The Assassination Goes Hollywood!

So, you want to know, who killed the President and connived in the cover-up? Everybody! High officials in the CIA, the FBI, the Dallas constabulary, all three armed services, Big Business and the White House. Everybody done it — everybody but Lee Harvey Oswald. Time Magazine, Dec. 23, 1991, describing the thesis of "JFK"

We generally expect Hollywood to take some liberties with facts. But what if Hollywood turns history upside down? Garrison's famous comment about the assassination was:

The key to the whole case is through the looking glass. Black is white and white is black. I don't want to be cryptic, but that's the way it is.

Ironically, that's the key to understanding the movie JFK. In scene after scene, the impression conveyed by the movie is at odds with the historical record — even at odds with what conspiracy buffs will admit is the record.

The following is adapted from notes prepared by attorney Mark Zaid for a 1993 course on the Kennedy Assassination taught at Hudson Valley Community College, New York. The list has been supplemented by John McAdams, Eric Paddon, Russ Burr, and Patricia Lambert's book False Witness. It's a very partial account of ways in which Stone tampered with the historical record.

SceneAccuracyStone's Agenda
Sinister Connections in New Orleans
Oswald and Guy Banister talking on street about Fair Play for Cuba postersPure speculation. Some less than credible witnesses have placed Oswald in Banister's officeTie Banister to Oswald
Shaw in background when Oswald is handing out FPCC postersPerson resembling Shaw does appear in WDSU-TV newsfilm, but it's not Shaw. Oswald was handing out flyers in front of the building in which Shaw worked.Tie Shaw to Oswald
Jack Martin's comments about Operation MONGOOSEEven if Martin was aware of U.S. government anti-Castro activity, it is highly unlikely he would have known the code-name. Increase Martin's credibility
Banister pistol whipped Jack Martin because of "strange things" Martin had been seeing around Banister's officeBeating was the result of argument over phone billsEstablish sensitive, sinister goings-on at Banister's office
Banister's office part of Dallas / New Orleans / Miami arms "supply line"A Garrison notion with no evidence to support itReinforce notion of Banister as sinister and dangerous character
Ferrie arrested at CIA training camp for Cuban refugeesNever happenedExaggerate Ferrie's ties with anti-Castro Cubans
Oswald at Lake Pontchartrain raidAbsolutely no supporting evidenceProvide links important for film plot
Shaw visiting Banister's officeAbsolutely no supporting evidenceTie Shaw to Banister
When story "breaks," Ferrie calls Lou Ivon and complains bitterly that "somebody tipped off the press" Ferrie himself went to the press, told reporters that Garrison considered him a suspectConceal forthright behavior on Ferrie's part, paint him as furtive
Building at 544 Camp with "both entrances going to the same place"Camp Street and Lafayette Street entrances went to different offices — Guy Banister's office could not be reached from 544 CampTie Oswald to Guy Banister
Oswald shown printing Fair Play for Cuba leafletsThey were printed at a New Orleans printerDramatic effect
Willie O'Keefe character (convict who knows Shaw and knows of assassination plot)Character is composite of 4 witnesses: Perry Russo, David Logan, Raymond Broshears and William Morris. All four witnesses had severe credibility problems, with Russo telling a story at the Shaw trial that contradicted his early statementsProvide a credible witness to Shaw, Oswald, and Ferrie plotting
French Quarter informant tells Garrison staffer that "everybody down here knows the guy [Clay Shaw as Clay Bertrand]"Garrison staffers combed the Quarter, failed to find any evidence of "Bertrand" and concluded he didn't existConceal Garrison's crackpot identification of Shaw as "Bertrand" — "they [homosexuals] always change their last names, but never their first names."
Shaw, being booked, admits to alias "Clay Bertrand"Officer claiming this was contradicted by other witnesses, and found non-credible by judge. Implausible that Shaw would admit to any such aliasVindicate Garrison's crackpot identification of Shaw as "Bertrand"
Garrison has Ferrie brought in for questioningFerrie knew Garrison was looking for him and came in with his attorneyMake Ferrie appear evasive
David Ferrie's "confession" in Fountainbleu HotelNever happened. Ferrie went to his death denying any knowledge of Oswald or the plot to kill JFKProvide "confession" from a plotter
Richard Helms later admitted that Shaw had "worked for" the CIA.Helms said no such thing. Shaw merely gave information to the Domestic Contract Service, like thousands of other American businessmen, journalists, and travelers.Claim that Garrison's notion of Shaw as CIA operative has been vindicated.
Sinister Happenings in Dealey Plaza
References to Hobo arrestsHobos have been identified; they had no connection to the assassinationAdd to cast of sinister characters in Dealey Plaza
Hobos showed "not a single freyed collar . . . clean hands, new shoe leather"Hobos were dressed as you would expect tramps to beAdd to cast of "sinister" characters in Dealey Plaza
Bill Newman says shots came from "fence up on the Knoll"Bill and Gail Newman believed the shots came from directly behind them — the "mall" (Pergola), not the Stockade FencePush idea of Grassy Knoll shooter
Lou Ivon claims the "Zapruder film established three shots in 5.6 seconds"Film is perfectly consistent with three shots in eight to nine secondsPortray Oswald's shooting "feat" as impossible
In Warren Commission testimony, Lee Bowers says he saw a "flash of light" and "smoke."He mentioned neither to the Warren Commission. He later told conspiracy author Mark Lane that he saw "a flash of light or smoke or something which caused me to feel like something out of the ordinary had occurred . . . "Push notion of Grassy Knoll shooter
Epileptic had seizure in Dealey Plaza, and "vanished . . . never checking into the hospital."Man, named Jerry Belknap, left when he felt better, and could get no attention from hospital staff occupied with Kennedy and ConnallyImply conspiratorial "diversion" in Dealey Plaza in the minutes before the shooting
Garrison (Costner) asserts that 51 witnesses heard shots from the Grassy KnollNumber was far fewer. Even conspiracy author Josiah Thompson only claims 33 "Knoll" witnesses, and the House Select Committee only classified 20 witnesses as "Knoll" witnessesPush idea of Grassy Knoll shooter
Jean Hill tells agent "I saw a man shooting from over there behind that fence [on the Grassy Knoll]"Hill was saying no such thing in the 1960s, although she later began to make such claimsProvide "Grassy Knoll" witness
Jean Hill sequestered and intimidated shortly after the assassinationHill went with Mary Moorman and Don Featherston of the Dallas Times Herald to the press room of the Sheriff's OfficeCreate impression of "coverup" badgering witnesses
Beverly Oliver storyOliver was not known to Garrison or anyone else until years later. Elements of her story are extremely implausible.Tie Ruby to Oswald
Julia Ann Mercer sees Jack Ruby in pickup truck near Dealey Plaza on the morning of the assassination.Police officers who were with truck fail to confirm Mercer's story, which implies absurd scenario for getting weapon onto Grassy Knoll. Link Ruby to the assassination
Oswald, running down the stairs after the shooting, runs past Victoria Adams and Sandra Styles.Both women actually descended the stairs several minutes after Oswald.Argue that Oswald would have been seen had he retreated from the Sniper's Nest to the second floor lunchroom
Laying of new floor on sixth floor of Depository allowed "unknown workmen in the building"Flooring was done by Depository employees, and no "unknown workmen" were seen by Depository employeesEvade serious problem with Stone's scenario, the issue of who did fire the shots if Oswald didn't
Oswald as innocent victim
Garrison says Domingo Benevides "refused to identify" Oswald as shooterBenevides first said he didn't see the shooter well enough for an identification, but then later identified OswaldImply that Benevides believes the shooter to be someone besides Oswald
Garrison describes three cartridges lying "neatly side by side in Sniper's Nest"Cartridges were not neatly side by side, but scatteredImply plot to frame Oswald with planted evidence
Garrison claims Oswald was "interrogated for 12 hours and nobody made a record of it."Reports from each of Oswald's interrogators can be found in the Warren Commission ReportImply that law enforcement officers were engaged in a plot
Paraffin tests showed Oswald had not fired rifleSuch tests had no value as evidence, and were used mainly to intimidate suspectsPortray Oswald as innocent of shooting
Dallas cops "didn't bother to see whether the rifle had been fired that day"No test existed to determine whether a rifle had been recently firedImply avoidance of test that might prove Oswald innocent
Oswald, if guilty, would have had to make head shot at range of 88 yards, "through heavy foliage"At time of head shot, path between sniper's nest and limo was clearArgue that someone besides Oswald must have fired head shot
Garrison claims that Oswald's statements while in custody would be inadmissible in courtThey would in fact have been admissiblePortray Oswald a victim who didn't receive due process
Jack Ruby corrects Henry Wade's "Free Cuba Committee" commentEntire chorus of voices corrected WadeCreate impression that Ruby was assigned to tie Oswald to leftist group
Dozens of cops descended on Texas Theatre to arrest man for entering without paying admissionMan (Oswald) was suspected of murdering Officer J.D. TippitImply conspiracy had "set up" Oswald arrest
In melee at Texas Theatre, Oswald tries to sock Officer McDonald. Oswald drew his gun and tried to shoot McDonald Conceal Oswald's violent behavior
Oswald friend "Bill Williams" (Michael Paine) had "links through his family to the CIA"Paine had in-law who worked for the Agency for International DevelopmentPortray Oswald as surrounded by spooky people, assigned to "set him up"
Pushing the Idea of Intelligence Involvement
Mr. XBased on meeting with Richard Case Nagell, but "Mr. X" voices views of L. Fletcher Prouty, who did not meet Garrison until many years later. Prouty has expressed a wide variety of crackpot opinions.Supply grand scale political explanation for the assassination
"Mr. X," in New Zealand, noted stories about Oswald before Oswald was even charged.Oswald was officially charged after 11:00 pm. in the evening. He had been chief suspect for hours, giving opportunity to check his background in newspaper files.Imply sinister CIA "cover story" being disseminated.
112th Military Intelligence Group told to "stand down."The group in fact had some agents in Dallas to help protect the president.Imply sinister "security stripping" in Dallas
"Gen. Y," the boss of "Mr. X" is seen in photos of tramps in Dealey Plaza.Based on crackpot "identification" of figure in photo by L. Fletcher ProutySupport Prouty's theory that "Y" (Lansdale) masterminded the assassination
National Security Action Memorandum 263 was first step in total U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.Document foresaw the withdrawal of only 1,000 advisors, and not even those if South Vietnamese failed to "take up the slack."Provide military motive for JFK's murder
Oswald defection tied to Powers' U-2 shootdownPowers did speculate that Oswald was involved, but had no evidence. Oswald lacked information that would have helped Soviets down planeImply intelligence ties for Oswald
In USSR, Oswald lived "high on the hog" and the "only explanation for the royal treatment was that he gave the Russians secrets"Defectors had considerable propaganda value, and the government wanted them to be happyPush notion of Oswald as spook
Marina's uncle was with "Soviet Intelligence"He was head of the Timber Administration of the Belorussian Republic's Ministry of Internal Affairs.Imply intelligence connections for Oswald
Oswald spoke Russian so well Marina thought he was a native speakerHe spoke with a heavy accent, and she thought he was from one of the Baltic Republics, where Russian was not the native languagePush notion of intelligence training in Russian language
Marina "has no problems" getting out of U.S.S.R.Marina and Lee endured an extensive bureaucratic hassle to get Marina out of the countryImply some sinister intelligence connections
Lafayette Square was a "strange place for a communist to spend his spare time"Lafayette Square was a block from Oswald's place of workImply intelligence connections for Oswald
Oswald and Bringuier in "local TV debate"Debate was public affairs show on WDSU radioInflate importance of debate, which supposedly served to discredit the Fair Play for Cuba Committee
Dallas Mayor Cabell, brother of CIA's General Cabell, changed the motorcade route.Never happened. Route was announced only days prior to Nov. 22, 1963. The Secret Service and Connolly's staff planned the parade route with the intention of direct access to the Trade Mart.Imply sinister CIA manipulation
Lyndon Johnson tells military advisors "I'll give you your damn war"Quote, from Stanley Karnow's book Vietnam: A History, is ripped out of context and misinterpreted.Downplay extent to which war grew out of Kennedy's policies
Telex to all FBI offices warns of assassination attempt in DallasOnly one less-than-credible witness claims to have seen telex. No copies exist, and no corroborating witnesses.Argue that Oswald was an FBI informant, whose reports must have been the basis of the phantom "telex."
"Mr. X" claims that entire DC phone system was out for an hour following the assassinationSystem was overloaded, but most calls went throughImply high-level plot
Strange and "Convenient" Deaths
Jada's "disappearance" one week after she linked Oswald and Ruby** Jada (Janet Conforto) never linked Ruby and Oswald. Rather than "disappearing" she died in a motorcycle accident in 1980, eleven years after Shaw was acquittedImply conspiracy "Cleanup Squad" killing witnesses
Death of Lee Bowers ("strange shock")No evidence of foul play; occurred two years after Warren Commission testimonyImply "Cleanup Squad" of plotters killing witnesses
Goons murder David Ferrie by forcing pills down his throatFerrie died of Berry Aneurysm, with no evidence of violenceImply that Ferrie was "silenced."
Garrison, His Family, and Staff
Lou Ivon quits teamNever happenedDramatic effect
Parkland doctors testify at trialNever happenedAllows Stone to push conspiracy view of medical evidence
Garrison cross-examining Dr. FinckNever happened. Al Oser cross-examined FinckExaggerate Garrison's involvement in trial
Garrison watching Clay Shaw's testimonyNever happened. Garrison was not in courtroom when Shaw testifiedExaggerate Garrison's involvement in trial
Garrison and family view Oswald press conference in early/mid-eveningThe press conference was actually after 11:00 p.m.Portray Garrison as family man, moving events to "family" times
Garrison first questions Shaw on Easter Sunday, leaving family stranded in restaurantGarrison first questioned Shaw in December, 1966Dramatize "family" conflict over Garrison's investigation, Garrison's commitment to probe
Garrison becomes interested in assassination by watching TVGarrison became involved only when Jack Martin came forward with story linking Oswald and Ferrie"Personalize" Garrison interest in case
Garrison asks coroner about effect of drug Proloid on day Ferrie is discovered dead"Proloid" theory of Ferrie's death was suggested to Garrison six months after Ferrie's death.Inflate Garrison's investigative prowess, conceal extent to which he was dependent on suggestions from buffs
Garrison has copy of Italian newspaper, accusing Shaw of CIA connections, on the day he first questions himStory in disreputable Italian Communist paper came out after Shaw was arrestedImply that Garrison had solid basis for his suspicions about Shaw
Prior to Robert Kennedy's shooting, Garrison declares, "If he wins, they'll kill him. He wants to avenge his brother. He wants to stop that war."**Garrison claimed that Robert Kennedy was "without any question of a doubt . . . interfering with the investigation of the murder of his brother" and was making "a real effort to stop it."Link JFK and RFK murders; appeal to viewers who idolize Kennedy family.
Garrison's office buggedA Garrison claim entirely without any evidence to support itPortray Garrison as target of campaign by the Federal Government
Female Assistant District Attorney working on caseNo female attorney on Shaw prosecution teamAppeal to politically correct 1990s sensibilities about gender issues
Garrison in court when verdict read, walks out with wife and sonGarrison was in his office, not in the courtroom, and he flew into a rage when aides brought the news Push "Garrison as family man" image
Implying a Continuing Official Coverup
Johnson orders limo "filled with bullet holes" refurbishedThe only bullet strikes were to windshield and chrome topping. These are in the National Archives.Implicate Johnson in coverup
End credits declaring the Justice Department had "done nothing" with regard to the House Select Committee conclusions on "probable conspiracy."Justice Department took action by asking the Ramsey Panel to investigate the one piece of evidence used by the HSCA to declare a "conspiracy," the dictabelt recording, and they ruled that the evidence was invalid in 1982. Imply "continuing coverup:" conceal debunking of HSCA "finding."
Hosty note described assassination plotContradicts all witness testimony, vastly implausible that Oswald would pass on such important information in so casual a wayImplicate FBI in plot
Particularly significant, these Show Conscious Dishonesty in Dealing with the Evidence
Jackie pulls JFK down in limo, allowing Sniper's Nest shooter to hit ConnallyJackie did no such thingContradict Single Bullet Theory (but inadvertently supports Single Bullet trajectory)
Ruby introduces "my friend Lee Oswald" to Beverly OliverOliver claimed Ruby introduced her to "Lee Oswald of the CIA"Conceal absurd element in Oliver's story
Stone shows cloud of smoke from gun of Grassy Knoll shooterStone could find no gun that emitted that much smoke, had special effects man blow smoke from bellowsPush idea of Grassy Knoll shooter
** - In shooting script, not in final cut of movie.

Fair Play for Cuba: Hollywood Versus the Reality

When District Attorney Henry Wade said that Lee Oswald was a member of the "Free Cuba Movement," voices in the audience corrected him. Ruby was one of those voices. Compare Oliver Stone's version of this event with the actual newsreel footage:

How sinister was knowledge of Oswald and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee? In reality, news of Oswald's membership in this organization had been broadcast before 4:00 pm. Central time, and had been all over the media for almost eight hours at the time of Wade's press conference.

Putting It in Context

JFK was damned or praised depending on whether one agreed with Stone's reading of history. But there is a broader context. Political scientist Robert S. Robins and psychiatrist Jerrold M. Post discuss it in "Political Paranoia as Cinematic Motif: Stone's 'JFK'" which was presented at the 1997 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association. The film is hardly unprecedented, but rather is one of a line of artistically and commercially potent paranoid films.

As Robins and Post observe:

The paranoid message will give more and more, and then it will give even more. The entertainment resources of the paranoid message are unrivaled. It offers puzzles, drama, passion, heroes, villains, and struggle. If the story-line can be tied to an historical event, especially one that involves romantic characters and unexpected death, then fiction, history, and popular delusion can be joined in the pursuit of profit. The story, moreover, need never end. If evidence appears that refutes the conspiracy, the suppliers of the discrediting material will themselves be accused of being part of the conspiracy. The paranoid explanatory system is a closed one. Only confirmatory evidence is accepted. Contradictions are dismissed as being naive or, more likely, part of the conspiracy itself.

A Brave Director Taking on The Establishment?

Jonathan Alter had some interesting comments on "JFK" in the 1998 "A Century of the Movies" Special Issue of Newsweek, p. 70.
Woodrow Wilson was wrong when he said in 1915 that movies were "like writing history with lightening" . . . The movie to which Wilson was referring was D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation," one of the first feature-length films and a tremendously innovative picture. But the film reinforced crude racist stereotypes and glorified the Ku Klux Klan . . . . More than three quarters of a century later, Oliver Stone's "JFK" — departing wildly from demonstrable historical fact — provides its own form of reactive history. Stone claims he's simply engaged in creative "countermyth," but like Griffith, he is actually pandering, this time to the conspiracymongers who dominate public perception of the Kennedy assassination. The truly brave film would be about Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone.

Hollywood's Historical Hokum

Most of the time, Hollywood's rewriting of history is benign enough. It wouldn't be fair to expect the movie industry, which has to provide slick entertainment in order to survive, to adhere to the standards of historical accuracy of a college history class. But is this any excuse to turn heros into villains and villains into heros? This latter is most likely to happen when some writer, director, or producer has a political agenda — and honest history would undermine that agenda. Here are two recent examples:

Stone's Crackpot Opinions

While most Americans were appalled by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Oliver Stone apologized for the terrorists by blaming large U.S. media companies. Further, Stone explained to students at Brown University that the U.S. could have gotten Osama bin Laden long ago except for the nefarious influence of the oil companies.

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