We are 60 years removed from one of the greatest international mysteries in history, and that would be the assassination of President John Kennedy. This morning on Jersey Magazine, Jim Monaghan speaks with Rob Reiner, the legendary filmmaker, and Soledad O’Brien, who’s an award winning journalist who have a brand new podcast series out Who Killed JFK.
JIM MONAGHAN – Rob, let me start with you. What piqued your interest at first in the whole JFK assassination?
ROB REINER – Well, it’s more than piqued. I was alive and 16 years old at the time when it happened, and anybody who was alive at that time will never, ever forget where they were when they heard the news. I was in class. Teacher turned to us and said, I have some horrible news, told us what happened. They sent everybody home from school, and we watched nonstop on television right up and through the time – and I saw it live – where the man accused of killing President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself murdered on national television by Jack Ruby. It was a traumatic experience for the whole country, and it’s something that you just don’t get over. Think of a loved one being murdered, and you don’t have the answers. You’ll do anything, and you’ll try to go to the ends of the earth to try to figure out what happened on that day. Here it was, an American president being killed in broad daylight on an American city. It just was national trauma.
JM – We have three different generations here. Rob, you’re roughly ten years older than I am. Soledad, I am roughly ten years older than you are. So I was in third grade, remember, like you did, Rob, exactly where I was. Came home, my mom in tears. And growing up in an Irish Catholic household, there were two pictures in the house. One was the Pope, and the other was John Kennedy. So I had my own memories of that whole thing. Soledad, you grew up in a generation following all of this. It’s all history to you. You didn’t see it happen live. What have you learned most about the assassination doing this podcast series with Rob?
SOLEDAD O’BRIEN – I grew up in an Irish Catholic-slash-Cuban family. Right. And my mother, who was Cuban, left know, pre-Castro was also obsessed with the so, you know, for somebody who was on the outside. Right. I learned about it, really in high school. Lee Harvey Oswald, single shooter, end of story. And to come in and see and really do a deep dive into Rob’s obsession, as someone who was coming of age at the time when this happened, I mean, he talks about it as a national trauma, and I think that’s a really accurate description. I had no sense of that whatsoever. But it was fascinating for me to kind of learn as we dove into the information about the contradictions, about the lies, about just the things that make no sense at all and to piece together for an audience that I think includes all these generations that you mentioned, people who are obsessed, people who kind of knew about it and people who knew nothing at all and help them connect the dots. We talk to people who are very involved in the case, right, to understand what happened. We try to give a context of what’s happening in the world so that they can understand kind of the impact of President Kennedy on the populace and to really get what was happening geopolitically as well. So for me, I just learned everything because it was never questioned. It was just, here’s what you know from high school. Turn the page, move on to the next thing. And to see the degree to which so much of it made no sense, that there were these contradictory investigations, that there are people who were never interviewed, never gave any kind of evidence, none of it makes sense. I’m not a person who goes down the rabbit hole of crazy very quickly. And in being part of this, you begin to see these red flags that I think, as a sane person, you say, well, how did this happen? This makes no sense at all.
JM – Rob, you and I both came through the Mark Lane book, obviously years apart, but nonetheless, that was one of the first times I’m looking at this going, something doesn’t add up here. And while I love a good conspiracy theory and it could be the mob, the CIA, the FBI, who knows what, what always came in the back of my mind and made me take the tinfoil hat off was there had to have been so much money involved to keep it quiet and so many people who would have had to been paid off. That’s the one thing that makes me think that the conspiracy theorists really take this to the next level and are too far off.
RR – Yeah, well, it doesn’t take that much money. The odd thing about it is, when a certain group of people, even done in a rogue way, if they’re any way tied to the intelligence community, it behooves the intelligence community not to let that information out. And that’s not so hard to do, because if you look at both the Warren Commission Report and you look at the House Select Committee, that was done over a decade after, and they both have different conclusions, by the way. Warren Commission says single shooter. House Select Committee says conspiracy. Both of those investigations were thwarted by gatekeepers who were connected to the CIA. In the case of the Warren Commission, you had Allen Dulles, who was the godfather of the CIA. In the case of the House Select Committee, you had a fellow named George Joannides, who was interesting because nobody’s ever heard that name. Nobody knows what that is. We bring it out in the podcast, and what we’re saying is, here’s a guy who was in the CIA who was a counterintelligence agent overseeing the program that developed the assets, like Oswald, and there was a direct connection. And the guy who was the head and legal counsel for the committee, we interviewed him. He had no idea. He found that out many, many years later, that that guy was blocking him from access to all this information. So all these things come out over the years.
JM – One of the other characters who comes up in all of this is E. Howard Hunt going back to the early 60’s in the CIA. And then some odd years later, here we go with Watergate. And it was Watergate that really led to my distrust of what the government was telling us.
RR – Yes. And I think the beginning of it was the Warren Commission. Coming out of the Second World War. We were the good guys. We beat the fascists and everything. Everybody believed what the government told us. And then the Warren Commission comes out and then Doc, you say Watergate and you start saying, wait a minute, the government I don’t think the government’s telling us the truth here about what happened.
SO – That was interesting to me, the sense of what’s lost right when people start to not trust their government, what damage, frankly, it does to democracy. When you look at the data that shows that so many I mean, I think it was in the mid-70’s, the percentage of people who trusted their government. And I think it’s one of the reasons that many journalists did not really dig hard at the beginning of the investigation into the assassination of the president. And now that number of trust in government has dropped precipitously. I think we’re down to like 16% or something terrible. I agree, I think it sort of started there this idea that, you know, someone’s lying to you. And they’re lying pretty overtly. I was interested in examining like, what does that do over these 60 years when you feel like your government is not being honest with you about something made clear? When people aren’t interviewed, investigations are dropped. People are put into investigations in order to thwart them and block them to a large degree. All those things we talk about and we assess kind of the damage that was done.
RR – You mentioned something, I want to just put a little pin on it. You mentioned E. Howard Hunt. He was there in Dallas that day. And we know that because we interviewed a guy who flew him there that day. And I talked to his son. His son is in the podcast. And I asked him, what was your dad doing there that day? And initially, when he was a young guy, he didn’t know. He found out later that he said his dad was a bench warmer. And I said, what is a bench warmer. And he said, well, he was there because he knew all the safe houses in Dallas and that if anything went wrong, he would make sure that he’d get people to safe. You know, just that little bit of information you hear. What? Safe houses? A guy from the CIA is sitting there. I mean, it just opens up a whole area of questioning to wrap things up here,
JM – I’m sure that through the ten episodes you’re going to get blowback from some high ranking places. Has it happened yet?
RR – Not yet, but it will. I mean, I’m guaranteed it will. But they’ve tried to keep a lid on a lot of this, but they’ve been sort of successful, but not completely successful because where we sit right now, 65% of America believes it was a conspiracy.
LOOK FOR THE WHO KILLED JFK PODCAST WHEREVER YOU GET YOUR PODCASTS.