Ramsey Clark Dispute

"He took a perfectly fine man ..."

A web page archived elsewhere describes a trivial incident involving former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and me, Rey Barry, over Jim Garrison's behavior in his JFK assassination investigation.

"Tom Bethell's Diary" gets it wrong, probably intentionally, and the diary is on a web site that won't correct it, mcadams.posc.mu.edu/bethell9.htm . We learned that that is an unacknowledged US Gov't maintained website. Now you know.

If the trivial is worth reporting, it's worth reporting accurately. Tom's diary has errors. This corrects them and tells the whole trivial story.

I was not on the staff of a student newspaper, as Tom states. I was 30 years old and an experienced reporter with The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia. My beat included the University of Virginia located there.

Atty. General Ramsey Clark was invited to speak at UVa in Old Cabell Hall on Friday night, Oct. 13, 1967. I covered the talk, and joined a few law students and Clark on stage afterwards for additional chitchat. It was then that Clark said something he shouldn't have said within earshot of a reporter. But it was Friday the 13th and he did.

Rather than trust my memory, here's an accurate recital from the November, 1967, issue of The Virginia Publisher & Printer (page 6) of what took place.

"A spokesman for Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark says Clark didn't say it, but Charlottesville reporter Rey Barry says Clark did indeed.

"That was the standoff that resulted in October after Clark spoke at a meeting of the Student Legal Forum at the University of Virginia.

"Barry quoted Clark as having said during an informal question and answer session that the attorney general 'might have to prosecute Jim Garrison,' the controversial district attorney for New Orleans.

"Barry, a reporter for the Daily Progress, also quoted Clark as having said that Garrison had taken 'a perfectly fine man, Clay Shaw, and ruined him just for personal aggrandizement.'

"Shaw, a prominent New Orleans businessman, is one of several being prosecuted by Garrison for alleged participation in a 1963 conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy.

"The denial by a spokesman for Clark came the day after the story hit the papers. The spokesman said he spoke to Clark after the attorney general addressed the group and participated in an informal question and answer period.

"The spokesman said someone posed a hypothetical question asking whether there would be federal prosecution of a state district attorney who had brought unwarranted prosecution.

"He said Clark replied, 'Yes, if there were grounds for such a case.' But the spokesman said Clark denied specifically making statements that he 'might have to prosecute' the New Orleans official or that Garrison had ruined Shaw 'just for personal aggrandizement.'

"An official at the Student Legal Forum also denied that Clark had made the statements.

"Barry, however, stood firm on his report. 'The quotes were word-for-word,' he said."

The controversial story appeared on page one of the Daily Progress Oct 14, 1967. I'm looking at the clipping as I type. What I quoted Clark as saying is, "Much as I may hate to do it, I may have to prosecute Jim Garrison. He took a perfectly fine man, Clay Shaw, and ruined him just for personal aggrandizement."

The story got great coverage all over the country, what with Saturday being a slow news day. The Daily Progress was a PM paper in 1967 (it's AM now) and the wire editor sent it out early Saturday morning.

As it happened, Clark was out of touch that weekend on a camping trip. He wasn't available to comment on the story for several days. By then it had blown over. In his absence there were denials from others. I stood my ground. When I'm right I don't back off. "He who dares not offend cannot be honest," is how Emerson put it.

Now it's 37 years later, I'm looking at my notes from that night, and Clark said it. And I have a letter from the DOJ confirming that Ramsey Clark never denied it.

Dated November 15, 1967, it's from Cliff Sessions, director of public information, Department of Justice.

"Dear Mr. Barry:

The Attorney General has asked me to thank you for your letter of November 9.

"The Attorney General issued no statement on your story. In response to several inquiries, I released the following statement on the day after your story was carried by the AP:

"'The Attorney General discussed this matter hypothetically. He stated no conclusions. The Department of Justice has no plans for any case against Mr. Garrison.'

"Sincerely,
Cliff Sessions
Director"

After this affair was written up in Editor & Publisher I was contacted by a newspaper editor offering me a job as his No. 2 investigative reporter. My first assignment would be to go to New Orleans and prepare to cover the Garrison prosecutions relating to JFK. I would have loved that assignment from anyone else, but the caller was the most odious man in journalism, William Loeb of the Manchester, NH, Union-Leader.

You can't value integrity and work for William Loeb. No way.

Later Mark Lane (d. 2016) came down to my newsroom and put this all on film.

A few years after this occurred Clark won the Virginia ACLU's Bill of Rights Award and I attended the banquet in Richmond where he spoke. After dinner I sat alone with Clark and tried to discuss the Garrison quote. He refused to. Can't say as I blame him.

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