Michael Parenti on Oliver Stone's "JFK" and Gerald Posner's "Case Closed"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Mar 29 18:36:05 MST 2001

Michael Parenti, "History as Mystery":

Celebrities aside, who are the other writers whose books win special
promotion? In some important cases, they are the keepers of the ideological
orthodoxy. Consider the historic investigations conducted around the John
F. Kennedy assassination. As president, Kennedy was heartily hated by
right-wing forces in this country, including many powerful people in secret
operations who saw him as "messing with the intelligence community." He had
betrayed the national interest as they defined it, by refusing to go all
out against Cuba, making overtures of rapproachment with Castro, and
refusing to escalate the ground war in Vietnam. They also saw him as an
antibusiness pinko liberal or closet Marxist who was taking the country
down the wrong path.

For over thirty years the corporate-owned press and other mainstream
opinion makers have ignored the many unsettling revelations about the
Kennedy assassination unearthed by independent investigators. Such research
points to a conspiracy to assassinate the president and a conspiracy to
hide the crime. At the very least, the investigators raise enough serious
questions as to leave us unwilling to accept the Warren Commission’s
official version of blaming Lee Harvey Oswald for the killing of President

An end run around the media blackout was achieved by Oliver Stone’s film
JFK. Released in late 1991, the movie exposed millions of viewers to the
many disturbing aspects of the assassination. JFK was repeatedly attacked
seven months before it was released, in just about every major print and
broadcast outlet, usually in the most caustic and general terms. The
media’s ideological gatekeepers poured invective upon Stone, while avoiding
the more difficult task of rebutting the substantive points made in his
film, and without ever coming to grips with the critical historical
literature upon which the movie drew. A full exposure of the assassination
conspiracy, that might unearth CIA or military intelligence involvement,
would cast serious discredit upon the nation’s major institutions.

Oliver Stone’s JFK continued to be attacked years after its initial run.
Stone was pilloried as a "ranting maniac" and a "dangerous fellow," guilty
of "near-pathological monkeying with history." The idea of a conspiracy in
high places was ridiculed as a fanciful scenario that sprang from the
imagination of a filmmaker. Like the Warren Commission, the press assumed a
priori that Oswald was the lone killer. In 1978, when a House Select
Committee concluded that there was more than one assassin involved in the
Kennedy shooting, the Washington Post editorialized that there still
probably was no conspiracy, but possibly "three or four societal outcasts"
who acted independently of each other spontaneously and simultaneously to
shoot the president. Instead of a conspiracy theory the Post created a
coincidence theory that might be the most fanciful explanation of all.

Meanwhile, in answer to the question, Did Oswald act alone? most
independent investigators concluded that he did not act at all. He was not
one of the people who shot Kennedy, although he was involved in another
way, in his own words as "a patsy," concluded the critics.

In the wake of the public’s renewed interest in the Kennedy assassination,
the media bestowed fulsome publicity on one Gerald Posner, a little-known
NewYork lawyer and writer, helping to catapult his book, Case Closed, onto
the national bestseller list. Posner’s book ignored the abundant evidence
of conspiracy and cover-up and used outright untruths to conclude that Lee
Harvey Oswald was a disturbed lone leftist who killed Kennedy. Neither
before nor since has a writer about the Kennedy assassination been accorded
such lavish fanfare. Posner’s book was featured in prime display spaces at
major bookstores around the nation. It was quickly adopted for book-club
distribution. Posner himself enjoyed ubiquitous major media exposure, being
treated as the premier authority on the case. He was granted guest columns
and lead letters, lead articles, and adulatory reviews in just about every
major publication in the United States. A review of his book in the Journal
of American History reads more like a promotional piece than an evaluation
of a historical investigation. Case Closed was hailed as "brilliantly
illuminating" and "lucid and compelling" by New York Times reviewers who
knew all along that conspiracies to murder the president do not happen in a
nice country like the United States.

The gaping deficiencies in Case Closed went unnoticed in the major media.
None of the pundits or reviewers remarked on Posner’s bad habit of
referring to sources as supporting his position, when in fact they did not.
Thus, he very selectively cited as new scientific "proof" the
computer-enhanced studies by Failure Analysis Associates, without
mentioning that the company had produced evidence for both sides in an
American Bar Association mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. In a sworn
affidavit, the CEO of Failure Analysis, Roger L. McCarthy, pointed out that
"one Gerald Posner" consulted only the prosecution materials without
acknowledging "that there was additional material prepared by FaAA for the
defense. Incredibly, Mr. Posner makes no mention of the fact that the mock
jury that heard and saw the technical material that he believes is so
persuasive and ‘closed’ the case . . . also saw the FaAA material prepared
for the defense, [and] could not reach a verdict."

Posner has another bad habit. He cites interviews with people whom he never
actually interviewed and who repudiate the representations he made about
their views. Thus, before the House Committee on Government Operations in
November 1993, he claimed to have interviewed two of Kennedy’s
pathologists, James Humes, M.D., and I. Thornton Boswell, M.D., who
supposedly admitted to him that they had erred in their original judgment
about the location of Kennedy’s skull wound, opting for a higher entrance
wound that would better fit the theory that the shot came from the book
depository where Oswald was supposedly perched. But Gary Aguilar, M.D., an
expert on the medical evidence relating to the assassination, telephoned
Humes and Boswell: "Both physicians told me that they had not changed their
minds about Kennedy’s wounds at all. They stood by their statements in JAMA
[Journal of the American Medical Association], which contradict Posner.
Startlingly, Dr. Boswell told me that he has never spoken to Posner."

Are we to believe, asks Aguilar, that Boswell admitted to Posner he saw a
high skull wound at very nearly the same time he was claiming he saw a low
wound to a fellow pathologist, the editor of JAMA, in a published interview
in that journal (May 27, 1992)? Are we to believe that Boswell would forget
that he had repudiated his own sworn testimony and autopsy report in a
conversation with Posner? Furthermore, such a retraction by Humes and
Boswell would have had enormous forensic significance. Why then did Posner
fail to mention this "case-closing" news anywhere in either edition of his
book? So many inconsistencies in Posner’s account exist that only a full
release of his research materials could establish that Humes and Boswell
have recanted. But despite repeated requests, Posner refuses to release his
unedited notes, records, and recordings.

In Case Closed, Posner maintains that James Tague, a bystander at the
assassination, was hit by a fragment from the first of three shots. Tague
maintains that he was not hit by the first shot, which means there must
have been a fourth bullet from someone other than Posner’s lone assassin.
In an April 1994 telephone conversation, Tague told Gary Aguilar the same
thing he had told the Warren Commission, thereby flatly contradicting
Posner s reconstruction of his testimony. Even more unsettling, in Case
Closed, Posner cites two interviews with Tague to support his version of
Tague’s testmony. But Tague informed Aguilar that he has never spoken to

Posner "picks and chooses his witnesses on the basis of their consistency
with the thesis he wants to prove," comments G. Robert Blakey, chief
counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. "All through his
book, Posner uses our investigation when it serves his purpose but
disregards it when it runs counter to his thesis." One example: Secret
Service agent Paul Landis, who was riding the running board of the
follow-up car, heard shots that came from both the grassy knoll and the
book depository. Posner knows about Landis; he quotes him as a credible
witness on the timing of the first shot but ignores his testimony about the
direction of the third shot, just as he ignores the testimony of others who
reported gunfire from the grassy knoll.

There are many questions Posner does not address: What of the witnesses who
saw something different from what the Warren Commission— and Posner—say
they saw? What of Oswald’s links to right-wing groups and the intelligence
community? And what of the various operatives who have emerged as
participants in the plot? Posner simply ignores the evidence unearthed by
investigators or "often presents the opposite of what the evidence says,"
charges David Wrone in the Journal of Southern History. Those who tried to
expose the seemingly purposive distortions in Posner’s work have seldom
been accorded any air time or print space in the major media. Space does
not allow a full exposition and rebuttal, but certainly the unanswered
questions and unclassified or disappeared materials are enough to leave any
responsible historian unwilling to say that Posner has closed the case and
given us the final word.

Nor should our minds be swayed by such buzzwords as "conspiracy," which
cause us to reject out-of-hand the idea that ruling elites operate with
self-interested intent and sometimes with unprincipled and lethal effect.
Furthermore, if the author of Case Closed is guiding us away from
conspiracy hysteria, "what then are we to make of Posner’s claim that his
critics have threatened to assassinate him?"

To return to the question asked earlier: Why is it that different authors,
addressing the same historical subject from different orientations, enjoy
such diametrically contrasting receptions? Why is it that some are put
forth as stars while others—whose efforts are at least as commanding and
accomplished—languish in relative obscurity? The distinguishing
characteristic between the two often is a political one. Posner has given
the system’s guardians the answer they wanted: the assassination was only
an isolated aberration that reveals nothing sinister about the national
security state.

To conclude, history is not just what the historians say it is, but what
government agencies, corporate publishing conglomerates, chain store
distributors, mass media pundits, editors, reviewers, and other ideological
gatekeepers want to put into circulation. Not surprisingly, the deck is
stacked to favor those who deal the cards.

Louis Proyect
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