Sunday, June 12, 2011



I had intended to let this blogger format settle in a little bit before tiptoeing into the minefield of the JFK assassination. But last night, watching a two-hour History Channel rendition of the purported facts surrounding the shooting of John Kennedy, I found myself yelling back again and again at the television screen, not behavior I generally indulge.  Plainly, my time had come.

What I objected to was a simplified rendition of the Warren Commission conclusions, abetted by a confident-sounding voice-over stream of commentary intended to pick off any critics who might have threatened to unsettle the conventional presentation over the years. It may be that the History Channel producers were attempting to make amends for treatments of the events their own producers let slip into the programming during years past -- public funding is harder and harder to get.

I remember one very controversial episode built around a sort of Walpurgisnacht party at Clint Murchison's estate outside Dallas the night before the assassination at which Lyndon Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and Richard Nixon all supposedly celebrated the imminent demise of the Kennedy administration.  Within weeks the History Channel was compelled to repudiate that one.  Then there was the recent soap-operatic series on the Kennedys that was aborted recently when Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver weighed in in time.  Too much reality there, starting with the presentation of an indecisive JFK incapacitated by drugs and illness much of the time, controlled by his father, and struggling to reestablish his manhood by running amok among the ladies.

Certainly the current Warren Commission apologia ought to propitiate the keepers of the whitewash.  Even within its own body of statements the documentary is full of contradictions. For example, the narrator states early that Oswald had time to get off three shots, the first of which missed and chipped a curb.  The next two purportedly passed through the president's neck and back from behind.  Later on, when it has become plain that even these apologists will have to deal with the fact that Kennedy's brains were blown away, a fourth shot, a supposed entry wound, is identified at the crown of the president's head. There is no mention of the testimony of Kennedy's surgeons at Parkland Hospital and later during his autopsy in Bethesda that he sustained an entry wound in the right front temple that blew out much of his brain and the top of his skull, which Jacqueline Kennedy is seen scrambling after in the Zapruder footage.

There really isn't much point in developing too thoroughly the contradictory evidence here, all of which I laid out in the text -- and backed up in the notes -- of my 2007 book Bobby and J. Edgar.  Minor points, like the fact that the Dallas police found no evidence of powder burns on Oswald's hands and cheek, evidence that he might possibly have fired a weapon. Or the FBI's inability to get the loose old mail-order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle Oswald supposedly used to fire straight.

What bothered me particularly was this documentary's repeated efforts to discredit expert witnesses, like Notre Dame Professor Robert Blakey, who conducted the U.S. House of Representatives investigation into the assassination and concluded that there had been several shooters -- a conspiracy -- and that the Mafia played a major role.  One of Blakey's top investigators, Edwin Lopez, is presented in seeming agreement with the Warren Commission, when in fact Lopez subsequently published a book in which he asserted that there was indeed a conspiracy in which CIA operators were involved and that Blakey was conned by the CIA into omitting Agency records from his investigation.  In his own subsequent book, Blakey suggests that this might have been the case.  Perhaps most insulting of all to the responsible historian is the attempt here to present the experienced mid-level mob operative Jack Ruby as a "police character," in Hoover's words, who murdered Oswald on impulse.

A lot of time has passed. If we own anything, it is our history. When can we reclaim it?

Burton Hersh



  1. There are many demonstrations of how facts which get in the way of desired conclusions are simply ignored. The accuracy, or lack thereof, of Oswald's rifle is one. So is the lack of powder burns on his person.

    The ever so convenient murder of Oswald by Ruby has always stunk to high heaven and you use that still aromatic fact to the great advantage of what you are arguing here.

    But the finest statement of all is the last paragraph. Why is it so important today to maintain the illusion?

  2. The Kennedy trail has long gone cold -- better to start from scratch. Like who was Jack Ruby, what did all those calls the months before the assassination to Hoffa, Giacana and Marcello goons mean and why did he stalk LHO over the weekend. And who was George de Mohrenschildt? Close to the CIA, the oil industry and George Bush (well he wrote B41 a paranoid letter that sounded by turns both crazy and intimate enough). Let's start all over with these two points on the axis and see what we get.


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