After 50 years, I remain fascinated by a single incident related to the Kennedy Assassination. And I really believe that you may find it as fascinating as I do no matter what you believe about the Kennedy Assassination. Actually, I don’t think that’s true at all, but I don’t care. You should be fascinated by it– it makes no sense. And it makes all the sense in the world.
It was known almost immediately that someone had shot a film of the assassination. In fact, there were several films, but there was only film that captured the essential event in glorious colour, with sharpness, and reasonable proximity: that is the film, of course, shot by clothing merchant, Abraham Zapruder, who was standing on a kind of pagoda with the assistance of his assistant, Marilyn Sitzman. A reporter chatted with Zapruder after the assassination. If you are into conspiracies– and who can resist– you will note that the reporter offered to put Zapruder in contact with a Secret Service Agent, who, we would have assumed, would have loved to have a beautiful, clear, colourful, cinematic souvenir of them all standing on the follow-up car staring at the assassination event.
The Secret Service accompanied Zapruder to a local television station and then to Eastman Kodak’s local processing plant, and then to another processing plant, the Jamieson Film Company, to have some copies made. The Secret Service had a look at this film. And then Richard Stolley, an editor from Life Magazine, amazingly arrived to negotiate with Zapruder for exclusive rights to the film and all prints from the film, for about $150,000. Richard Stolley worked for a man named C. D. Jackson at Time-Life.
C.D. Jackson was a close friend of the CIA, and helped establish the Bilderberg Group. You couldn’t make this shit up. Yes, this guy who had obtained custody of the most compelling evidence of a conspiracy in the Kennedy Assassination worked with the CIA.
We now know it didn’t work, but, if you were the suspicious sort, what this looks like is the conspirators jumping in to make sure that nobody ever sees the evidence that might disprove that Oswald and Oswald alone killed Kennedy, from the 6th Floor the Texas Book Depository, from behind.
I say it did not work. Or it worked better than in their wildest dreams.
Zapruder had a nightmare about people paying to see his film in Times Square. He didn’t mind the paying part. But I guess his nightmare included people being repelled about the idea of him selling frame 313, in which Kennedy’s head explodes. So a condition of sale was that frame 313 could not be shown. He kept his money.
Life Magazine eventually published very poor quality prints taken from the film, but that was all the American public would see of the film for a long, long, long time.
Understandably, there was considerable curiosity about the film. Once it became clear that a “commission” of sterile old fat white men was going to pin the whole thing on a “lone nut” no matter what the evidence was (I’m not sure why they even bothered to hold hearings or examine anything: they disregarded any evidence that opened any doors), there was even more curiosity. One of the central tenets of the Warren Commission’s findings was that all of the shots came from behind, from Oswald’s “sniper’s nest”. But some witnesses and conspiracy theorists didn’t believe Oswald could have fired all of the shots. Some people in Dealey Plaza thought the shots came from the grassy knoll. There was some discussion even at Parkland Hospital about an “entry” wound in the neck, and about the head snapping backwards, and even about an entry wound in the forehead.
In the midst this hot and heavy discussion rode CBS reporter Dan Rather to the rescue. The public was told that, as little children, as tiny, irresponsible, wee little children, they could not be trusted to view the best evidence of who killed their president, but Dan Rather would assume this burden for us, almost like Jesus going on the cross. And so Dan Rather watched the film very, very carefully– this was by far, the biggest news story of the decade, after all, so he wouldn’t want to miss a detail– and then, instead of staying to try to outbid Life Magazine for the film, he ran as fast as he could back to the local CBS affiliate so he could breathlessly report to the American public that the film, indeed, showed Kennedy’s head going violently forward with the impact of the third shot. “Forward and to the right”.
“forward and to the right”
I am still astonished at this. Kennedy’s head, of course, jerked violently backwards, to the left. It’s the most obvious thing about the third shot: backwards and to the left. As if Kennedy might have been shot from the front.
I leave aside the complicated argument that a shot from the rear could have produced that motion. It is possible, but complicated.
So, Dan Rather, with a chance to be at the center of the biggest news story of the decade, lies to millions of people. Why?
Was it a mistake? Could it be that Dan Rather, for all his fame and all of his promotion and self-promotion, and self-aggrandizement, and posturing, was a complete idiot who couldn’t tell left from right, up from down, or in from out? Could it be that he could not, fifteen minutes later, remember which direction Kennedy’s head was going in when his skull was blown open by a rifle shot, after viewing the most shocking, important 22 second film clip in history?
Did Dan Rather know that the assassination was to be pinned on a lone gunman shooting from above and behind and that all conspiracies were to be excluded? It seems unlikely: Rather saw the film on the day of the assassination. On the other hand, everyone knew, by then, that the suspect had worked in the Texas Book Depository, and I’m sure Rather’s instincts were that the American public needed to be reassured that there was no conspiracy regardless of whether or not there had actually been one. Oswald was in custody. He knew the outlines of the conspiracy. He certainly could have been aware of which conspiracy would be the preferred conspiracy.
But perhaps Dan was already prepared, emotionally and intellectually, to play his role in American politics and culture over the next forty years, that of a superficially liberal journalist, of slight but discernibly progressive inclinations, but fundamentally establishment in orientation and interests. This is someone who might eventually think that Nixon should be impeached, but only after he has observed that all political parties do dirty tricks. This is someone who would become opposed to the Viet Nam war only after every other credible authority has long before switched sides, and then he would try to make it sound like he was being courageous. Rather would observe that peaceniks are naïve, because, after all, real enemies will really resist all our attempts to take all their oil.
It was this kind of faux liberalism that led the New York Times to endorse the Iraq war at the time the Bush Administration was hustling it.
About the Camera
The Camera: a Bell & Howell Zoomatic Director Series Model 414 PD
Dan, do you wish that, fifty years later, people would just leave it alone? Sorry. You don’t deserve that kind of forgetfulness.
About Mrs. Kennedy
There is another surprise. Rather — accurately, for a change– described, in his first recorded account of the film, how Mrs. Kennedy had tried to get out of the car in the middle of the assassination. The next day, the day after the assassination, CBS decided to have Rather broadcast his experience of the film live again (Rather was being groomed after all). But, they told him, leave out the part about Mrs. Kennedy. It was considered indecorous. America, they said (according to Dan) was not “ready” to absorb the image of the first lady trying not to get shot.
In fact, I still believe Mrs. Kennedy was trying to retrieve part of John Kennedy’s skull, which had been blown off and was slipping down the back of the limo. It was later recovered by a bystander and “returned” to the Secret Service (and flown up to Bethesda to be reunited with the body.)
I am astonished, but then not astonished, at how casually the establishment decides for Americans what they should or should not know. Just astonished. The omission of important information about what happened is bad, bad journalism, dishonest and irresponsible. And it is these same people, these same institutions who turn pale and almost feint when the idea of getting your news through the internet is raised…. unmediated!! You must be mad!
My Theories on Conspiracies
The Magic Bullet