Citing is Important

Isn’t it customary to cite your sources? Any undergrad is acutely aware of the perils of not doing so.

Take this recent editorial on leaks (emphasis added):

There are “whistleblower leaks.” These come from individuals who believe that a politician, staffer, lobbyist, or a corporation has committed and then hid an illegal act, and violated the public trust.

The second kind of leak comes from individuals who have a self-interest in alerting the media to what may be scandals. These leaks could come from political candidates, elected and appointed officials, and those in corporate business who want to eliminate a competitor, but don’t want to have their hands dirtied by the revelation. Most of these leaks fall into the sub-category, Gossip. Far too often, the media take the allegations, do minimal investigation, publish their findings, but never ask the critical question–”Why are you telling me this?”

A third kind of leak is the “trial balloon.” A government official or corporate executive wants to find out what the public thinks of an idea or plan, but doesn’t want anyone to know who is behind it. Often, the media will report something to the effect, “Rumors abound in Washington that  . . .” If opinion leaders and the public like the idea–and politicians spent millions of dollars to have polls tell them what to think–then the proposal is implemented. If there’s a negative reaction to the trial balloon, the plan is locked into obscurity, and the source is exonerated from all negative feedback.

A fourth leak, a variant of the trial balloon, is the veiled news source.

The first three descriptions of leaks, or typologies, are suggestive of Stephen Hess’ The Government/Press Connection: Press Officers and Their Offices (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1984, pp.77-79). I mentioned Hess in several editions of the Lexicon (entry on leaks) and in my commentary on the Coolidge Report and wikileaks. Hess outlines leaks as follows – kinda similar to the unattributed descriptions in the editorial, no?:

Ego Leak: Giving information primarily to satisfy a sense of self.

Goodwill Leak: Information offered to “accumulate credit” as a play for a future favor.

Policy Leak: A straightforward pitch for or against a proposal using some document or insider information as the lure to get more attention than might be otherwise justified. The leak of the Pentagon Papers falls into this category.

Animus Leak: Used to settle grudges; information is released in order to cause embarrassment to another person.

Trial-Balloon Leak: Revealing a proposal that is under consideration in order to assess its assets and liabilities. Usually proponents have too much invested in a proposal to wan to leave it to the vagaries of the press and public opinion. More likely, those who send up a trial balloon want to see it shot down, and because it is easier to generate opposition to almost anything than to build support, this is the most likely effect.

Whistleblower Leak: Usually used by career personnel; going to the press may be the last resort of frustrated civil servants who feel they cannot resolve their dispute through administrative channels. Hess is careful to point out that Whistleblowing is not synonymous with leaking.

The “veiled news source,” or “cloaked” leak, appears early in the work of Seymour Hersh (1967) and Hugh M. Culbertson, whose research was supported by the American Newspaper Publishers Association. See

Culbertson, Hugh M. 1980. Leaks–A dilemma for editors as well as officials. Journalism Quarterly, 57(3): 402-535.

Culbertson, Hugh M. 1978. Veiled attribution–An element of style? Journalism Quarterly, 55(3):456-465.

Culbertson, Hugh M. and Somerick, Nancy. 1977. Variables affect how persons view unnamed news sources. Journalism Quarterly, 54(1):58-69.

Neither Hess or Hersh is mentioned in the editorial; while it can be argued that editorials aren’t scholarly (peer-reviewed) papers, it is expected we cite the materials we use. To not do so is a serious breach. This is part of the public responsibility of scholars.


Fifty Years of Inquiry: The John F. Kennedy Assassination

On the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination, it is critical to turn to public documents, many of which contributed to the evolution of “conspiracy theories” regarding the actors and motives behind the President’s murder. Investigations, official and citizen-driven alike, have produced an enormous amount of conflicting and contrary information. However, citizen inquiries pale in comparison conspiracy-wise, especially when one considers the conclusions of the official version of the assassination (Warren Commission) and Congress’ own inquiry (House Select Committee on Assassinations). As one NPR commentator recently commented, “inconsistencies haunt the official record” of President Kennedy’s assassination.

Beginning with the controversial Warren Commission report, below is a timeline that reflects official and public investigations of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.


1964 ~ Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy (Warren Commission):

Conclusion: Oswald, the lone shooter and the magic, traveling bullet / No conspiracy.

1965 ~ Lord Devlin, Death of a president: The established facts, Atlantic Monthly (March. pp. 112–118):

So it seems to me to be quite unreasonable to suggest that the Commission, when it embarked upon the second part of its task, should have looked for a conspiracy to which Oswald was not a party. There are three factors on the surface of events which at the beginning must have made it look more likely than not that Oswald had accomplices:

The first superficial factor is the doubt whether a crime of this magnitude and difficulty can be successfully committed by a man who is acting entirely alone.

The second factor is the killing of Oswald by Ruby, which by a curious coincidence gives rise to an improbability of the same sort. To British eyes at first—though the view has been changed by the Commission’s descriptions of activities at the Dallas police headquarters—to kill a man while in the custody of the police at their headquarters would be a far more difficult task than to kill a statesmen in a public parade.

The third factor is Oswald’s Communist background.

1966 ~ Mark Lane’s (1966, 1967) Rush to Judgment (video of the text at youtube) / Conclusions: Disputes “preconceived” theories made by the Warren Commission and FBI of Oswald’s involvement in the assassination and direction of the shots (e.g., picket fence) & Garrison Investigation  / Conclusion:  Clay Shaw is one of the conspirators in the JFK assassination.

1975-1976 ~ House Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights (also referred to as the Edwards Committee; Reprinted in FBI oversight: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, 95th Congress, first session, Y 4.J 89/1:94-2/):

Conclusion: Investigates the “Hosty note” that Lee Harvey Oswald left at the FBI Dallas field office for Special Agent James Hosty on November 6, 1963. The Committee reported that after the assassination, Agent Hosty allegedly destroyed Oswald’s note on the instructions of his superior, Special Agent in Charge J. Gordon Shanklin. The FBI kept the note secret for 12 years (see pt. 2., “Circumstances surrounding destruction of the Lee Harvey Oswald note”).

1976 ~ Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities or Church Committee, Final report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Together with Additional, Supplemental, and Separate Views (6 volumes). Book V. is The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies (sometimes referred to as the Hart-Schweiker Subcommittee Report after Gary Hart (D-CO) and Richard Schweiker (R-PA), members of the Church Committee):

The Committee emphasizes that this Report’s discussion of investigative deficiencies and the failure of American intelligence agencies to inform the Warren Commission of certain information does not lead to the conclusion that there was a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. (p.2)

At the outset of its investigation, the Select Committee had evidence that the Warren Commission was not given information about CIA attempts to assassinate foreign leaders. As the Select Committee later discovered, the Warren Commission was also unaware of the full extent of the agencies’ involvement in operations directed against Cuba. (p. 9)

Before the Warren Commission issued its report on the assassination of President Kennedy on September 24, 1964, both the CIA and the FBI had assured the Commission that they would never close the case. When appearing before the Warren Commission, CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms stated (emphasis added):

Q. . . . after the Commission completed its report you would keep the matter open if there was anything new that developed in the future that could be properly presented to the authorities?

A. Yes. I would assume the case will never be closed. FBI Director Hoover made a similar statement before the Warren Commission:… so far as the FBI is concerned, the case will be continued in an open classification for all time (p.77).

1978-1979 ~ House Select Committee on Assassinations. Investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Hearings before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives:

 Conclusions: HSCA determined “on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Committee is unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.”

1991 ~ Oliver Stone’s film JFK released.

1992 ~ President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, P.L. 102-526 passed.

1998 ~ Assassinations Records Review Board (AARB). Final Report. Per the JFK Act (President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992), the AARB did not investigate the assassination but focused on “release assassination records so that the public could draw its own conclusions” (p.xxi)  The Act allows for delay in release of assassination records beyond the year 2017 if “the President certifies” that (1) “continued postponement is made necessary by an identifiable harm to the military, defense, intelligence operations, law enforcement, or conduct of foreign relations” and (2) “the identifiable harm is of such gravity that it outweighs the public interest in disclosure” (Assassination Records Review Board 1998, p. 8):

Conclusions: See letters from the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC) to the National Archives and Records Administration urging declassification of remaining JFK records (mostly CIA) for the 50th anniversary of the assassination (1) AARC Press Release of Jun 12, 2012; (2) AARC’s letter to NARA of Jan 20, 2012; and (3) NARA’s Response to AARC of Jun 12, 2012.

AARB staff member Douglas Horne has unique insight into the Board and its search for records. Appendices to his multivolume Inside the AARB are provided by the Mary Ferrell Foundation.

To date, the number of assassination records that have been destroyed and/or are missing, never preserved, is unknown.