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A Failure to Tell the Truth: A Conversation with Richard Billings, co author of Fatal HourGo Back to Table of Contents
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When Richard Billings, formerly an editor of Life and Executive Editor of Congressional Quarterly, joined with G. Robert Blakey, the Chief Counsel and Staff Director of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, they worked for that branch of government which, in the American system of legislation, most closely achieves direct, democratic representation of the people. Focusing on the King and Kennedy assassinations, the House of Representatives investigated the phenomenon of political assassination as it both affected and threatened power, position, and policy in America. Fatal Hour, published by New York Times Books, was the resulting report.

‘Fatal Hour’ reached some disturbing conclusions about the connections established between the assassination of a President, the operations of official agencies, and the inner workings of organized crime. Although Billings and Blakey both agree--and disagree--with some elements of the Warren Report, after exhaustive research, testimony, and scientific reconstruction of audio and visual data, they wrote a report with a theme vaster than even the loss of one President or a nation’s radical alteration of its own destiny through an act of violence.

‘Fatal Hour’ exposed a passive resistance to telling the truth that warned of a kind of bipartisan, trans-administrative ethic extending beyond government. For both authors, a Failure to tell the truth has become so chronic that it reaches into every corner of American institutional and organizational life. Its roots lie in a deep-seated belief that average people can neither deal with, nor should be informed of, the inner workings of power. Consequently, the agents of this conviction are caught up in twisted loyalties: a conflict between an obligation to tell the truth under oath and blind obedience to organizational authorities that would censure it. In an interview with Alan Dulles concerning the recruitment of CIA agents in his time, for example, Dulles was asked if a man who recruits an agent for the CIA should, under oath, reveal this fact. “I wouldn’t think he would tell it under oath, no,” Dulles replied “... He ought not to.” Some might hold that Clinton, as well as Nixon and other politicians, may have held a similar attitude when dealing with affairs of state under investigation.

In time of war, a soldier who is captured is obliged to give only name, rank, and serial number to the enemy. When one gives only name, rank and serial number to Congressional investigations, however--or before the Judicial system and Justice Department--one is treating one’s own people as a kind of enemy in a state of war; and a society with its own people designated as a potential “enemy” may be closer than one might imagine to moral demise. It was not just the Kennedy Assassination itself, then, that was the only legacy of the various investigations that followed this fatal event, but rather the revelation of a deep seated cultural bias toward non-cooperation with public investigations of the workings of power.

Billings, however, has no illusions about his own initial interest in the Kennedy assassination in particular. He covered the story for Life because he was assigned to, with no indication of the ramifications this was later to have on both his own career and, eventually, his collaboration with G. Robert Blakey...


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