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An Interview with Dick Russell


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#1 John Simkin

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 09:13 AM

Dick Russell graduated from the University of Kansas in 1969. He was a staff writer in the Hollywood Bureau of TV Guide Magazine (1977-79) and a staff reporter for Sports Illustrated (1969-70) in New York. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, ranging from Family Health to the Village Voice. Books by Dick Russell include The Man Who Knew Too Much (1992), Black Genius: And the American Experience (1998), Eye of the Whale (2001) and Striper Wars: An American Fish Story (2005).

(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an investigative journalist and historian?

(2) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

(3) How do you decide about what to write about?

(4) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

(5) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call “secret history”? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

8) Why is it that most books written about political conspiracies; assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc. are written by journalists rather than historians? Is it because of fear or is it something to do with the nature of being a historian?

#2 Dick Russell

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 09:21 AM

(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an investigative journalist and historian?


I was drawn into investigating the Kennedy assassination in 1975, when the Village Voice sent me to do a story on what Professor Richard Popkin had recently uncovered. At the time, I had no intention that this would occupy the next couple years of my life. The more I learned, the more I realized that a "secret history" underlay what we'd been taught in school, certainly of the post-WW II years and since the creation of the CIA in 1947.



(2) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?


Sure, there's a difference between an investigative journalist and a historian - because the journalist often goes to "primary sources" for interviews, while a historian (generally speaking) relies more on written sources and existing documentation.

#3 Dick Russell

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 11:23 AM

(3) How do you decide about what to write about?


I write about what intrigues me, but above all about what I consider it important for people to know about. This has certainly been the case with my four books, which cover an eclectic range of topics, ranging from the assassination to the unsung geniuses in African-American culture, to my recent natural history subjects: the gray whales and the Atlantic striped bass.

(4) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?


I do consider the possibility that my research could "land me in trouble" with the powers-that-be. But I can't let that stop me. It's more important that the truth be told. I like people who are willing to go out on a limb for the sake of truth, and our country. For example, Robert Kennedy Jr. in his recent expose of how the Republicans stole the 2004 election in Ohio.

(5) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?


I've never cared overly much about "career advancement." But yes, there has occasionally been pressure to leave a controversial subject alone, although I wouldn't say it's necessarily been overt. I was told, some time ago, that I was being followed occasionally - and I'm sure my phone has been tapped periodically.

#4 Dick Russell

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Posted 22 July 2006 - 05:36 PM

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the “committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy”. However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh’s Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?


In the case of major media, I think the reluctance to investigate political conspiracies stems from several factors. First, they don't want "egg on their face," in other words they didn't choose to examine what happened to JFK and his brother, and others, from the get-go - and it would prove embarrassing to do so at a later time. Also, I'm sure there has been pressure "from the top" not to look too deeply. And also, I think a lot of people just don't want to believe that these kinds of things can happen in America. It's a false sense of innocence, one could say.

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call “secret history”? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?


My basic approach to writing about "secret history" is, at first, to believe just about everybody. By that, I mean I don't prejudge someone I'm interviewing or dismiss even a "fantastic" story out-of-hand. It's only as I came to know a great deal about the Kennedy assassination, for example, that I was able to realize that quite a few - indeed, the majority - of the strange folks I'd interviewed were probably not telling the truth. Some may have been intentionally planting disinformation. Ultimately, I came to believe Richard Nagell - and Antonio Veciana, for example - because I gained a strong sense of their personal integrity. And, I guess, because there were things they WOULDN'T say, to my frustration. After awhile, an investigative journalist starts to draw conclusions by finding as many sources for verification as possible. It's time-consuming. As for getting ahold of documents, it used to be a lot easier to use the FOIA, before the Bush Administration set about trying to "cancel it out" - and thereby keep the "secret history" secret.



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