Sunday, 24 April 2022 20:03

Michel Gagne: On Not thinking Critically

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Jim DiEugenio dips into the mire and provides a mercifully brief and even somewhat generous review of Michel Jacques Gagne ironically named book, Thinking Critically about the Kennedy Assassination, which might be one of the worst written tomes in the last few years.

Michel Jacques Gagne teaches at a junior college near Montreal. He has titled his book about the murder of John F. Kennedy Thinking Critically about the Kennedy Assassination. From that title, one would think the author would set forth a rather cool and methodical description of the state of the evidence in the JFK case today.

That is not what this book is about. Gagne uses the same general pretext that the late Gary Mack used when he became an employee of the Sixth Floor Museum, namely, that he had formerly been a believer in a JFK conspiracy. But suddenly, one fine day, like St. Paul on the way to Damascus, he had a vision. The vision told him to read the Warren Report, which rather weirdly he had not yet done, even though he had been in the JFK field awhile. He then wrote two published pieces, one in 2013 and one in 2017 about the case. (The second one was for Michael Shermer in Skeptic, which tells us a good deal.) In his Author’s Preface, he tells us he has learned three things on his journey:

  1. To follow sound logic and evidence wherever they lead.

  2. Engage in respectful and meaningful exchanges.

  3. Do not speculate too much, if it’s not merited.

Then there is a small section entitled “A Note on Nomenclature.” The following sentence appears:

Though sometimes used pejoratively by other authors, this book’s use of the word “conspiracist,” “conspiracy theorist,” and “JFK buff” is based on objective definitions with no derogatory intent. (p. xxii)

He does not define what those objective definitions are. If Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, then how can these terms not have a derogatory meaning? If Gagne is going to deny Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy, and he is writing after the completion of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), then why should we trust him?

It turns out, we should not and he reveals why in his introduction on the next page. There he begins the book proper, with an attack on the Warren Commission critics through Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK. That film is over three decades old. In the interim between its release and today, over 2 million pages of documents have been declassified by the ARRB. Should that not be the place to start, if one was doing “critical thinking” about the JFK case? For if Oswald acted alone, why did it take 30 years to begin declassifying those 2 million pages? And why, to this day, are about 14,000 of those pages still not open to the public? I could not locate those questions in this nearly 500-page book.


Very soon, Gagne writes that a conspiracy could not have occurred without being exposed by the proper authorities. (Gagne, p. 5) The FBI and the Warren Commission were the proper authorities. Knowing the kind of inquiry those two bodies ran; how could anyone make such a statement? FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover admitted on more than one occasion that he knew Kennedy was the victim of a conspiracy. (James DiEugenio, The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today, p. 246) Gagne then breaks his rule #2 as described above with: “As we will see, conspiracists rarely subject their convictions to the scrutiny of formal logical analysis…” When in fact, this process happens all the time in the critical community. (That rule will now be broken literally scores of times by Gagne. Per page count, he uses as much in the way of insult and invective contra the critics as say Vincent Bugliosi did.)

We then go into Part 1 of the book. This whole opening section is simply a recital of the Warren Report’s evidence against Oswald. Right here I said to myself: “This is Gagne’s idea of thinking critically?” How anyone today could accept every major conclusion and every aspect of the evidentiary record as left by the Commission is kind of shocking. To note one lacuna: In this section, Gagne does not mention Sam Holland, who Josiah Thompson in Last Second in Dallas names as the most important witness to the crime. To note another: Gagne places Oswald on the 6th floor without comment. (Gagne, p. 27) He even notes the three witnesses on the 5th floor who allegedly heard shells hitting the ceiling above them, when, to take just one of them, Harold Norman made no mention of this noise during his first FBI interview on November 26, 1963. And there is no trace of him saying any such thing prior. The story did not materialize until December 2, 1963, apparently under the tutelage of the notorious Secret Service cover up agent Elmer Moore. (DiEugenio, p. 55)

Concerning what happened after John Kennedy’s autopsy, Gagne implies that the exhibits were given over to the Kennedy family almost immediately. (Gagne, p. 29) As anyone can find out, they were really under the control of the Secret Service until Robert Kennedy had the materials turned over to the National Archives in 1965. A year later, the so-called Deed of Gift was written up. (Click here for details)

Gagne also states that, after the autopsy, the brain was to be studied the next day, which is not possible. (Gagne, p. 30) A brain must be suffused in a chemical mixture before it is examined. As Review Board analyst Doug Horne states in the documentary film JFK Revisited, using a special technique, the shortest time this could be is 72 hours. But since Gagne is following the official records, the brain exam for Kennedy was on December 6th at the earliest. That date is handwritten on the supplementary autopsy report, while the rest of the report is typed, which suggests it was added after the form was prepared. (DiEugenio, p. 163). Needless to say, Gagne does not go into all the problems with that report or how so many experts today do not believe that Kennedy’s brain photos are genuine. There is a small mountain of evidence that indicates such is the case. Gagne ignores it. (DiEugenio, pp. 160–65)

Gagne marches on with the official Warren Report record, impervious to the banana peels he is slipping on and how, incrementally, his argument is being dissipated. According to Gagne, Bethesda pathologist Jim Humes did not get into contact with Parkland Hospital until the day after the autopsy. In Oliver Stone’s documentary JFK Revisited, according to a nurse from Parkland, this is not true, but we also now have it right from Dr. Malcolm Perry. Within a few days of the assassination, he told reporter Martin Steadman that the autopsy doctors had called him that night and tried to get him to change his story about an anterior neck wound, indicating a shot from the front. They even threatened him with professional disciplinary hearings if he did not. (Click here for details)

But Gagne marches on, oblivious to the quicksand under his feet. In the closing act of those three shocking days in Dallas, Gagne has Jack Ruby striding down the Main Street ramp to the Dallas Police HQ parking lot to shoot Oswald. (Gagne, p. 31) Even the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) had severe reservations about that Warren Report scenario. For instance, they found a witness on the police force who had parked his car right across the street from the ramp before the shooting took place. Don Flusche said that Ruby did not come down that ramp. And he knew the man. (DiEugenio, pp. 227–28)

The HSCA also found out that policeman Patrick Dean likely lied about Ruby being able to come in another way—from behind the building through an alley way. (DiEugenio, pp. 228–29) Gagne does not mention the fact that even the Warren Commission suspected Dean was not credible on more than one point dealing with this key issue. For instance, Commission attorney Burt Griffin wrote a memo in which he stated the following:

  1. Dean was derelict in securing all the doors to the basement.

  2. Griffin had reason to believe Ruby did not come down the ramp.

  3. He suspected Dean was now part of a cover-up and was advising Ruby to say he came down the Main Street ramp, even though he knew he didn’t. (DiEugenio, pp. 228–30)

I don’t see how it gets much worse than the above. Except perhaps by adding this fact: Dean, who was in charge of security that day, failed his polygraph—even though he wrote his own questions! (DiEugenio, p. 229)

As the reader can see, Gagne’s chronicling of the crimes of that weekend is just not credible. In fact, what Gagne does is an object lesson in why the Warren Report has fallen into disrepute. And for him to say that his belated reading of that report was his moment of conversion speaks little of, well, his critical thinking ability.


From here, Gagne jumps to the formation of the Warren Commission. His record is dubious on that score also. How anyone can write about that topic without mentioning Don Gibson’s work is startling. Gibson found the phone calls by Eugene Rostow and Joe Alsop to the White House which literally turned Lyndon Johnson around on this subject. LBJ did not want to form such an extralegal committee. He wanted a Texas based investigation supplemented by the FBI. (The Assassinations, edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease, pp.3–17) And with Gagne, I could not detect another crucial point: the use LBJ made of mushroom clouds to get people like Earl Warren and Richard Russell to consent to join. Neither wanted to serve.

Why is this important? Because it’s clear that these atomic ploys had an impact on Warren. The man who ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that even those under bereft circumstances deserved an attorney, suddenly decided that Lee Oswald was not entitled to a defense. (DiEugenio, pp. 311–12) I did not notice any complaint that Gagne made about this fact; or the leaked stories that the FBI passed to the media to convict Oswald in the press. (DiEugenio, p. 309) What this meant was this: not only was Warren depriving Oswald of a right to counsel, but he was also doing it amid a wave of prejudicial publicity. Apparently, this unfairness means nothing to Gagne.

If this litany of errors and omissions is not enough to typify Gagne’s wildly skewed book, I would like to turn the reader’s attention to pages 82–84. I have rarely read three pages strewn with as many mistakes. Jim Garrison did not halt his prosecution of Clay Shaw after the trial. (William Davy, Let Justice be Done, pp. 185–87) Garrison did convict someone, namely Dean Andrews, for perjury. (Davy, p.302) The jury at the Shaw trial did think the JFK case was a conspiracy. (Jim Garrison, On the Trail of the Assassins, p. 250) That is why they asked to see the Zapruder film 9 times. The reason LBJ did not run in ‘68 was not due to ill health. As Jules Witcover reveals in his book 85 Days, the reason he abdicated was due to his near defeat by Gene McCarthy in New Hampshire and his upcoming trouncing in Wisconsin. I should add that on page 78 Gagne asserts that David Ferrie was questioned by the Warren Commission. For 59 years, apparently every author on the case missed that.

Gagne can’t even get the authorship of books correct. Vincent Salandria never wrote a book. (Gagne, p. 77) The anthology False Mystery was assembled, edited, and marketed by John Kelin. (Email communication with Kelin, April 18, 2022) Gagne later writes that Zachary Sklar rewrote Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins. (Gagne, p. 98) This was news to Sklar when I told him about it. He said if that would have been the case, he would have gotten a co-writer credit on the cover. He added that Gagne never called him about this point. (Email communication of April 16, 2022)

In dealing with the Assassination Records Review Board, Gagne is also lacking in rigor. He writes that the Review Board did not unearth any clear proof that the HSCA or the Warren Commission was duped or behaved in bad faith. Please sir.

The Board unearthed the fact that Gerald Ford altered the final draft of the Warren Report. He moved the wound in JFK’s back up to his neck, which makes a substantial difference for the trajectory of the Magic Bullet. Ford knew that and that is why he changed it. In fact, Ford knew the Commission was a sham. He revealed this to French president Valery Giscard d’Estang. (See the film JFK Revisited) As journalist Jeff Morley found out, the man the CIA brought out of retirement to be their liaison to the HSCA was there under false circumstances. George Joannides was running and funding the Cuban exiles that Oswald was so suspiciously dealing with in the summer of 1963. It was a CIA operation codenamed Amspell, yet the HSCA had an agreement in place that said no CIA agent operating in 1963 would be allowed near the committee. HSCA Chief Counsel Bob Blakey was shocked when he learned the CIA had duped him. (See JFK: Destiny Betrayed) And if Gagne had spoken to Dan Hardway, he would have realized that with Joannides, the CIA now began to give the HSCA redacted documents and taking their good old time in doing so. (Author’s interview with Hardway at the AARC conference in 2014)


As the reader can see, Gagne’s book is a veritable trail of folly and error. He can even write that no records from the Review Board contained any proof of any conspiracy. (Gagne, p. 100) It would literally take me several pages to reply to that howler, but just let me name two instances. The ARRB declassified The Lopez Report, the 350-page report on Oswald’s alleged activities in Mexico City, written by Ed Lopez and Dan Hardway. It strongly indicates that there was an impersonator in Mexico City passing himself off as Oswald. In addition to that, both the FBI and CIA lowered Oswald’s profile in September and October, in order to make sure that those weird activities were barely noticed and therefore Oswald was allowed to be on the motorcade route. (John Newman, Oswald and the CIA, pp. 621–30)

A point that Gagne avoids in his overriding attempt to place Oswald on the 6th floor at the time of the shooting is the corroborating testimony of Victoria Adams, Sandy Styles, and Dorothy Garner. As author Barry Ernest has written, the last was only made possible by the Review Board. The difference between Garner and the other two is that she remained on the fourth floor while Adams and Styles descended. This is about 15–30 seconds after the shooting. Garner also did not see anyone coming down the stairs. Would she not have if Oswald was on the 6th floor? What makes this all the worse is that J. Lee Rankin knew about her testimony, yet neither Styles nor Garner was ever called as a witness before the Commission. (Ernest, The Girl on the Stairs, pp. 214–15) As Gagne must know, if the defense can show the prosecution is concealing exculpatory evidence they can move for a dismissal of charges.

I don’t even want to write about Chapter 15, which is where Gagne writes about President Kennedy’s autopsy. This might be the worst part of the book. Gagne tries to minimize any evidence of there being missing photos in the autopsy inventory. (Gagne, p. 355) Yet, as Doug Horne elucidates in his five-volume book, this was clearly known and acknowledged in 1966. There was a review of the photos by the Justice Department late in the year. In attendance were Kennedy pathologists Jim Humes and Jay Boswell, autopsy photographer John Stringer, and radiologist John Ebersole. Stringer told the ARRB that the Justice Department lawyer, Carl Belcher, understood that there were photos missing at this time. (Horne, Inside the ARRB, pp. 145–47) Yet, knowing such was the case, the participants lied and said the inventory was complete. But here is the capper, Belcher had his named erased from the final copy. Lawyers call this consciousness of guilt.

As to why John Kennedy’s autopsy was so poor, Gagne keeps in step with the rest of the book: it was because the Kennedy family rushed the proceedings. (Gagne, p. 353) That excuse has been pretty much riddled by writers like Harold Weisberg and Gary Aguilar. Both Humes and Boswell said this was not the case in testimony before the ARRB. (DiEugenio, p. 139) Humes specifically told a friend that he was ordered not to do a complete autopsy, but that order did not come from Bobby Kennedy. (Ibid) In fact, in his permission slip for the autopsy, RFK left the “restrictions” box unmarked.

What Gagne is trying to avoid, of course, is the fact that there was an extraordinary amount of Pentagon brass in the room that night and they directly interfered with the autopsy procedure. In fact, under oath at the trial of Clay Shaw, Pierre Finck said that Humes was so constricted that he had to ask, “Who’s in charge here?” (DiEugenio, p. 139) Finck’s testimony further revealed that the brass did not allow the doctors to dissect the path of the back wound through the body. This is why we will never know if that wound transited Kennedy, which is one reason you do autopsies in a gunshot homicide case.

It’s kind of shocking that Gagne uses John Stringer as a witness to say the autopsy photographs are real and intact. In addition to the above inventory with Belcher, Stinger told the ARRB that he did not take the photos of Kennedy’s brain in the National Archives. He said this under oath, with the pictures in front of him. (DiEugenio, p. 164) Can Gagne really not be aware of this? It was a central part of the documentary JFK Revisited.

As the reader can see, under analysis, this book is really almost a comedy of errors. I won’t even go into the personal portrait of Kennedy that the author draws. Gagne insinuates that the Kennedys were in on the CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro. The CIA’s own 1967 Inspector General report admits the Agency never had presidential approval for the plots. (I.G. Report, pp. 132–34) He also writes that Lyndon Johnson believed he was following Kennedy’s policy in Vietnam. (Gagne, p. 186) In JFK Revisited, Oliver Stone plays a tape of Johnson talking to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. On that tape LBJ says he was aware of Kennedy’s withdrawal plan and disagreed with it.

Which brings up what is perhaps the reason for the book. Gagne had to have been aware of Oliver Stone’s two documentaries released last year and this year. Those films had a worldwide impact. His strategy seems to be to try and demean the director by attacking the 1991 feature film. Talk about not thinking critically! But beyond that, I could find no reference by Gagne to The Book of the Film, published in 1992. That was a reference work to that movie. It included a profusely annotated script. Talk about loading the deck. These are the techniques Gagne uses to attack critics of the official story.

In sum, here is a book that might be one of the worst written in the last few years. This review could be much longer, but it would just be repeating the pattern above. Routledge Publishing, the house that released it, should be held responsible for letting such a volume enter the public arena.

Last modified on Saturday, 30 April 2022 19:07
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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