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Book Reviewers' Conflicts of Interest


Tim Gratz
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Let me preface this post by stating that I greatly admire the work of Jefferson Morley and look forward to David Talbot's upcoming book.

Having said that, it does seem clear that Morley and Talbot have conflicts of interest in reviewing books on the Kennedy case. In so stating, I do not mean to impugn the sincerity of their viewpoints or insinuate that their reviews were influenced by the conflicts. Nevertheless, the conflicts should have been disclosed.

This post was prompted by the following letters to and reply by "The Washington Post":

The JFK Assassination

While I appreciated Jefferson Morley's coverage of Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann's Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (Book World, Nov. 27), a potential conflict of interest on Morley's part was left out of his review and not disclosed to your readers. As has been reported in the New York Review of Books (August 2005) and other publications, Morley is actively engaged in a lawsuit against the CIA regarding the release of classified documents from 1963 related to the JFK assassination. The documents involve 1963 CIA operations against Castro, Cuban exiles and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Information in Ultimate Sacrifice about the CIA's AMWORLD program with Cuban exiles to topple Castro -- and the secrecy surrounding it -- could greatly affect Morley's lawsuit. Some of the CIA personnel involved in AMWORLD were also involved in the operation contested in Morley's lawsuit. Yet Morley's review didn't mention AMWORLD, even though it is a primary focus of the book, which extensively quotes and shows many declassified CIA documents about AMWORLD. The AMWORLD files from 1963 have only been declassified in recent years and were withheld from the Warren Commission, the Senate Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations. As noted by Publishers Weekly and the New York Post, Ultimate Sacrifice is the first book ever to disclose AMWORLD.

While the authors have publicly expressed support for Morley's lawsuit against the CIA, Book World should have disclosed Morley's lawsuit against the CIA in the review.

CHARLIE WINTON

Chairman and CEO

Avalon Publishing Group Inc.

In Jefferson Morley's reviews of two books on the Kennedy assassination, you failed to note that Morley is active in JFK assassination discussion circles. He recently took part in a long-scheduled meeting in Bethesda presenting his views. The Post's George Lardner Jr. wrote an article on it in the paper (Nov. 21, p. A13). Other speakers were Joan Mellen, author of A Farewell to Justice , one of the books Morley reviewed. John Newman, another participant, is also mentioned in Morley's review. Morley originally profiled Newman in a Style article about 10 years ago. Morley has written about his views on assassination conspiracy theories in a number of venues, including the Washington Monthly, Salon and the New Times in Miami. This gives him a conflict of interest.

J.E. DOLAN

Garrett Park, Md.

The Editor replies:

Book World's contract states clearly that we expect reviewers to report possible conflicts of interest to us immediately. Had Jefferson Morley disclosed his contact with the author of one of the two books, and had we known that he had a pending suit against the CIA for JFK records, we would not have assigned him the task of reviewing these books. We regret that we did not know about these conflicts.

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I don't think Morley has any conflict of interest in publishing his opinions about things of which he is very knowledgeable.

Of course Morley has trouble getting the truth about the JFK assassination published in the Washington Post.

Then the US government has even less scruples in finding no conflict of interest in having the CIA officer responsible for the disinformation campaign to link JFK's ostensible assassin to Cuba come out of retirement to serve as liason to the HSCA.

It's quite apparant that those who have been recently active in the campaign for the truth about the murder of JFK - Wecht, Morley, Lesar, et. al. are under attack on many levels, so they must be on to something.

BK

bkjfk3@yahoo.com

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Bill, of course the CIA had a conflict of interest, and probably more, in failing to discose the participation of Joannides in the JM/Wave operation. And it was Jeff Morley who discovered that. It is yet too early to know where his discovery may lead.

But from a journalistic standard, Mr. Morley did have a conflict of interest that should have been disclosed. Reporters do not normally cover stories in which they are personally involved, at least not without disclosure.

It is not a question of the "Washington Post" trying to stifle Morley or it would not have printed the review in the first place.

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'Tim Gratz' wrote:

Bill, of course the CIA had a conflict of interest, and probably more, in failing to discose the participation of Joannides in the JM/Wave operation. And it was Jeff Morley who discovered that. It is yet too early to know where his discovery may lead.

But from a journalistic standard, Mr. Morley did have a conflict of interest that should have been disclosed.

thats what editors are for, yes?

Reporters do not normally cover stories in which they are personally involved, at least not without disclosure.

if the reporters on-the-clock, receives compensation, of course they'll cover a/the story they're "personally" involved in! I could just hear a editor responding to a reporter whose calling from on-scene, telling him he can't cover the story because....

It is not a question of the "Washington Post" trying to stifle Morley or it would not have printed the review in the first place.

Did a review appear in the NYT? If so, some review would be conspicuous in its absence from the WPost, NO?

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I wrote about this the other day on another Forum. I think it's a non-issue. Why would you want to read a book review by someone with no outside knowledge of the topic of the book? Outside of his pursuit of Joannides, Morley has taken no public stand, and has not offered no opinions on who killed JFK. He has studied the case intensely, but has refused to offer a pet theory. As a result, I can think of NO ONE better qualified to review Lamar's book. I suppose he should have mentioned that he has an interest in the case in his bio. But, does that mean every reviewer who reviews a book by Ann Coulter should have to mention that they once shook hands with Michael Moore, etc? Of course not.

I'm not sure who decided to make this an issue. I suppose Lamar's supporters or friends decided they needed to counter Morley's negative comments. That they chose to do this through this attack on Morley's credibility is unfortunate. They should have dealt with the issues at hand and avoided questioning Morley's right to read and review a book on a topic upon which he is knowledgeable.

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I agree that Morley's "conflict of interest" is a non-issue. And I agree that the researchers who have been recently attacked in this way must be on to something. They're getting warm, which is getting some people hot.

Perhaps we could rank the degree of attack in these cases, to judge who is getting warmest.

Morley has been attacked merely by letters to the editor complaining of conflict of interest. This indicates that he is on the right track in going after at least one individual in the CIA.

Cyril Wecht is actually in trouble. He has been charged with a laundry list of what someone has aptly called bureaucratic crimes, and significantly has had all his JFK files (irrelevant to the charges) hauled away by the FBI. This should constitute clear evidence that JFK was shot from the front as Wecht has contended, and that the FBI has a clear interest in continuing to cover it up.

In terms of national exposure, however, the all-out attack on the History Channel for showing a documentary implicating LBJ in the assassination takes the cake. Judging by the angry and determined nature of the attack, and the spectacle of a national TV network completely caving in to the pressure, to the extent that the documentary cannot even be marketed now due to pure intimidation, virtually constitutes clear evidence that LBJ did it. (With a little help from the CIA, FBI, Mafia, military, and any others who didn't want to be left out.)

Edited by Ron Ecker
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I agree that Morley's "conflict of interest" is a non-issue. And I agree that the researchers who have been recently attacked in this way must be on to something. They're getting warm, which is getting some people hot.

Perhaps we could rank the degree of attack in these cases, to judge who is getting warmest.

Morley has been attacked merely by letters to the editor complaining of conflict of interest. This indicates that he is on the right track in going after at least one individual in the CIA.

Cyril Wecht is actually in trouble. He has been charged with a laundry list of what someone has aptly called bureaucratic crimes, and significantly has had all his JFK files (irrelevant to the charges) hauled away by the FBI. This should constitute clear evidence that JFK was shot from the front as Wecht has contended, and that the FBI has a clear interest in continuing to cover it up.

In terms of national exposure, however, the all-out attack on the History Channel for showing a documentary implicating LBJ in the assassination takes the cake. Judging by the angry and determined nature of the attack, and the spectacle of a national TV network completely caving in to the pressure, to the extent that the documentary cannot even be marketed now due to pure intimidation, virtually constitutes clear evidence that LBJ did it. (With a little help from the CIA, FBI, Mafia, military, and any others who didn't want to be left out.)

Ron, while my gut instinct tells me there's something to what you say, we can't draw the inferences you draw and stand on sound reason. If you wrote an article in a newspaper or created a TV program stating that REAGAN killed Kennedy, for instance, there would be a HUGE backlash against you, and the FBI would probably investigate you, no matter how much evidence you had to back up your claims. There are a number of sacred cows in this country; you can't call a President a murderer, or even a xxxx, without some hatchet man coming out of the woodworks to attack you. If you were a gay man who claimed to have had sex with JOHN WAYNE, there would be a similar attack. It has little bearing on the truth or untruth of your claims.

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It does seem clear that Morley and Talbot have conflicts of interest in reviewing books on the Kennedy case.

I submitted the following email today to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post today. I asked that he discuss it in his Media forum this coming Tuesday. If he does, it will in his archive for some period.

Sunday February 5

Re: Bookworld/Jefferson Morley controversy.

Dear Mr. Kurtz:

I would greatly appreciate your comments on the following issue, which seems to smack of media self-censorship.

The Editor of Book World has this to say in today's newspaper.

"The Editor replies:

Book World's contract states clearly that we expect reviewers to report possible conflicts of interest to us immediately. Had Jefferson Morley disclosed his contact with the author of one of the two books, and had we known that he had a pending suit against the CIA for JFK records, we would not have assigned him the task of reviewing these books. We regret that we did not know about these conflicts."

With the greatest respect to the editor, I fail to see how simply having "contact" with an author (that is all that is alleged)can create a conflict of interest for anyone who is no longer a child. If we assume that Jefferson Morley is a grown-up, educated man, capable of meeting the Washington's Post's standards for employment as a journalist, should we not be able to assume that such a man can hold his own with any author, and is not going to pull his punches in a book review just because he had "contact" with the author?

If the "contact" was physical and intimate, then I could see the editor's point, but was it in this instance?

Based on my legal training and experience, I see no reason to believe that Mr. Morley's "contact" came within an asses roar of a "possible conflict." If there was no conflict, how could Mr. Morley have a duty to report it?

The Editor of Book World, in his wisdom, goes on to say "had we known that he had a pending suit against the CIA for JFK records, we would not have assigned him the task of reviewing these books."

I have a "possible conflict" here in that, although I have never met Mr. Morley, I know him by sight, and I know him by reputation.

I may say that, up to now, his reputation has been unsullied.

Mr. Morley is researching the JFK assassination and has a lawsuit pending against the CIA seeking the release of records that may shed light upon the case. In other words he is quite knowledgeable about the assassination and wishes to inquire further. Because he is the most knowledgable, he is the one Post employee who will not be allowed to review books about the subject henceforth. Don't you love it. From here on in, according to the editor of Book World, only the blind will be allowed to lead the blind.

Surely any child could tell you that being knowledgable about a subject does not create a "possible conflict of interest", and if there is no conflict, how can there be a duty to disclose it?

What is most troubling is that Mr. Morley has deemed it prudent to up to now to remain silent about his interest in this important national subject. If Mr. Morley was concerned that revealing his interest in this case might jeapordize his career at the Post, today's statement by the editor of Book World would suggest that that his concerns were well-founded.

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Let me preface this post by stating that I greatly admire the work of Jefferson Morley and look forward to David Talbot's upcoming book.

Having said that, it does seem clear that Morley and Talbot have conflicts of interest in reviewing books on the Kennedy case.

Not content with defaming the Kennedy family on other threads, Tim Gratz has here resorted to defaming two new members of this forum in their professional capacity as journalists. He accuses Jefferson Morley and David Talbot of violating their ethical obligations as journalists by “reviewing books on the Kennedy case.”

In a previous post I outlined why I think the charges against Morley are specious.

Other forum members have had their say, and they are as incredulous as I am.

Mr. Gratz is the only person that I know of who has made this accusation against David Talbot. Although he has waited for many weeks to make this highly damaging accusation, he has not managed to offer even a shred of evidence in support.

He does have company in accusing Jefferson Morley, but it is not particularly good company. The Washington Post is notoriously unsympathetic to reopening this unsolved murder, so it is no surprise that the editor of the Post’s Book World is now towing the party line. The letter from the publisher of “Ultimate Sacrifice” cited by Mr. Gratz is obviously self-serving, while the other letter-writer he cites, Mr. Dolan, is clearly a crank who gives the impression of having waited ten years or more for a chance to lash out at Morley.

Morley and Talbot are genuinely interested in getting to the bottom of JFK’s murder, but Mr. Gratz appears to have another agenda.

I believe that Mr. Gratz’s accusations of unethical conduct are false and libelous, that they are a disgrace and a scandal to readers of this forum, and I suggest that Mr. Gratz apologize to both these distinguished gentlemen and fellow forum members, and then resign from this forum before he does any more harm.

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Let me preface this post by stating that I greatly admire the work of Jefferson Morley and look forward to David Talbot's upcoming book.

Having said that, it does seem clear that Morley and Talbot have conflicts of interest in reviewing books on the Kennedy case. In so stating, I do not mean to impugn the sincerity of their viewpoints or insinuate that their reviews were influenced by the conflicts. Nevertheless, the conflicts should have been disclosed.

The alleged "conflicts" itemized here are sour grapes by parties with their own "conflicts," seized upon by Tim Gratz to diminish the stature of two fine writers, and the "conflicts" are entirely negligible compared to other "conflicts" which the Washington Post has studiously avoided disclosing.

For example, did the Washington Post ever advise its readers that Editor Ben Bradlee spent an evening combing through the effects of Mary Pinchot Meyer seeking her diary, accompanied by James Angleton of CIA? Did it advise its readers whether or not that diary was found?

Has the Washington Post ever disclosed to its readers that the self-same Ben Bradlee was dispatched by CIA to France to neutralize anti-US feelings at the time of the Rosenberg trials? Would knowing these two key details about Bradlee's CIA associations not have been of interest to Post readers?

Did the Washington Post see fit to divulge that its ace reporter Bob Woodward in his prior Navy career conducted regular briefings for key White House staff?

Did the Washington Post ever disclose that the man known as "Deep Throat" [albeit never referred to as such in the Bernstein/Woodward copy submitted to the Post], was a top level Washington insider who may have had his own axe to grind? [in the event you believe Deep Throat was Mark Felt, his motive may have been to exact revenge against a President who'd passed him over for the top job, replacing J. Edna Hoover.] No such admission was contained in any of the Post Watergate coverage.

Seems to me, these are real conflicts of interest, and you've read about nary a one in the Washington Post.

This post was prompted by the following letters to and reply by "The Washington Post":

The JFK Assassination

While I appreciated Jefferson Morley's coverage of Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann's Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (Book World, Nov. 27), a potential conflict of interest on Morley's part was left out of his review and not disclosed to your readers. As has been reported in the New York Review of Books (August 2005) and other publications, Morley is actively engaged in a lawsuit against the CIA regarding the release of classified documents from 1963 related to the JFK assassination. The documents involve 1963 CIA operations against Castro, Cuban exiles and Lee Harvey Oswald.

Information in Ultimate Sacrifice about the CIA's AMWORLD program with Cuban exiles to topple Castro -- and the secrecy surrounding it -- could greatly affect Morley's lawsuit. Some of the CIA personnel involved in AMWORLD were also involved in the operation contested in Morley's lawsuit. Yet Morley's review didn't mention AMWORLD, even though it is a primary focus of the book, which extensively quotes and shows many declassified CIA documents about AMWORLD. The AMWORLD files from 1963 have only been declassified in recent years and were withheld from the Warren Commission, the Senate Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations. As noted by Publishers Weekly and the New York Post, Ultimate Sacrifice is the first book ever to disclose AMWORLD.

While the authors have publicly expressed support for Morley's lawsuit against the CIA, Book World should have disclosed Morley's lawsuit against the CIA in the review.

CHARLIE WINTON

Chairman and CEO

Avalon Publishing Group Inc.

One fails to see how this suit, of which Morley is only one player seeking the release of some Oswald-related documents, could negatively affect his review of "Ultimate Sacrifice," whether or not it was disclosed to the readers. On the contrary, it seems that Mr. Winton was less than enthused with the substance of the review and took the best shot he could at impeaching the reviewer, which turned out to be a cheap one at best.

In Jefferson Morley's reviews of two books on the Kennedy assassination, you failed to note that Morley is active in JFK assassination discussion circles. He recently took part in a long-scheduled meeting in Bethesda presenting his views. The Post's George Lardner Jr. wrote an article on it in the paper (Nov. 21, p. A13). Other speakers were Joan Mellen, author of A Farewell to Justice , one of the books Morley reviewed. John Newman, another participant, is also mentioned in Morley's review. Morley originally profiled Newman in a Style article about 10 years ago. Morley has written about his views on assassination conspiracy theories in a number of venues, including the Washington Monthly, Salon and the New Times in Miami. This gives him a conflict of interest.

J.E. DOLAN

Garrett Park, Md.

Unless my Spidey-senses are misfiring, this is the same cranky old curmudgeon who's been slinging daggers and arrows at John Newman for years, due to his animus over Newman's "Oswald & The CIA." No doubt Dolan also got all exercised and incontinent over the Morley-Newman piece "What Jane Roman Said," which plainly implies that CIA has lied, maniuplated and fabricated evidence in its handling of the Oswald-in-Mexico-City episode. Dolan is also a director of the Association of Retired Intelligence Officers, and as such is a self-proclaimed advocate on behalf of CIA in general, and one David Atlee Phillips very much in particular.

Little wonder that Dolan would get splenetic over anything involving Newman and Morley, and less wonder still that Tim Gratz would seize upon this type of malarkey to prop up "Ultimate Sacrifice" at the expense of those who do the real digging into what CIA was up to back in the day.

The Editor replies:

Book World's contract states clearly that we expect reviewers to report possible conflicts of interest to us immediately. Had Jefferson Morley disclosed his contact with the author of one of the two books, and had we known that he had a pending suit against the CIA for JFK records, we would not have assigned him the task of reviewing these books. We regret that we did not know about these conflicts.

What an hilarious retort. As noted, Morley's pursuit of classified documents in no way disqualifies him to write book reviews; if anything, his superior knowledge of the topic makes him singularly qualified to pass judgement on the central thesis of "Ultimate Sacrifice." One can only assume that neither the book's publisher nor CIA propagandist Dolan relishes Morley being given such book review assignments in the future, and have sought to preclude him doing so on these specious "conflict" grounds. [One also wonders how it was that the publisher and CIA propagandist Dolan came to work in lock-step toward that goal, but then that might raise issues about the publisher's independence, and questions about what type of modern-day Mockingbird is at work here. Avalon also published Joe Wilson's book about the outing of his CIA agent wife, and publishes Joe Trento and other CIA-intrigued authors.]

Equally snort-inducing is the Book World editor's contention that the periodical didn't know about Morley's "pending suit against the CIA for JFK records." Virtually everyone at this Forum who knows the name Jefferson Morley must no doubt be well aware of his efforts in this regard, which makes one wonder what type of deaf-dumb-'n'-blind meathead runs the show over at Book World. However, now that this salient detail has been brought to the editor's attention, we can rest assured that Morley will no longer review any books that in any way involve CIA as subject matter. After all, had Book World known of the pending law suit, he wouldn't have been allowed to review these last two.

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In no manner am I trying to sully the name of Jefferson Morley, an investigative reporter who has done yeoman's work on the assassination.

But Robert Charles-Dunne offers us no evidence of his expertise in journalism. If Morley's involvement in the Kennedy case involves a conflict-of-interest is a matter best decided by professional journalists.

And it is hogwash to say Morley can write a better review because of his "hands-on" knowledge of what is going on and therefore conflict-of-interest rules do not apply. One would not assign a burglar to write a story of a burglary merely because he has the best knowledge of a burglary; nor would one assign a police officer involved in the investigation of said burglary. Another way to look at it is that one would not assign a Vietnam veteran suffering from the effects of Agent Orange to review a book on the Agent Orange litigation.

Robert offers a litany of instances wherein the WP should have disclosed conflicts by Ben Bradlee. What a non sequitur. How do the many past sins of the WP possibly justify its current omission? That is tantamount to the WP responding to Winton's objection by stating: "We've never advised our readers of conflicts-of-interest. Why should we start now?"

Interestingly enough, it is very similar to the Joannides case. In assigning Joannides to the HSCA, the CIA should have advised the HSCA of Joannides' involvement in JM/Wave. Joannides had a conflict because he should have been a witness.

Edited by Tim Gratz
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.....

Interestingly enough, it is very similar to the Joannides case. In assigning Joannides to the HSCA, the CIA should have advised the HSCA of Joannides' involvement in JM/Wave. Joannides had a conflict because he should have been a witness.

Joannides was obviously taken out of retirement to be the CIA liason to the HSCA because of his previous experience in the assassination, so his role wasn't seen as a conflict of interest but as an asset to keep the family jewels under the bed, which he did, and the CIA continues to do.

BK

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A conflict of interest involving the CIA?

Is this an abortive zen-cone akin to if

a tree falls in the forest?

Given that the CIA has been an unchecked power since its creation, the public has no real way of knowing its influence in media and politics. To turn around and say that one is disqualified in commenting on a case involving the CIA because one is involved in a dispute with this nebulous and unacountable power is an act of hypocracy that would have herniated Orwell.

I can think of a much greater conflict of interest re: the post and the CIA. Its name is Walter Pincus.

These absurd letters to the post are like saying "you are biased because you breath oxygen". It is right wing flak designed to poison the well.

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Nathan wrote:

To turn around and say that one is disqualified in commenting on a case involving the CIA because one is involved in a dispute with this nebulous and unacountable power is an act of hypocracy that would have herniated Orwell.

Nathan, this shows how little you understand the concept of ethical rules.

In a criminal case, if the defendant is the most vile and repugnant serial killer he still has the right to the removal of a prosecutor or a judge if there is an actual conflict of evidence.

Ethical rules do not turn on whether the party that might benefit from their application is a blameworthy person.

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But Robert Charles-Dunne offers us no evidence of his expertise in journalism.

No, instead he offers us expert journalism itself, combined with great analytical skill and a vast knowledge of the subject matter at hand.

Tim I wish you would raise some real issues. Or just be still. Sometimes twenty posts a day is just not the

most productive use of one's time.

Dawn

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