with the term, he might have done some research before he penned his paranoid tirade.

The real Lone-nuttiest

The stream of simple-minded sarcasm continues as DiEugenio expresses confusion over how I could dare conclude Oswald the lone shooter, while still believing the possibility of a conspiracy. This logic-challenged section of the article points up what I have long believed to be one of the “critics’” most glaring failures: the inability to comprehend how there can be a single executioner, working to front a conspiratorial band in the shadows.

It seems DiEugenio needs an American History refresher course. Can you say John Wilkes Booth? DiEugenio adds to this section his recollection that I told him in 1993 that I believed Garrison had been very close to solving the case.

Anyone who takes more than a cursory look at my book will see that I indeed believe that Garrison was appallingly close to the heart of the coverup, but due to his immense ego and hatred of the government, he chose to see everything in reverse: 544 Camp St. was key to the case, but Garrison refused to see the obvious – Arcacha and the Cuban Revolutionary Council worked hand-in-glove with Bobby Kennedy and the White House; the camps on Lake Ponchartrain, of which Garrison was aware, were a cog in the Central American plan of the Artime/Kennedy liaison, not part of an anti-Kennedy clique; Garrison was well-aware of the Rosselli admissions of the White House-backed anti-Castro plots.

But instead of investigating those real events, he sat on the story, thus depriving the public of that important piece of the puzzle until the Church Committee disclosed the details almost seven years later. Garrison spoke the truth when he said to the press, “Black is white, and white is black.” But no one got the joke - he was clearly talking about his own investigation.

DiEugenio closes this section with a typical misstatement: “[Russo] says that the main thing that changed his mind about writing a book was the year he spent” with the new JFK files (1995). Actually, I’ve spent much of the last four years scanning the files. But the point is that, once again, DiEugenio completely misrepresents what I wrote, which is: “Two key events forced me to change my mind ... It was while in New Orleans for Frontline [1992], that I had my first inkling of the ‘ultimate truth’ ...[and] the release of the JFK documents required by the JFK Act.” SEE p.XI

When DiEugenio refers to Dale Myers’ brilliant computer renders as “embarrassing,” the obvious question arises: what does that make the stick figure drawings used by DiEugenio’s hero, Garrison? I suggest “moronic.” This real embarrassment is on display on pages 478 & 480 of my book.

Enough is enough

There is so much more that could be addressed, but who has the time? In closing, I will point out one statement of DiEugenio’s that is tellingly accurate. When musing over the thought processes that led me to the conclusions in Live By the Sword, DiEugenio confesses, “I don't pretend to know the answer.” Enough said.

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