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March 23, 2004
Kerry, The FBI, and The Phoenix Project: The Whitewash Continues

After the Los Angeles Times ran their story on the FBI surveillance of John Kerry in yesterday's paper (reprinted dutifully by the Star Tribune, of course), it was inevitable that other outlets would pick it up. One would hope that the larger news organizations -- ones that write their own content rather than reprint what comes across the wires -- would investigate the issues on their own and provide better context. Unfortunately, that proved not to be the case.

For instance, the Washington Post put two reporters on this story, and came up with essentially the exact same article that the Times ran. The New York Times' David Halbfinger -- the same city as the paper where Thomas Lipscomb first revealed the Phoenix Project, a VVAW assassination plot against American politicians -- actually managed to come up with less than the LAT. As the story was carried worldwide, even less context was provided than given stateside.

Only CNN managed to put together that the surveillance and the assassination plot might somehow be related, but wrote the article as an exoneration of Kerry, and not before ironically deriding the paranoia of the Nixon White House:

"Nixon and the FBI saw VVAW as a major, major threat to the United States," said historian Gerald Nicosia, who wrote the seminal "Home To War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans' Movement." "They really believed that these veterans were going to come to Washington with rifles and armaments and create a coup, storm the White House, kill the president, take over the government," Nicosia says. ...

Kerry's break with VVAW came at the end of 1971 during a four-day convention for VVAW national coordinators. The organization's minutes record that Kerry and three other fellow moderates "resigned" their posts. But before that gathering adjourned, there was some discussion about the idea of assassinating American leaders who voted to prolong the war, said Nicosia and three veterans who attended the gathering.

Scott Camil, a Florida vet who put forward the idea, says the notion didn't get very far. "If people considered our plans to be so bad, we would have been charged, and they would have made a big stink about it."

As the joke goes, it ain't paranoia if they're really out to get you, is it? CNN manages to bury this all the way at the bottom of their piece, but at least they wrote something about it. I find it interesting in the extreme that the mainstream media finds a debate over whether to murder US leadership so mundane that it's barely worth mentioning. If Operation Rescue had held a debate on whether to assassinate pro-choice judges in the 1980s, do you think that information would be buried at the bottom of an article on Randall Terry? Do you think it should be? Because I don't; it legitimizes the use of force for political purposes, the antithesis of democracy.

In the meantime, I have written e-mail to several of the newspapers who saw fit to write their own articles on this issue without mentioning the proper context of the issue. I've included the text from my e-mail to the Los Angeles Times in the extended entry as an example. I will update you if and when I receive any response. (cross-posted at Oh, That Liberal Media)

UPDATE 3/24: I have received a quick note fron the LA Times' reader rep informing me that my concerns have been passed along to the National desk, and that any further response would come from them. Also, just to remind everyone, please make sure you take a look at Thomas Lipscomb's excellent reporting that started the story.

I am extremely disappointed in the Times' decision to run John Glionna's article today on John Kerry and the FBI surveillance that he experienced as an anti-war activist and leading light of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Glionna writes extensively on the various domestic surveillances that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI initiated, equating Kerry with Martin Luther King, Jr., among others. The only response given by anyone is by Kerry himself, who says:

"I'm surprised by the extent of it," he said. "I'm offended by the intrusiveness of it. And I'm disturbed that it was all conducted absent of some showing of any legitimate probable cause. It's an offense to the Constitution. It's out of order."

However, Glionna fails to provide the context necessary to understand this story. He uses as his source on the FBI files the historian, Gerald Nicosia, who got the files under a Freedom of Information Act request in order to investigate a story about a debate on an assassination plan that took place at the November 1971 meeting of the VVAW. In fact, Nicosia uncovered this plot, called the Phoenix Project by its creator, Scott Camil, and established that the VVAW moved its meeting venue twice in order to avoid FBI surveillance while they decided whether to proceed withe the assassinations of several pro-war American politicians, including Senators John Stennis, John Tower, and Strom Thurmond. Camil himself readily admits to bringing the Phoenix Project to the VVAW at that meeting, complete with willing assassins, and proposed launching the project. Witnesses who were at the meeting recall seeing Kerry there, despite his earlier contention that he had quit the VVAW in July of that year at the St. Louis meeting.

In this context, the issue of the date that Kerry quit the VVAW becomes more than just a memory problem, and the FBI surveillance of the VVAW and its leaders becomes a lot more understandable. Organizations that plot the assassinations of American politicians for political ends (or any reason) are hardly in the same league as Martin Luther King, Jr. Kerry's participation in the debate -- confirmed by witnesses -- requires an explanation as to why he never notified authorities of the plot, even if he did argue against it and resigned shortly afterward. The Los Angeles Times missed an opportunity to tell a story, instead subordinating its news reporting to the spin of John Kerry's campaign, unwittingly or not.

I've posted on the subject on my own blog as well as at Oh, That Liberal Media, at which I am a contributor. I look forward to your response, and I thank you for your attention.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 23, 2004 6:01 AM

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