Monday, December 9, 2013

Dealey Plaza Revisited II


So we meet again, huddled around the lavapit.  The fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination has come and gone, but vapors continue to rise.  Let us investigate further.

One upshot that this reinvigorated national interest in JFK and the Kennedys appears to have encouraged is a movement to revise and sanitize history, to rub away elements of reality that boosters, or the family, or implicated elements of the power structure continue to find uncomfortable.  In my last blog I alluded to the insistence by Joe Kennedy's latest biographer, Professor David Nasaw, that Joe had nothing to do with the American underworld throughout his long, contentious career.  The fact is, there is a compounding record, from FBI documents to testimony by Joe's co-conspirators in the underworld to relatives of the Ambassador -- one, John Davis, refers without apology to Joe as "a bootlegger" in his important books, while another, Gore Vidal, recounts in his memoirs having walked in on Joe and Frank Costello, the boss of the New York crime families, both bollicky bareass on adjacent tables in Joe's apartment off Central Park South being ministered to by a Teamster masseur.  Gus Russo's solid books document Joe Kennedy's traffic with the Chicago Outfit virtually week to week once JFK was in play.  Hearsay, Professor Nasaw would maintain, not from authenticated documents.

When my book Bobby and J. Edgar came out I got mail from experts of every political persuasion.  Conservative Richard Whalen, whose The Founding Father stands as definitive on Joe, called it "A major contribution to the vast literature of the Kennedys.  I believe that [Hersh's] original research on [Joe Kennedy's] secret mob connections and his bootlegging career among other revelations shed important new light on this mystery-shrouded subject."  Robert Maheu, Howard Hughes' uniquely connected longtime alter ego, who reintroduced the CIA to the principal chiefs of the Mafia, wrote, "This is an amazing book.  It covers the history of the period to a depth I've never run into before."  

Before my last blog even got distributed I got a telephone call from the deeply affronted Professor Nasaw.
What seemed to offend him most was my observation that his biography was "Apparently sponsored by Jean Smith, Joe's surviving child...."  Nasaw would admit that he had been prompted to write the book by Smith, and that arrangements had been finalized by a brief talk with Ted Kennedy.  Then there had been an exchange of lawyers' papers, with the understanding that Nasaw was to receive complete access to Joe's papers in the Kennedy Library but was under no obligation to let the family vet the manuscript.  Webster's defines sponsorship as "person or agency that gives endorsement or vouches for some person or thing."  Let the reader parse the implications. Having myself had total access to Joe Kennedy's papers -- no lawyers, no pre-arrangements -- I discovered even in this well-culled archive a number of letters back and forth with everybody from well connected Mob affiliates to the senior economist on Hermann Goering's staff.  You just had to know who was who.

Another development that should prove alarming to civil libertarians is the takeover by right-wing billionaires of what had previously been comparatively free-wheeling media outlets.  For years The History Channel explored alternative versions as to what happened when JFK was shot, even featuring the recollections of a previously unknown girlfriend of Oswald's from New Orleans, with whom Oswald supposedly conducted cancer research  the summer before the shooting. Some were on target; others would be harder to substantiate.  Then Rupert Murdoch bought the outlet.  From then on -- straight Warren Commission apologia, no investigative reporting whatsoever.

More recent was a Nova segment built around the testimony of a father-son team of purported ballistics experts, Luke and Michael Haag, who claim to base their conclusions as to the validity of The Magic Bullet projection on recently developed laser and Doppler technology.  Their reading presumes that Kennedy was leaning forward when the fatal shots were fired and that he took a bullet at the base of his neck, both presumptions nullified by the Zapruder and other films of the event and the findings of Dr. Charles Cranshaw, the surgeon at Parkland Hospital who examined the stricken president immediately after he was brought in and determined that the first bullet hit him in mid-back.  The back of his head was gone, an exit wound the size of a cantaloupe. Most observers, including Kenny O'Donnell and  Dave Powers, riding in the car behind the president, saw the muzzle flash from the fence above the Grassy Knoll and watched the back of JFK's head fly off, with Jackie scrambling to grab her husband's skull and brains bouncing along the trunk of the convertible.  Both Governor Connally and his wife insisted that there were two shots from the rear, then one from the front -- a conspiracy.  When the U. S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations studied the evidence, it came to the same conclusions.

The Haags would maintain that the bullet from Oswald's old mail-order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle "came out" of JFK and "started tumbling...and that's how it hit Connally...these are not really tough shots."  Oswald. they claim, was a crack shot and could have hit these moving targets several hundred feet away, through heavy foliage.  The fact was, Oswald was a limited shooter -- he barely qualified on the range as a Marine, a "marksman," and hadn't been practicing regularly.  Marine sharpshooters were unable to duplicate these "not really tough shots," and in their laboratories FBI technicians were unable to get Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano to fire.

What is most notable about this "expert testimony" is that it appeared on Nova at all.  Perhaps there is something of an explanation in the fact that David Koch, bankroller of hard-right causes across the board, is now a principal underwriter of the PBS series.  Another -- of three -- is the Howard Hughes Medical Foundation.  In America these days, our history is apparently turning into what Big Money decides it is.

Keep those Christmas lights on!

Burton Hersh


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