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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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Billings: I still believe that assassination remains an absolutely devastating event. But I didn’t know that then. I went out and covered the story for Life like I covered any other major story: with extreme gravity, but objective indifference. I came back to Miami and was somewhat complacent about it. It took me actually two years to realize the enormity of the event, and I didn’t care about anything after that. When the Warren Report came out, I was totally absorbed in the case because I knew the Warren Report was wrong--

Ellipses: Was it wrong or was it a lie?

Billings: It was based on the FBI reports, which were wrong.

Ellipses: Were the FBI reports wrong, or were they a lie?

Billings: It depends on how you define a “lie.” The FBI reports were a half-truth, so that a failure to tell the truth is not a failure to tell part of it; it is a failure to tell all of it. The FBI report was an attempt to close down the investigation so that certain other “sensitive areas” would remain untouched. This constructs a network of misinformation which attempts to keep “sensitive areas” out of investigations in general.

Ellipses: Do you think this was done because the FBI was afraid of what might be revealed if the whole truth was out?

Billings: I don’t know the answer to that. But not telling the whole truth has been acceptable policy in government for quite some time. The media age, however, has just made this fact more evident, and its impact across the board in society more widespread. Still, although the FBI report was wrong, it may have been wrong to protect operations that had nothing to do with Kennedy, but might, in the process of investigating Kennedy’s death, be looked into.

Ellipses: Was the report wrong by executive order--or by agency error?

Billings: The investigation was closed by executive order. But I wouldn’t single out Hoover in particular or the FBI in general as a scapegoat. It was a universal failure to tell the truth. A kind of consensus on how far we would go in looking into the matter. But the Justice Department, which Blakey worked for under Robert Kennedy, cannot be governed by a decision such as this. The Justice Department has to be governed by law and by honesty of inquiry in order to establish judgement “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The more evidence that Blakey and I heard, the more scientific analysis of the film and oral recording of the assassination, the more testimony, the more doubt there was. And none of it was “unreasonable.”

Ellipses: But when you first looked into the assassination, it was not out of suspicion of a cover-up or a conspiracy?

Left to Right: Richard Billings -- G. Robert Blakey

Billings: I wrote about the Kennedy assassination as a journalist simply because it happened. Later on I realized that it didn’t happen in the way we were told it happened--that there were other explanations. Of course, we still don’t understand the Kennedy assassination. We haven’t come close to solving it, and therefore it is a case which is still open and remains an unsolved murder.

Ellipses: Was Garrison’s investigation an attempt to tell the truth?

Billings: Garrison’s investigation was on the level when it started. It was a good case to begin with. When I heard that Garrison had this case, I went running down to New Orleans and asked him, `what have you got?’ and I believed him. Then he turned out to be an opportunist, I think. Our investigation connected him to some pretty shady elements.

Ellipses: Do you think Garrison failed because of an attempt to silence and discredit him by the government?

Billings: No. As I told you, I don’t think the assassination has been solved, and I do not think that any of the immediate investigations that went on at the time were completely on the level.

Ellipses: Most importantly, the Warren Commission’s investigation?

Billings: I don’t think one investigation failed more significantly than another. I don’t think, for example, the Warren Commission knew the truth of who assassinated Kennedy, but they should have said that. Instead, they concluded on what had been uncovered by the FBI, and no one would close a case like that on the basis of the evidence they were presented. I’m not saying they intended to deceive, or anything like that, but they were not honest about the fact that they did not know.

Ellipses: And neither was Garrison?

Billings: Neither was Garrison, except it is significant that we learned more about Oswald to a degree from Garrison’s investigations than from the Warren Commission. That’s a real problem. We also learned about Garrison’s connection to organized crime, which is even more significant...

Ellipses: Do you think the kind of mentality that covers up the truth, or even the truth that one does not have an answer, is still in place in government?

Billings: Well, I think Bush, for example, probably knew more about Iran-Contra than any of us did. But as for a permanent structure of concealing the events that affect the public, I just don’t know.

Ellipses: Is there a pattern in the scandals in government policy that have surfaced since Kennedy’s death?

Billings: Yes, there is a linkage; and Watergate, Iran-Contra, etc., are all interwoven in terms of general policy and how one is to deal with the public when these policies are exposed.

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