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Tom Wicker, key figure in the cover-up

John Simkin

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Tom Wicker played a key role in the cover-up of the assassination over a period of 30 years. He was the New York Times man in Dallas that day. He was in the press bus in 14th place in the motorcade. Wicker later admitted: “Most reporters in the press buses were too far back to see the shooting… It was noted that the President's car had picked up speed and raced away, but reporters were not aware that anything serious had occurred.” This did not stop him from providing an "eyewitness" account the following morning. This report was based on interviews and information provided by Jesse Curry (several reporters admitted that he was their main source of information).

The journalists in Dallas that day searched around for people who did witness the shooting. Charles Roberts, who worked for Newsweek, later recalled in The Truth About the Assassination (page 13): “To be a witness to the events that followed the final shot was like witnessing the proverbial explosion in a shingle factory and not knowing, at each split second, where to look. I would hesitate to testify under oath to some events I saw peripherally. With hindsight, I now realize that many of the words I frantically took down from the mouths of witnesses during the next few hours were the product of imagination, shock, confusion, or from something much worse - the macabre desire of some bystanders to be identified with a great tragedy, or to pretend greater first-hand knowledge of the event than they actually possess.”

In reality, what happened was they believed what they wanted to believe. There were just over 50 journalists in the press bus (14th place in the motorcade) and the press car (7th place - moved back at the last moment) and as far as I can see, they all believed strongly in the lone-gunman theory.

Despite the problems of finding out the truth of what had taken place, journalists were highly praised for their reporting of the assassination. Harrison Salisbury, who worked for the New York Times, claimed that “The coverage had begun with classic reportage - Tom Wicker's on-the-scene eyewitness. It could not be beat I told him to... just write every single thing you have seen and heard. Period. He did. No more magnificent piece of journalistic writing has been published in the Times. Through Tom's eye we lived through each minute of that fatal Friday, the terror, the pain, the horror, the mindless tragedy, elegant, blood-chilling prose.” It would seem that the readers of Times could not get enough of Wicker and sales of the newspaper increased dramatically in the days following the assassination. On 26th November, 1963, the circulation of Times reached 1,089,000, nearly 400,000 more than its normal sales.

Tom Wicker was well rewarded for promoting the lone-gunman theory. In August 1964, Wicker replaced James B. Reston as chief of the newspaper’s 48-member Washington bureau, and two years later he inherited the column of the retiring Arthur Krock.

Tom Wicker remained a staunch supporter of the Warren Commission conclusions and this was reflected in his book on the assassination, Kennedy Without Tears: The Man Beneath the Myth (1964). When the House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the "scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy" and added that "on the basis of the evidence available to it, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy", Wicker mounted a campaign against it. Wicker was chosen to write the preface for the Bantam edition of the HSCA's final report. In nearly ten pages Wicker gave the reasons for doubting the committee's findings and criticised it for “excessive sensationalism”. Wicker was obviously influenced by his own reporting of the assassination. In the days following the assassination he constantly supported the lone-gunman theory.

The next crisis for the "lone-gunman" advocates was the release of the JFK movie. Once again, Wicker was brought out to defend the Warren Commission view of events. In the first few months after the movie was released, over 50 million people watched the movie. Robert Groden, who had worked as an advisor on the film, predicted that: “The movie will raise public consciousness. People who can’t take the time to read books will be able to see the movie, and in three hours they’ll be able to see what the issues are.” Wicker was well aware of the danger this film posed: “This movie… claims truth for itself. And among the many Americans likely to see it, particularly those who never accepted the Warren Commission’s theory of a single assassin, even more particularly those too young to remember November 22, 1963, JFK is all too likely to be taken as the final, unquestioned explanation.” This was confirmed by a NBC poll that indicated that 51% of the American public believed, as the movie had suggested, that the CIA was responsible for Kennedy’s death and that only 6% believed the Warren Commission’s lone gunman theory.


A full account of how the media has reported the assassination over the last 49 years can be found in the introduction of my ebook on the assassination published on Thursday.



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Another point about Wicker...

One of the clearest "victories" for conspiracy theorists over Warren Commission defenders since the assassination has come on the issue of the limo clean-up. Early WC defenders, like William Manchester, said it never happened. Several journalists, Charles Roberts and Tom Wicker among them, however, admitted in their writings that they saw a bucket of bloody water by the limo or even witnessed this clean-up. On this aspect of the shooting, at least, Wicker was an honest man, and contributed to the ongoing feeling among most Americans that we were never told the whole truth about what happened.

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