Tuesday, 19 November 2019 03:33

Dennis Breo, the New York Times, and JFK

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Jim DiEugenio critiques Dennis Breo’s printed letter to the New York Times and revisits Breo’s history of spreading incomplete nonsense and denying facts about the JFK autopsy and the doctors who conducted it.

On November 8, 2019, the New York Times printed a letter from an author named Dennis Breo. This was in reply to a review of Jack Goldsmith’s book In Hoffa’s Shadow. In the review of that book, Chris Nashaway wrote that the disappearance of Hoffa ranks with mysteries like the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and the identity of the so-called second shooter on the grassy knoll. Please note the term “so-called” in front of the second shooter.

Well, even that large qualifier was not enough for one Dennis Breo. Breo promptly wrote a letter to the Times who, quite willingly, accommodated him.

Dennis Breo

Stepping up to his soap box, Breo wrote that what the Times had done by printing that sentence was a “serious disservice to history.” He then said that he had been a journalist for the Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA) when they did interviews with the three autopsy doctors on the JFK case in May of 1992. He wrote that, because of that, he could assure the Times that “there was no second shooter from the grassy knoll or anywhere else.” He then said that the autopsy doctors proved that both wounds in Kennedy went from back to front, that is, his back of the neck wound and his head wound. Therefore, the only possible shooter was Lee Harvey Oswald. He then ended his letter with the fact that the Times endorsed that article saying that “it offers proof against paranoia.”

Dr, George Lundberg

This was the first letter on the correspondence page. Above it, the Times bannered the letter with the rubric “There was no Second Shooter on the Grassy Knoll,” all seeming a bit much for printing the phrase “the so called second shooter.”

Naturally, the Times did not reply to Breo’s letter to defend what they originally printed. They did not even let Mr. Nashaway respond. They were wise in doing so, because Breo is a huge target for anyone disputing the Warren Report’s version of events.

First, Dennis Breo is not a doctor and has never been a doctor. He is now a retired journalist, living in Florida. At the time that the film JFK came out, he was working with Dr. George Lundberg, the editor of JAMA. Lundberg did not like the portrayal of his friend Dr. James Humes in that picture. Evidently, he did not care to find out that it was not really a portrayal. It was all based upon facts that were adduced at the trial of Clay Shaw in 1969 in New Orleans. Those facts, recited under oath by Dr. Pierre Finck, were accurately scripted for the film. There was nothing defamatory about these scenes. The film reflected Finck’s testimony on the stand, according  to the trial  record, which director/writer Oliver Stone had secured.

Finck’s testimony, in and of itself, is quite a story. He was called by the defense. The reason being that Dr. John Nichols, a pathologist, had been an effective witness for the prosecution. He testified that, in his opinion, the Zapruder film proved a shot from the front and, therefore, showed a conspiracy. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, second edition, p. 299) The defense was worried about the impact of both the Zapruder film and Nichols. So they called Kennedy autopsy physician Pierre Finck as a witness. The Justice Department was coordinating its coverage of the Clay Shaw trial through attorney Carl Eardley in Washington. (ibid, p. 299)  Eardley was the point man on the cover up of the medical evidence in the JFK case. For example, he had coordinated a meeting in 1966 so that four of those present in the Bethesda morgue room—where Kennedy’s autopsy was performed—would testify that all the photos of that procedure were accounted for. Even though everyone knew they were not, including Eardley. (ibid, p. 305). Eardley wisely kept his name off the final draft of the false document.

Finck’s testimony in New Orleans was coordinated with Eardley in advance. (DiEugenio, p. 299) Finck was fine under direct examination. He was reduced to mumbling and bumbling by Jim Garrison’s assistant DA Alvin Oser under cross examination. The Shaw trial was the first direct exposure of the corrupt practices and hierarchical control of what went on in the Bethesda morgue on the evening of November 22, 1963. The examination got so bad that Finck began dodging questions and refusing to answer. The judge had to order him to answer. When he did, he admitted that Kennedy’s back wound was not dissected because the doctors—Humes, Finck, and Thornton Boswell—were ordered not to do so. He also admitted that Humes had to stop the examination once, because of all the interference. Once halted, Humes then asked aloud: “Who is in charge here?” Finck testified that an army general replied, “I am.” Finck then added: “You must understand that in those circumstances, there were law enforcement officials, military people, with various ranks and you have to coordinate the operations according to directions.” (DiEugenio, p. 300, italics added)

Finck had given away the game. Kennedy’s back wound was not dissected, because the military presence there would not allow it. The doctors were not in charge; the Pentagon officers were. Because of this, no one would ever know for certain the precise circumstances by which President Kennedy was killed. Did the back wound transit the body? Did it meet the anterior neck wound as part of its trajectory? Those questions can never be answered, because of the military control of the Bethesda autopsy.

Finck’s testimony was devastating to the official story, so much so, that when local US attorney Harry Connick informed Eardley what the doctor was saying, the maestro of the medical cover up panicked. When Dr. Boswell testified to the Assassination Records Review Board, he said that Eardley was really upset about what Finck said under oath at the Shaw trial. (DiEugenio, p. 304) Eardley told Boswell that he had to get someone to New Orleans quickly, because Finck was “really lousing everything up.” In other words, telling the truth was screwing up Eardley’s cover up efforts. Eardley flew Boswell to New Orleans, where he was met by Connick. But Eardley changed his mind and Boswell did not testify. Eardley’s intent was to have Boswell smear Finck as a “strange man.” Eardley probably changed his mind, because he realized that Finck was more experienced as a forensic pathologist than Humes or Boswell was. That was why they called him in a bit late in the procedure. It would have been difficult to discredit someone with better credentials than yourself. (DiEugenio, p. 304)

This was what writers Oliver Stone and co-writer Zachary Sklar had based this part of the film upon, although they had not yet seen the declassified machinations behind the scenes from Washington with Eardley. But this was all sworn testimony at the Shaw trial. JAMA could have availed themselves of it rather easily by calling Mr. Stone or the court stenographer of the Shaw trial—Helen Dietrich—who was still alive at the time. There is no evidence that Lunderg or Breo did either. Lundberg’s reaction to the film was not at all scientific or medically sound. After he saw the picture, he wrote a letter to his friend Jim Humes. It said:

Have you seen the movie JFK? Three hours and fifteen minutes of truth mixed with non-truth mixed with alleged truth. For the younger person, not knowledgeable about 1963—very difficult to tell the difference. Please either write the truth now for JAMA or let Dennis Breo (and me?) interview you…to set the record straight—at least about the autopsy. (Brad Kizzia in Assassination Science, edited by James Fetzer, p.73)

In other words, Breo and Lundberg went to work to counter the facts that JFK had set forth. Which were based upon Finck’s sworn testimony. It was later revealed in a deposition that Lundberg likely did not know that these autopsy scenes were based upon Finck’s testimony, when he wrote that letter to Humes. (Brad Kizzia in Trauma Room One, p. 165, by Dr. Charles Crenshaw.)

Dr, Charles Crenshaw

Something else had happened while Lundberg and Breo were setting about their task to rehabilitate one of the worst autopsies ever performed. Dr. Charles Crenshaw had published his book, Conspiracy of Silence. In that volume, Crenshaw revealed that upon being shown the autopsy photographs by researcher Gary Shaw, he was taken aback, because they did not conform with what he recalled. (Crenshaw, p. 18) Crenshaw said the back of the head photo did not reveal the blowout wound he saw and the anterior neck wound seemed widened and enlarged. Crenshaw’s book was published in April of 1992. It became a best seller.

Breo and Lundberg prepared the May 1992 issue of JAMA for the original autopsy doctors to tell their story. They even called a press conference, in advance, in New York City. The article and the press conference also brought into question the efficacy of Crenshaw’s book. In fact, Lundberg and Breo even questioned if Crenshaw was in the emergency room. (Crenshaw, pgs. 153, 161, 165)

Somehow, in his recent letter to the New York Times, Breo forgot to mention some rather embarrassing reporting in the Times about that press conference. Dr. Lawrence Altman was at that 1992 event in New York. His two reports for the Times showed that all one had to do was peruse the Warren Commission volumes to discover that Crenshaw was in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital when Kennedy was there. (Crenshaw, p. 166). Even though the Altman articles were published before the issue of JAMA was distributed, there was no correction added to the issue.

Crenshaw requested a right to reply and Lundberg refused. Crenshaw then launched a lawsuit for defamation. Brad Kizzia represented the surgeon. The depositions in that case were rather interesting. It is quite obvious that Lundberg and Breo had an agenda. And they did not care about the long factual record of the Kennedy case. For instance, in his letter to the Times claiming he knows there were only two shots from the rear and they were by Oswald, Breo writes that the lower rear wound came in at the neck. This proves that not only did Breo not study the case before he wrote the JAMA articles—he has not studied it since. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) had the autopsy photographs. They published artists’ renditions of the wounds. That wound, which Breo says is in the neck, is clearly in Kennedy’s back. (Crenshaw, p. 269) This is a fact that not even Dr. Michael Baden of the HSCA could deny. If a writer will not even admit that, then how can anyone trust him with the rest of the facts of the JFK autopsy.

For in addition to the autopsy doctors being stopped from dissecting the back wound, there is no existing record of them sectioning Kennedy’s brain. This should have been done, in order to track the bullet path through the skull. No examining doctor since—from the HSCA or the ARRB—has been able to find any records from a sectioning process. (Although Doug Horne has made the case it was done and then covered up. Click here to read that essay.) To say that this was a failing is a monumental understatement.  For if the brain was not sectioned, then:

  1. How can one chart the bullet path through the skull?
  2. Say with confidence that JFK was hit by only one bullet in the head?
  3. Tell us that only one bullet came in from behind?

Adding to this problem, the angle from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository to the limousine below is slightly right to left.  But if one believes the autopsy, the bullet exited going left to right. There is also the problem that the 1968 Ramsey Clark Panel moved the rear skull wound up four inches to the cowlick area. But yet, for JAMA, Lundberg and Breo moved it back down again. These serious issues in the Kennedy case were all either discounted or ignored by JAMA. (Crenshaw, p. 203) As was the riddle of the weight of Kennedy’s brain. The supplementary autopsy report, filed on December 6, 1963, says that the weight was 1500 grams. (ibid, p. 238) This is virtually impossible to believe. Too many witnesses saw a brain that was missing a significant amount of mass. Secondly, from films and pictures of the assassination, one can see the blood and tissue that was ejected from Kennedy’s skull. This has led many to believe that there was some real subterfuge going on, with not just the autopsy, but the supplemental autopsy days later. It is why so many observers, e.g. forensic scientist Henry Lee, believe that the autopsy in the JFK case was such a mess that no observer can come to real conclusions about precisely how Kennedy was killed. (Lee said this in an interview with Oliver Stone for the upcoming documentary JFK: Destiny Betrayed)

As both Gary Aguilar and Cyril Wecht noted in their review of JAMA’s articles (there was more than one), the fundamental factual errors that Breo and Lundberg made would not pass muster in a high school class on the JFK case. In the first sentence of the first article, Breo wrote that only Humes and Boswell knew what really happened during the autopsy of JFK. Thus ignoring Pierre Finck, who actually was the only experienced forensic pathologist of the three. (Aguilar and Wecht in Crenshaw, p. 202) Breo then added that the JAMA interview was the only time that Humes and Boswell had publicly discussed the JFK case. This was wrong in more than one sense. In 1967, Boswell had granted an interview to Josiah Thompson for attribution in his book Six Seconds in Dallas. In that same year, Humes gave an interview to Dan Rather for a CBS special broadcast in the summer of 1967. All three doctors had appeared in public before the HSCA; Humes was even on television for a second interview done alone. Boswell had given interviews to both the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times. Humes had given an interview for attribution to David Lifton. All of this betrays the fact that JAMA wanted to trumpet their articles as being somehow unprecedented in the literature, when, in fact, that was not an accurate assessment.

In the second article, JAMA stated, through one of the Parkland doctors, that none of what the Dallas doctors saw contradicted that the bullets were fired from behind Kennedy and above. Now, at this time, the Assassination Records Review Board had not declassified the drawings and affidavits given to the HSCA. These clearly denoted a large, avulsive wound in the rear of Kennedy’s skull, which would suggest a shot from the front. But even in 1992, there was testimony and evidence that such was the case. To cite just two examples: the Warren Commission testimony of Secret Service agent Clint Hill and the drawing on page 107 of  Thompson’s book Six Seconds in Dallas directed by Dr. Robert McClelland. (Click here for Hill)

One of the worst things about the JAMA articles and Breo’s performance was that, as attorney Brad Kizzia discovered, neither Lundberg nor Breo ever talked to Crenshaw himself. (Crenshaw, p. 164) But, beyond that, Kizzia also discovered that there was no peer review of Breo’s writing about the JFK case. (ibid, p. 165) The excuse given was that Breo’s work was only considered journalism. Considering that this “journalism” discussed and reviewed a quite complex and controversial subject and that Breo was not a physician, this is a truly remarkable decision by the editors at JAMA. And it’s why many doctors suspended their subscriptions to the magazine afterwards. Making all this even more troubling was the fact that Lundberg was a pathologist. Yet he admitted he had not read any books about the JFK case. (Crenshaw, p. 165) JAMA ended up settling with Crenshaw for about a quarter of a million dollars.

The AMA board terminated George Lundberg seven years later. At that time, during the Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings, he was running an article about what college students considered oral sex to be. The executives at the AMA declared that he had compromised “the integrity of the journal” and they had been inserted “into a debate that had nothing to do with science or medicine.” (BBC News, 1/18/99)

That judgment could have been asserted back in 1992.

Last modified on Wednesday, 20 November 2019 19:09
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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