Friday, 04 February 2022 03:49

The Unprecedented Debate over JFK Revisited

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In our on-going series responding to the American media coverage of Oliver Stone’s new documentary JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, Jim DiEugenio examines how this unprecedented debate persists in using dubious and discredited sources in an attempt to somehow lessen the growing impact that the new evidence presented in the film is having.

It is almost three months since Oliver Stone’s documentary JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass was released on the Showtime cable network. The international impact of the film is unprecedented for a documentary on the subject. After its July debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the film made the cover of Paris Match. In Australia, the documentary was featured in three national newspapers as a feature story. The program Today Extra! carried by Channel 9—one of the largest TV networks on that continent—picked up the writer of the documentary, namely me, and drove him to a studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood for an interview. It screened at the Rome Film Festival in both versions, 2 hours and 4 hours—playing within a mile of each other, which again made national news. This screenwriter was also interviewed by Izvestia, one of the largest media groups in Russia. After the Cannes debut, the distribution company Altitude collected the European reviews of the film and the reaction was strongly favorable. Needless to say, Oliver Stone did many media interviews while in Cannes and these got large circulation. One he later did with the RT network’s Michael McCaffrey was widely watched on YouTube, as were the three YouTube trailers made in advance of the film’s American debut. The film is on the long list for the BAFTA award for Best Documentary and will be submitted for the Emmy awards in the same category.

The amazing thing about this debate and discussion is this: it’s still going on. And this is even before the four-hour version, Destiny Betrayed, has been made available in the USA. Stone enacted a strategy that understood the problem he faced. The MSM in this country has always been predisposed to favor the official story in the JFK case—and the film deals with this topic. So, the celebrated director did an end-run around the MSM. And, with the help of journalist Jeff Morley, it worked. Between Morley and Counterpunch, Glenn Greenwald, Joe Rogan, The People’s Weekly, Russ Baker, Dick Russell and Who What Why, Ed Curtin at Lew Rockwell, Countercurrents, and The Unz Review, Branko Marcetic at Jacobin, and Stone’s personal appearances on shows like Useful Idiots and Breaking Points, the message of the film has reached a potential domestic audience of over twelve million. This is in addition to the foreign exhibition—which is ongoing.

In fact, two continuing series were caused by the film. Aaron Good’s Destiny Betrayed interview series at Patreon cohosted by Abby Martin (click here) and Russ Baker’s journalistic series at WhoWhatWhy (click here). This successful end-run created enough buzz that it drew author Gerald Posner and leftwing polemicist Noam Chomsky back into the arena. Hardly anyone missed them, but the fact they returned shows that JFK Revisited has had an impact. The MSM attempt to halt that effect has proven unsuccessful. Yet, almost three months later, the attempt is still being made.

The way the MSM has tried to parry this impact is notable. It’s obvious that writers like Tim Wiener at Rolling Stone do not want to deal with the intellectual architecture of the film. That architecture was formed by the discoveries made possible by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). A fact which Wiener did not even note in his slam at the film. (For my reply, click here)

Tim never mentions the ARRB, which is quite a feat, because without the Board, JFK Revisited could not have been made. He never mentions points in the evidentiary record that the film delineates as never before in a broadcast format, for example the specious provenance of CE 399 which the FBI lied about; official autopsy photographer John Stringer and his admission that he did not take the pictures of Kennedy’s brain at the National Archives; the long concealed testimony of Dorothy Garner of the Texas School Book Depository where she corroborates Sandy Styles and Victoria Adams in that she never saw Oswald descending from the sixth floor after the assassination. Garner makes this point even more forceful, since she stayed on the fourth floor until supervisor Roy Truly and motorcycle policeman Marron Baker ascended the stairs. All of this is elucidated in the film at length and with precision. How could Tim miss it? Maybe because he had to, since it proves a conspiracy.

And here lies a curious phenomenon. Tim clearly did not want to do his homework on the subject. Instead, he trotted out, of all people, Max Holland. By now, Holland has been discredited so often that one would think he would be off the table. Gary Aguilar took Holland apart on the very point that Tim borrowed from him to deploy against the film, namely CIA disinformation tales about foreign news stories attacking the Agency (e.g. their role in encouraging the coup plots against President Charles de Gaulle). In fact, in the Holland/Aguilar debate, it became clear Holland was proffering the very dubious testimony of, if you can believe it, Agency official Richard Helms. Helms was actually convicted of perjury on this very topic: that is lying about Agency covert actions. (If the reader thinks I am exaggerating, please click here to see that debate for yourself) Did Weiner not know about this? It was easy enough to locate the debate.

But in addition to being routed by Aguilar, there was Holland’s pathetic attempt at a documentary on the JFK case. This was 2011’s The Lost Bullet. Here, Holland said that the bullet that struck James Tague on Commerce Street had previously struck a streetlight—and this happened before Abraham Zapruder started filming! In other words, it took place before Kennedy had proceeded down Elm Street into the kill zone, but it’s worse than that. As Pat Speer later revealed, in all probability, the producers of the program knew their nutty thesis about the streetlight was false, since they had had a laboratory do an experiment before the documentary was shown. As Speer noted, “Holland’s theory had thus been shot to pieces, both figuratively and literally, even before the program pushing his theory had aired.” (click here for details)

In his desperate attempt to critique JFK Revisited, this is the kind of author Tim Wiener utilizes, without telling his readers about it, which brings us to James Kirchik.

Air Mail is a recently introduced digital magazine. Its chief founder was Graydon Carter. Carter was the longtime editor of Vanity Fair. His 2019 co-founder was Allesandra Stanley, a longtime veteran of Time and The New York Times. They allowed Kirchik to write a review of Stone’s documentary which almost makes one wonder if he saw the film. Kirchik spends most of his time talking about Jim Garrison’s 1969 prosecution of Clay Shaw and Stone’s JFK, the 1991 feature film of Garrison’s book On the Trail of the Assassins. Kirchik does this with all the mildewed and phonily sinister strophes of the likes of James Kirkwood in American Grotesque, a museum piece in the literature on the JFK case.

When Kirchik does get to what is in the new documentary, who does he use to try and attack it? The Canadian version of Max Holland, namely Fred Litwin. JFK Revisited accurately notes that, with help from the ARRB, 12 witnesses are now revealed to have known that Shaw used the alias of Clay Bertrand. Some of these were turned up by Joan Mellen in her book, A Farewell to Justice. Barbara Bennett was a chanteuse at Pat O’Brien’s. She “had turned on the television and seen Shaw being arrested: ‘There’s Clay Bertrand!’ she shouted out.” Shaw had frequented that nightclub and Bennett was “his sometime party guest.” (p. 121) French Quarter businesswoman Rickey Planche just knew the man as Bertrand. Only when she saw him on TV did she learn his name was Shaw. (ibid) Her testimony would suggest that the knowledge of Shaw as Bertrand was not uncommon.

It was not. As Garrison notes in his book, a bartender at Cosimo’s said that “Bertrand comes here a lot.” And the man knew that his real name was Clay Shaw. He added, “I think most people know that.” (Garrison, p. 85) Garrison’s investigators then found two more bartenders in the French Quarter who said the same. (ibid) An FBI memorandum of March 2, 1967, states that the Bureau had two sources in February who knew Shaw was Bertrand. Jessie Parker a hostess at the VIP room for Eastern Air Lines, testified that Shaw signed her guest book as Clay Bertrand. Alfred Moran corroborated this instance, but declassified documents show the CIA got to him and talked him out of his story. (William Davy, Let Justice be Done, pp. 178–79) In March of 1967, reporter Larry Schiller told the FBI that he had five sources in New Orleans and San Francisco who indicated Shaw used other names including Bertrand. (Davy, p. 193) Ed Guthman, a former Justice Department official, also knew about Shaw’s alias. (ibid) In fact, the Justice Department had told the New York Times that such was the case. (Davy, p. 191) Reporter Richard Billings, who was interviewing Garrison in 1967, noted in his journal that evidence that Shaw was Bertrand was popping up everywhere. (Davy, p. 302) Dr. Jacob Hety knew a gay man named Greg Donnelly. Donnelly had known Shaw for many years and he had referred to him as Clay Bertrand. (Probe, Vol. 7, No. 2, p. 21) When essayist Ed Tatro was in New Orleans for the Shaw trial, he was told words to the effect that, everyone down here knows Shaw is Bertrand. (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, p. 387) As the film notes, the icing on the cake as far as this matter goes is that Dean Andrews, who Shaw employed as an attorney, admitted to Harold Weisberg that Shaw was Bertrand. (DiEugenio, p. 388) There are still others I could list, but this makes the point beyond any real question. Clear and simple: Shaw was Bertrand and he lied about it in public and on the witness stand.

Why did he lie? For the simple matter that he did not want to reply to this question: Why did you call Andrews and ask him to go to Dallas to defend Oswald? By denying the evidence above, Kirchik avoids that point.

He then recites the discredited line first issued by Dick Helms: Shaw was only a domestic contact source for the CIA, one of thousands of businessmen they interviewed for information from abroad. Then comes this howler: “This was the extent of his involvement with the agency.” JFK Revisited proves this is false and Helms was providing a cover story. Shaw was a highly paid and valued contract agent/source and we produced the document which proves this in the film. It was first unearthed by Mellen in her book Our Man In Haiti. (p. 54) Shaw had a third Agency clearance also. This one was a covert security approval for Project QKENCHANT. (Davy, p. 195). Again, we show this in the film. How could Kirchik have missed it? But the worst one of all is the fact that the ARRB discovered that the CIA had destroyed Shaw’s 201 file. (Click here for the memo)

And then there is this issue.

Shaw denied in public and on the stand that he had any association with the Agency. We show a film clip of him saying this in the documentary. Therefore this is more perjury that Kirchik does not wish to admit. From declassified files, we also understand today that Shaw lied about not knowing David Ferrie. (Davy, p. 195). We also know Shaw lied about not knowing Oswald. (See Davy, Chapter 11 and click here) As the late attorney Allard Lowenstein once remarked in relation to the RFK case: In his experience as a lawyer, people with nothing to hide don’t hide things.

From here, Kirchik pulls a Tim Weiner. He says that the whole idea Garrison had about Shaw and the CIA in the JFK case was part of a Paese Sera story that was printed on March 4, 1967, in that Italian leftist newspaper.

This is utterly stupid. Garrison was investigating Shaw months before that, in December of 1966. On February 24th, an FBI informant had called Garrison’s office and told them that Shaw was Bertrand. (Davy, p. 120) Shaw was then arrested before the story came out. But beyond that, the FBI itself had been investigating Shaw in December of 1963, since his name had come up in their inquiry into the JFK case due to several parties furnishing them information about him. (Davy, p. 192) Does Kirchik know any of this? What does any of it have to do with Paesa Sera? Zilch.

The McCarthyite attempt by the CIA to link Kennedy assassination writers and investigators to Communist causes and thereby labeling them dupes of Russian disinformation, that propaganda tactic preceded Max Holland for decades. It first started with Joachim Joesten over his book Oswald: Assassin or Fall Guy back in 1964. Using Gestapo files, they labeled Joesten a member of the German Communist Party. (Click here) This about a man who worked for Newsweek in the forties. As was reported in Time, the Warren Commission—with help from Dick Helms—was out to spike Joesten’s book and one way of doing that was smearing him. (John Kelin, Praise from a Future Generation, pp. 168–71) It is very disappointing to see Kirchik use similar smear tactics today, especially when they are even more groundless now than they were then.

The article concludes with more meritless attributions Kirchik borrows from Litwin. Jim Garrison never wrote a memo, or said anything in public, about Shaw’s homosexuality. There is not one memo I have ever seen to this effect by him. So what does Kirchik do? He says an August 1968 Confidential magazine article portraying the Kennedy murder as part of a gay plot was written by a Garrison investigator. Kirchik—who does not seem to give a damn about fact checking—has slipped on another banana peel. The author was not a Garrison investigator. He was a friend of Bill Boxley, later exposed as a CIA plant inside the DA’s office. (Davy, pp. 146–47)

The article ends with another jeremiad against Stone’s 1991 film. In other words, Kirchik has not addressed one evidentiary point in JFK Revisited. His column is a perfect example of what film criticism should not be—bringing one’s own personal prejudices and obsessions to the film; rather than elucidating the film’s structure, themes, and style for the viewer. If one does not know anything or give one iota about the murder of President Kennedy, then one should just admit that and slide by, rather than ensnaring the reader inside the writer’s own pernicious ignorance.

Last modified on Tuesday, 08 February 2022 06:36
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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