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Amicus Curiae Explores Kennedy Assassination

Matthew Schaffer
Philip Shenon speaks on Presidents Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy.

America lost its innocence when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 60 years ago, an investigative journalist told attendees of an on-campus lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

“The nation has been seized by conspiracy theories about what really happened in Dallas on Nov. 22,” said Philip Shenon, the most recent lecturer for the Amicus Curiae Lecture Series on Constitutional Democracy.

Shenon previously worked for The New York Times for over 20 years as a reporter. He is also the author of “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination.”

People still debate whether the conclusions of the Warren Commission’s subsequent investigation were right or not, Shenon said.

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He went on to say, “A lot of Americans had trouble accepting the idea that this 24-year-old man with a $21, mail-order rifle could bring down the most powerful man in the world.”

Numerous conspiracies speculate that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald worked with a clandestine organization, Shenon said.

To some people, it just seemed more likely “that this was really the work of some conspiracy of gray-haired men in Washington, Moscow, New Orleans,” according to the lecturer.

“But almost all of this modern technical analysis shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was almost certainly the assassin,” Shenon said.

Still, the Warren Commission made many mistakes in its investigation of the assassination, he said.

The commissioners “did a really sloppy job,” Shennon said. According to him, they “never reviewed lots of evidence and left lots of witnesses unquestioned.” He explained this by saying the chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren, was eager to finish the investigation quickly.

Shenon also said that the Kennedy assassination might have been avoided.

“The government knew a lot about Lee Harvey Oswald before the assassination,” he said. “Both the CIA and the FBI had Oswald under surveillance in the weeks before the assassination, yet apparently never raised the alarm in Washington how dangerous this man might be.”

Shenon’s research also uncovered a letter in an unrelated box in the archives that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote to the commission in June 1964. It reported that the bureau discovered Oswald had traveled to Mexico City and had talked openly about assassinating the president.

“Oswald was telling people in Mexico City about his plans,” Shenon said. “Cuban diplomats and spies knew about it several weeks before the assassination.” 

Shenon went on to say that this letter never made it to the Warren Commission. When talking with the few living staff members of the commission, he said none of them had ever seen the letter. 

Meanwhile, Shenon also said that inaction and cover-ups hurt many people in the wake of the assassination.

For example, a member of the American embassy in Mexico named Charles Thomas learned Oswald attended a party where he had been in contact with Cuban diplomats, one of whom talked openly about wanting Kennedy dead.

Thomas voiced his concerns to the American ambassador, who chose not to investigate, Shenon said.

“The CIA station chief–the guy who should have had Oswald under investigation before the assassination–doesn’t want to investigate, and the ambassador doesn’t want to investigate,” he said.

“Then, bizarrely and pretty quickly,” Shenon said, “Charles Thomas found his career was derailed and pretty quickly was forced out of the state department.”

Despondent and unable to understand his dismissal, according to Shenon, Thomas died by suicide in 1971. 

This, the lecturer said, was an example of what he termed bureaucratic “incompetence and laziness.”

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About the Contributor
Matthew Schaffer, Managing Editor
Matthew Schaffer is a senior at Marshall University pursuing a B.A. in multimedia journalism with a minor in political science. He follows national politics and foreign affairs. He has previously worked as a reporter for both The Parthenon and WMUL. After graduating, he plans to pursue a political and investigative journalism career. In the meantime, he is the self-proclaimed "Hoops Fever Champion" and is, in fact, accepting challengers.
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