Archive for June, 2011

Journalists and JFK – The Real Dizinformaiton Agents at Dealey Plaza – Part 2

June 12, 2011

Clare Booth and Henry Luce  of Life Magazine

Journalist & JFK – The Real Dizinfo Agents at Dealey Plaza – PART 2

Henry and Clare Booth Luce, C. D. Jackson & Issac Don Levine – That’s LIFE

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy a decision was made at the highest levels of government: even though the evidence indicating the accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was acting at the behest of Cuba was not true, it could be used to strong arm reluctant leaders in the legislative and judicial branches of government to do what the new president wanted.  As Earl Warren explained in an oral history interview for the LBJ Library, after he was asked to head the commission:

“I told them I thought I shouldn’t do it, and I made some suggestions to them as to people whom they might get who would fill the purpose.  And I thought that was the end of it.

“And then in about an hour I got a phone call from the White House and was asked if I could come up and see the President. And I said, ‘certainly,’ so I went up there.  And the President told me that he was greatly disturbed by the rumors that were going around the world about a conspiracy and so forth, and that he thought that it might – because it involved both Khrushchev and Castro – that it might even catapult us into a nuclear war if it got a head start, you know, and kept growing. …

“And [LBJ] said that he had just been talking to McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense then,” Warren continued, “and that McNamara had told him that if we got into a nuclear war that at the first strike we would lose sixty million people.  And he impressed upon me the great danger that was involved in having something develop from all this talk. He said he had talked to the leaders of both parties and that members of Congress – Dick Russell and Boggs on the Democratic side and Ford and Cooper on the other side – and John McCloy from New York and Allen Dulles would be willing to serve on the commission if I was to head it up.” [i](1)

This was not just an off-the-cuff decision. As historian John Newman puts it, “It is now apparent that the World War III pretext for a national security cover-up was built into the fabric of the plot to assassinate President Kennedy.” (2)  By threatening nuclear war if it were true, LBJ used the disinformation of Castro and Cuban complicity to convince the Chief Justice and congressmen to join the Commission. The nuclear threat helped persuade them to go with the Lone-Nut scenario because a conspiracy had to be a foreign one. Yet to present the Lone-Nut scenario as probable or even plausible, all of the accused assassin’s intelligence connections had to be ignored and the assassin portrayed as a sociopathic loser acting upon unknown psychological motives. (3)

Life magazine was one of the most prolific supporters of this fairytale, just as it had been previously in leaking Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis and Mongoose intelligence, and as it would become after the assassination in anointing the disputed Tonkin Gulf Incident which led to Congressional authorization for the conflict in Vietnam. (4)  As the most popular magazine in America, Life was more influential than radio and TV news at the time, and hence the perfect platform to deliver any disinformation the CIA wanted widely distributed to a mass audience.  It was used to influence key policy makers as well as the public, and also to discredit President Kennedy, as it tried to do on numerous occasions.

Who were these guys? Well in looking at the Life magazine masthead of that era you will find a number of pertinent names – including Henry and Clare Booth Luce, C.D. Jackson and Issac Don Levine.  Henry Luce, born in China to missionary parents, attended Yale, was a member of Skull & Bones, and with his schoolmate and partner Briton Hadden, quit the Baltimore News to form Time Inc., publishing Time Magazine in 1926, Fortune in 1930 and Life magazine in 1936.  He remained editor-in-chief of all his publications until 1964.  A powerful Republican Party leader and committed anti-communist, he was a strong supporter of Chiang Kai-shek and “the China Lobby,” and against Castro in Cuba.  Although Henry Luce died in1967, his legacy continues to make an impact today. (5)

It wasn’t a one-man show.  Luce surrounded himself with like-minded publishers, editors, photographers and writers, most notably his second wife, Clare Booth Luce.

Before dealing with Clare Booth Luce, it should be noted for the record that Henry Luce is also said to have had an affair with Mary Bancroft, one of Allen Dulles’ OSS agents and paramour, while Dulles is said to have been intimate with Luce’s wife.  In retrospect, Clare Booth Luce was in many ways more of a player than Henry Luce himself. (6)  Also, before she became a Congresswomen and ambassador to Italy, Clare Booth Luce had struck up an early friendship with John F. Kennedy, sending him a good luck coin during World War II. (7)   Clare Booth Luce has been aptly described as:

“One of the wealthiest women in the world, widow of the founder of the Time, Inc. publishing empire, former member of the House of Representatives, former Ambassador to Italy, successful Broadway playwright, international socialite and longtime civic activist, Luce was responsible for later ‘leads’ in the JFK assassination aftermath.  Luce will later claim that sometime after the Bay of Pigs she receives a call from her ‘great friend’ William Pawley – who wants to put together a fleet of speedboats which would be used by the exiles to dart in and out of Cuba on ‘intelligence gathering’ missions. Luce eventually sponsors one of the boats.  She refers to the crew of this boat as ‘my boys.’  Luce will also maintain that it is one of these boat crews that brings back the first news of Soviet missiles in Cuba.  JFK, she says, didn’t react to it so she helped to feed the information to Senator Kenneth Keating, who made it public.” (8)

She sat in the same limo with LBJ on JFK’s inauguration day, and when she asked him why in the world he took the Vice Presidential slot instead of staying in the more powerful position he held in Congress, she quoted him as saying, “Clare, I looked it up; one out of every four presidents has died in office.  I’m a gamblin’ man, darlin’, and this is the only chance I got.” (9)  Although the true odds were one in five presidents, or twenty percent, died in office, perhaps LBJ knew he could improve those odds, and it wasn’t such a gamble at all.

With the new Democratic administration, Luce brought aboard a new publisher, C. D. – Charles Douglas– Jackson, an OSS hand and President Eisenhower’s personal administrative assistant on psychological warfare and Cold War strategy. (10)  While Jackson would remain in the background, devising strategy, Clare Booth Luce wrote a weekly column and an occasional photo feature for Life.  The magazine ran articles on the impending invasion of Cuba before the Bay of Pigs, and in one column, a week before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Clare Booth Luce chastised the President for ignoring the evidence of offensive missiles in Cuba. (11)  She said “her boys,” who ran commando missions in and out of Cuba, had told her this.  But she also apparently saw the U2 photos leaked by the Air Force liaison to the National Photographic Interpretation Center, before they were revealed to the president.  The NPIC U2 photos of missiles in Cuba were also shown to Sen. Keating (R. NY) by Col. Philip J. Corso, who later bragged about leaking it in his book The Day After Roswell. (12)

After the Cuban Missile crisis was successfully resolved, Luce began writing stories about Mongoose, the CIA’s covert operations against Castro, which you could have read all about in Life, as they ran photos and stories about Operation Red Cross (aka the Bayo/Pawley Mission), and other anti-Castro missions.  Clare was particularly proud of “her boys,” the team of anti-Castro commandos who ran maritime missions into Cuba in their speedboat, and that she financially backed, though they were also supported by the CIA.  They were based out of the CIA’s JMWAVE base in Florida, affiliated with the DRE and led by Julio Fernandez. (13)

On the night of the assassination, Clare Booth Luce says she was awakened from sleep by a phone call by Fernandez.  He claimed to have exclusive knowledge of the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, including recordings of him, and other records that appeared to substantiate his pro-Castro leanings i.e. the original Phase One cover story:  Castro did it.  Luce told him to call the FBI, but he didn’t, or at least there is no record of him having done so. (14)

The Luces could have slept soundly that night, knowing that Life was on top of the story.  They had people at Dealey Plaza – the scene of the crime of the century.  And before the weekend was over they would have sole ownership of the single most desired peace of evidence in the case, the Zapruder film.  They would also obtain the infamous Backyard Photos of the accused assassin, his “Historic Diary,” exclusive photos of the Oswald family and then contractually tie up Marina’s story for decades.  But before the weekend was out, the accused assassin would be killed while in police custody, and then branded the lone assassin.  It was just a matter of whether he was going to be portrayed as part of a Cuban Communist conspiracy or as a deranged, lone nut, the answer to which would depend on how it all played out in public.

Life had a good team working on the assassination. Texas bureau chief, Holland McCombs was in Austin, working on a story about the sex lives of college students.  McCombs got the job at Life after giving Henry Luce a raucous tour of Texas, introducing him to cantinas, tequila and hot peppers.  After Luce hired him, it’s rumored that his first job was to get a spy in the office of the president of Mexico, clearly showing Luce’s interests also went south of the border. (15)  McCombs had served in the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) so such an operation was within his wherewithal.  McCombs later helped abort Life’s belated 1967 investigation of a domestic conspiracy.  McCombs supported his friend Clay Shaw, a suspect in Jim Garrison’s case in New Orleans, even though his own team had developed evidence that supported a conspiracy.

As early as February 1964 McCombs and Life had developed the fact that the McCurley brothers, who had assisted Oswald in handing out the FPCC leaflets in New Orleans, patronized the Black Lamp, a gay bar in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  At that tavern, there was a bartender named Frankie Hydell.  The Warren Report claimed that there was no such person as Hidell, the name Oswald used as an alias, and the information McCombs and Life developed went uninvestigated by both Life and the Warren Commission. (16)

Although McCombs was in Austin at the time of the assassination, he had hired a young intern and stringer, Patsy Swank, who was heels on the ground in Dallas and would come up with the scoop on the Z-film.  As soon as they heard about the assassination, McCombs, and the west coast editor in Los Angeles Richard Stolley, flew immediately to Dallas, probably under orders or assignment from C. D. Jackson in New York.  Stolley brought along photographer Alan Grant.  Writer Tommy Thompson, who was from Dallas, also flew in.  Stolley set up shop in a room at the Adolphus Hotel, just across the street from the Carousel Club, and where the Secret Service and White House Communications Agency (WHCA) had their base of operations during the President’s visit. (17)

Although the FBI maintains it had lost track of Oswald when he moved to New Orleans, and he kept a room by himself in Oak Cliff, Oswald had subscribed to magazines that were sent to the Paine home, including The Worker, the official organ of the Communist Party in the USA, the Trotskyite Militant, and Time Magazine.  Therefore, at the time of the assassination, Time-Life had Oswald’s address at the Paine home in their files in New York, where their offices were at Rockefeller Center (18), which is also where the British Security Coordination was based, and where Oswald’s mother had worked in a retail shop on the first floor of the Empire State Building.  While it may have been unknown to some of the authorities who were looking for him, Time-Life had Oswald’s address in their subscription file, and it didn’t take long for the Life team to get there.

While Thompson and photographer Alan Grant went out to the Paine house in Irving, Patsy Swank was at the Dallas Police Department, where she had been tipped off about a film of the assassination.  She called Stolley at the Adolphus on the phone and in a hushed voice so other reporters wouldn’t hear her, told him about the movie of the assassination that was taken by a man whose last name began with a “Z.”  Stolley quickly found Zapruder’s name in the phone book, assumed it was him, and called his home every fifteen minutes until Zapruder finally answered.  Mr. “Z” had been driving around aimlessly thinking about what he had witnessed through the lens of his camera.  Stolley wanted to meet him immediately but Zapruder told him to see him at his office early the next morning. (19)

Meanwhile, with Grant snapping exclusive photos, Thompson winning Marina’s confidence, and  C. D. Jackson persuading her with cash, the wife and mother of the accused assassin agreed to give them their exclusive story if Thompson would take them to see Oswald at the jail. (20)  Although the Zapruder film, the Backyard Photos, the “Historic Diary,” Thompson’s articles and Grant’s photos that Life published, have all been examined extensively and deserve even further scrutiny, Marina’s story is the clincher.  With the death of Oswald, his guilt or innocence in the eyes of the public depended on how she portrayed him for history.  But it wasn’t really Marina’s portrait of Oswald in Life.  It was the author’s portrait, as described, at least in part, by Marina in Russian, and translated by the author.

At first it was reported that Marina’s story would be ghost written by Issac Don Levine, its in-house Russian defector and professional anti-communist propagandist. (21)   Levine had previously written The Mind of the Assassin, about Leon Trotsky’s killer Raymond Mercader, who Levine cleverly unmasks as a deep penetration agent of Stalin’s KGB’s assassination directorate SMERSH.  Mercader got to Trotsky in exile in Mexico City and stabbed him to death, was convicted for it, served time in prison and was later released. (22)  Levine would have been perfect for the job, if they were going to stick with the Cuban Communist Conspiracy Cover-story, but that fell by the wayside as it became apparent that it just was not accurate.  That didn’t matter to Levine any more than it didn’t matter to LBJ.

Oswald had described himself as a Trotskyite, and subscribed to The Militant, the monthly publication of the Trotskyite party in the United States, which was founded by the father of Michael Paine, Oswald’s chief benefactor at the time of the assassination.  Besides providing room and board for Oswald’s wife and two kids, Michael Paine also handled Oswald’s belongings, including the alleged assassination rifle, which was kept in his garage while Oswald went to Mexico. (23)  It’s still unclear what Oswald did inMexico City, but given his fascination with Trotsky, one must wonder if he visited the apartment where Trotsky was killed, or knew the details, as written and published by Levine in his book.

If you look up Issac Don Levine’s Wikipedia biography, it fails to even mention The Mind of the Assassin, possibly his most important work. (24)  Marina’s story is not listed there either, but for a different reason. Levine never got that job, and instead the contract was given to Priscilla Johnson (McMillan).

Priscilla, like George DeMohrenschildt, had the unique attribute of having made the acquaintance of both the President and his accused assassin.  Oswald’s good friend DeMohrenschildt knew the Kennedys from their support of the Cystic Fibrosis charity that he established with his second wife, Dr. De De Sharples.  Priscilla knew JFK from Massachusetts, where she worked for him in 1954, and a few years later she met Oswald in Moscow at the time of his defection. (25)  So, she wasn’t entering the drama cold. She was already a player, and an integral part of the disinformation network that promoted the Dealey Plaza operation cover-story and protected those responsible for the murder of John F. Kennedy.

NEXT – PART 3 – Hugh Aynesworth, Gordon McLendon, Priscilla Johnson – Bottlefed by Oswald’s NANA 

Footnotes and Links to Journalists and JFK –

Real Dizinformation Agents at Dealey Plaza -  Part 2

(1) – LBJ Library Oral History Collection. http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/oralhistory.hom/Warren-E/Warren-e.PDF

(2) – See Video: J.E. Hover, L.B. Johnson, and the Warren Commission’s role -1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZdtTa_164o

(3) – Newman, John – Oswald & the CIA (2008 edition)   http://droberdeau.blogspot.com/2011/05/page-13.html

(4) – Life and Tonkin Gulf Incident. Life Magazine August 14, 1964p. 21 Special Report – From The Files of Navy Intelligence Aboard the Maddox p. 21 – Cover story on LBJ – The Complex and Extraordinary Man Who Is The President – In Two Articles – an intimate and revealing portrait. http://books.google.com/books?id=cUkEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA21&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2 – v=onepage&q&f=false -

(5) –Henry Robinson Luce New York Times Obituary, March 1, 1967. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0403.html

(6) Bancroft, Mary – Autobiography of a Spy. http://jungcurrents.com/bancroft-sp/ Also see: http://www.notablebiographies.com/supp/Supplement-A-Bu-and-Obituaries/Bancroft-Mary.html

(7) Clare Booth Luce gives coin to JFK & JFK Letter to CBL http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/postwar/election/jfklettr.html Clare Booth Luce background  http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/luce-cla.htm.

(8) Wood, Ira David III.  JFK Assassination Chronology.  http://www.assassinationresearch.com/v2n1/chrono1.pdf

(9) Clare Booth Luce & LBJ http://deadpresidents.tumblr.com/post/1054343251/presidents-talk-about-presidents-john-f-kennedy“I looked it up; one out of every four Presidents has died in office.  I’m a gamblin’ man, darling, and this is the only chance I got.” —Lyndon B. Johnson, to Clare Booth Luce, on why he accepted the Vice Presidential nomination from JFK, January 1961.  Also see: Wood, Ira David III – JFK Assassination Chronology.

(10) Wood, Ira David III. JFK Assassination Chronology.

 http://www.assassinationresearch.com/v2n1/chrono1.pdf

(11) C. D. Jackson background “The CIA’s assimilation of old guard fascists was overseen by the Operations Coordination Board, directed by C.D. Jackson, formerly an executive of Time magazine and Eisenhower’s Special Assistant for Cold War Strategy.”

http://whatreallyhappened.com/RANCHO/POLITICS/MOCK/mockingbird.php

Before he became an ardent Cold Warrior, C.D. Jackson was

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAjacksonCD.htm

According toCarl Bernstein, Jackson was “Henry Luce’s personal emissary to the CIA”. He also claimed that in the 1950s Jackson had arranged for CIA employees to travel withTime-Lifecredentials as cover.

(11) – Clare Booth Luce & Cuban Missile Crisis – Cuba –and the unfaced truth – Our Global Double Bind – Life Magazine, Oct. 5, 1962, p. 53. http://books.google.com/books?id=eVUEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53&dq=Clare+Booth+Luce+Offensive+Missiles+In+Cuba+life+Magazine&source=bl&ots=9lmaQT9Qvb&sig=ByYvjcMfdTCw4F5FflIT3G1Co50&hl=en&ei=jpTsTbHEJeLL0QHrprGjAQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CFcQ6AEwBw – v=onepage&q&f=false

(12) Corso & NPIC Leak – Corso, Philip J. (Day After Roswell, Simon & Schuster , 1997) and Wood, Ira David III. JFK Assassination Chronology. http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=15829

Corso & JFK black prop op – see: “The Zipper Documents,” Gregory.

(13) – Clare Booth Luce & Julio Fernandez & DRE Clare Booth Luce and Julio Fernandez:

http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2008/01/julio-fernandez.html

Also see Gary Shaw and John Stockwell: http://images.mitrasites.com/illustration/julio-fern%C3%A1ndez.html

(14) – Clare Booth Luce & Julio Fernandez on 11/22/63

(15) – Holland McCombs & Luce – Kelin, John – Holland McCombs – The Investigation that Never Was.

http://www.acorn.net/jfkplace/09/fp.back_issues/32nd_Issue/holland.html

(16) – Kelin, John – Holland McCombs – The Investigation That Never Was. Also see McCombs archive at University of Tennessee. http://www.utm.edu/departments/acadpro/library/departments/special_collections/manus/ms001.htm

(17) – Life Team in Dallas Patsy Swank & Z film. Thompson, Josiah. Why The Zapruder Film Is Authentic, JFK Deep Politics Quarterly, April 1999, Vol. 4, No. 3. http://www.manuscriptservice.com/DPQ/dparchiv1.htm – FILM

(18) – Oswald address & Time-Life – Education Forum – Life Magazine and the Assassination of JFK – John Dolva post. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kkBggMVZ-GYJ:educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php%3Fshowtopic%3D5046+Patsy+Swank+Life+Magazine&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&source=www.google.com

(19) – Stolley & Zapruder http://www.jfk.org/go/collections/about/zapruder-film-chronology

Stolley bio: http://www.santafe.com/articles/author/richard-b-stolley/ http://www.life.com/image/72386160

(20) – Thompson & Marina. Grant, Alan. The Day The President Was Shot – The Kidnapping of the Oswald Family. http://www.allangrant.com/oswaldstory.htm For Alan Grant’s photos see: http://www.allangrant.com/newsevents7.htm. Also see: Richard Stolley on Tommy Thompson: http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20087091,00.html

(21) -  Issac Don Levine (19 January 1892 – 15 February 1981) Scott, Peter Dale, Deep Politics and the Death of JFK(1996) says C. D. Jackson, on the urging ofAllen Dulles employed Issac Don Levine to ghost-write Marina’s story.  This story never appeared in print.  Levine background:.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Don_Levine.

Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whittaker_Chambershttp://en.wikipedia….saac_Don_Levine

(22) – Issac Don Levine & Trotsky – Levine, wrote the book “Mind of the Assassin,” that details how the KGB’s agent Raymond Mercader assassinated Trotsky. See Peter Sedgwick’s Review http://www.marxists.org/archive/sedgwick/1960/11/assassin.htmhttp://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2139856.The_Mind_of_an_Assassin

(23) – Michael Paine, Trotsky & Oswald in MC. Weberman. Nodule X16 http://ajweberman.com/noduleX16-PAINES CIA CONNECTIONS.pdf

Forbes Family history (Linda Minor): http://www.mail-archive.com/ctrl@listserv.aol.com/msg22399.html

Michael Paine Warren Commission Testimony: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/testimony/paine_m1.htm

(24) – Levine & Wiki & “Mind of the Assassin.” Bibliography: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Don_Levine

(25) – Lee Oswald, Marina and Priscilla Johnson.

ARRB Testiomony http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/arrb/index4.htm

PBS Interview: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/oswald/interviews/mcmillan.html

Zapruder Film Articles and Sources

June 7, 2011


 “Early November 1966          I flew to Dallas and met Kern and Billings and Patsy Swank there. [Swank was a Life stringer who had originally let magazine personnel know about the existence of the Zapruder film.] Using 4″ by 5″ transparencies, we interviewed Dr. Charles Gregory who in 1963 had treated the wounded Governor John Connally.  We returned to the hotel leaving the transparencies with Henry Suydam, LIFE’s Miami bureau chief.  We returned from dinner to the hotel room.  I said I’d like to study the transparencies and take them to my room.  Before leaving the room, I inventoried the stack of transparencies and found that four (in the 230s) were missing.  They were present there when we showed the transparencies to Dr. Gregory.  I left the stack in the room.  I learned subsequently that the next morning Ed Kern distracted Henry Suydam while Billings searched Suydam’s room.  The missing transparencies were not found.”

“Mid-November 1966        I didn’t know what was going on.  I suspected that there was some power struggle at Life in motion, but I had not a clue what it was about and who was on what side.  I decided that it would be an extremely good idea for a good copy of the relevant frames to exist outside the TimeLifeBuilding.  I put a 35 mm camera with a copying stand and 15 or so rolls of film in my brief case and went up to New York on the Thursday or Friday before the issue entitled “A Matter of Reasonable Doubt” closed.  Kern and Billings left by about 5:00 PM.  I stayed.  I set up my copying stand over the light table in Kern’s office and started copying the 4″ by 5″ transparencies.  Kern came back and said, “What’re you doing, Tink?”  I replied, “I’m copying some frames from the goddam film.  I need to study them down in Philadelphia.”  Kern said nothing and then left.  I spent the next two hours or so copying the remaining frames until my film was exhausted.  We learned in the lawsuit [later filed by Time Inc.] that the following Monday Kern told the editor of Life, George Hunt, that he had come back and found me copying the film.  Hunt later signed a consultancy contract with me which legally gave me permission to have a copy for my own research use. “

National Nightmare on Six Feet of Film by Richard B. Trask (Danvers, Massachusettes: Yeoman Press, 2005), pages 364-36


November 25, 1963 Life publisher C.D. Jackson, after viewing a copy of the Zapruder film in New York, instructed Stolley to purchase remaining television and movie rights for a price that eventually reached $150,000 plus royalties; the purchase included Zapruder’s copy of the film made in Dallas the afternoon of the assassination. Zapruder donated the first $25,000 to the widow of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit, who was killed 45 minutes after the assassination when he stopped Lee Harvey Oswald in the
Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff

HIDDEN EXPOSURE
Cover-Up and Intrigue in the
CIA‘s Secret Possession of the Zapruder film
by
Philip H. Melanson

 

It has been called the film of the century. It is surely America‘s most historically important twenty-two seconds of film: the Zapruder film (the Z-film, as researchers call it). On November 22, 1963 Dallas dress manufacturer Abraham Zapruder had come to see President Kennedy pass through DealeyPlaza. Zapruder had forgotten his camera; he rushed home to get it and returned just in time to view the motorcade. Standing on a low concrete wall to the right front of the approaching Presidential limousine. Zapruder peered through his 8-millimeter, zoom lens, Bell & Howell movie camera. The camera was fully wound and set manually on maximum zoom.

The shocking tragedy captured in color by the Z film is all too familiar to many Americans: the death of John F. Kennedy. As the film begins, the motorcade turns and comes toward the camera. President and Mrs, Kennedy smile and wave from inside the open limousine. For several seconds, the President is blocked from Zapruder’s view as the limousine passes behind a street sign. When the limousine emerges from behind the sign, Kennedy is clearly reacting to a wound: his hands move up to clutch his throat. He totters to his left; Jacqueline Kennedy looks toward him anxiously. Then the fatal head shot impacts; the President’s head explodes in a ghastly corona of blood and brains. His body is thrust violently backward against the seat then bounces forward. Kennedy’s exposed skull gleams in the bright Texas sunshine. He falls sideways into his wife’s arms. Mrs. Kennedy climbs onto the trunk of the limousine to recover a fragment of her husband’s skull. A Secret Service agent jumps aboard and pushes her into her seat as the limousine speeds away.

The Z film is more than gruesome history; it is also the best evidence of the assassination, the baseline of time and motion. By analyzing blowups and calculating elapsed time according to the running speed of Zapruder’s camera, investigative bodies from the Warren Commission to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (in 1978) have drawn their conclusions about the timing, number, and direction of the shots, as have scores of private researchers. It is the timing between shots that provides crucial data for the key question: was it a conspiracy? If the elapsed time between bullets hitting the President is too short for a lone assassin to have aimed and fired, then there is proof of conspiracy.

Over the years there have been allegations that elements of the American intelligence community, especially the CIA, were involved in covering up a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, or were active participants in a conspiracy. Some assassination researchers have also suggested that the Zapruder film may have been subjected to sophisticated altering designed to hide a conspiracy. They point to apparent anomalies in the motion of the President’s body and to an apparent shadow appearing toward the front of Kennedy’s head.1 The speculation is that the original film may have shown that Kennedy was shot from the front, from the grassy knoll, rather than from the rear (from the Book Depository from which Oswald was supposed to have fired); but that the film was altered before it reached the hands of official investigators.

In any criminal case, the integrity of evidence depends upon its chain of possession: who had it when, how and for what purposes before it came into the possession of official investigators to be analyzed by them. In the JFK case the Warren Commission was the official investigating body and the FBI its official investigative arm which conducted tests and analyses of the evidence, including the Z film.

Documents obtained from the FBI, CIA and Secret Service through the Freedom of Information Act contain startling revelations about the Z film’s chain of possession. The first documents surfaced in 1976; others in 1981. They provide considerable support for allegations of a CIAcover-up and for allegations regarding possible CIAmanipulation of evidence. There is now good reason to question the evidentiary integrity of the Z film. Moreover, it is clear that before the FBI had obtained the film, CIA experts had already analyzed it and had found data which strongly suggested a conspiracy.

The official version of who had the film and camera when and how is as follows.2 The afternoon of the assassination Zapruder took his film to a commercial photo studio in Dallas for rush developing. Word of the film’s existence soon leaked out and, within hours, several news and publishing organizations contacted Zapruder with offers to buy it. Zapruder had three copies made. He immediately gave two copies to the United States Secret Service. The Service kept one copy for itself and gave one to the FBI the day after the assassination. Zapruder sold the original and one copy to LIFE magazine on November 23, reportedly for $25,000. LIFE published pictures from the film in its November 29th issue and locked the original film in a New York vault. Zapruder’s camera was given to the FBI by Zapruder so that the Bureau could determine the running speed (the number of frames per second at which the film moved through the camera). This figure would then be used to clock the precise time between shots. The FBI later returned the camera to Zapruder, who gave it to the Bell & Howell Company for its archives.

I had long suspected that the official version was incomplete. Several Warren Commission witnesses had mentioned that a copy of the film had gone to Washington, but their references to such an event were vague and conflicting. According to FBI documents, the Bureau did not obtain a copy of the film until the day after the assassination when it borrowed one of the Secret Service’s copies. The FBI had the technical expertise for analyzing the film but did not have the film for twenty-four hours; the Secret Service got two copies right away but, by all indications, lacked the technical capacity for a sophisticated in-house analysis. It was clear from CIAdocuments declassified in the 1970s — documents unrelated to the assassination — that the Secret Service of the 1960s and early 1970s had some sort of technical dependence upon the CIA. The CIAhad provided technical assistance, equipment and briefings to the Secret Service, even to the point of manufacturing the color-coded lapel pins worn by Secret Service agents.3 It made sense that Secret Service, lacking its own high-powered photographic expertise, might turn to the CIAfor help in analyzing the Zapruder film; but there was nothing to substantiate this hypothesis.

Then, in 1976, assassination researcher Paul Hoch discovered CIA#450 among a batch of documents released by CIA because of a Freedom of Information Act request. Item 450 consists of nine pages of documents relating to an analysis of the Z film conducted for the Secret Service by the CIA‘s National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) in Washington, one of the world’s most technically sophisticated photo-analysis laboratories. For the first time, there was evidence that CIAhad possessed and analyzed the film. Apparently CIA had gotten the film from the Secret Service. There is nothing in Item 450, however, that states when the NPIC analysis was done — hours after the assassination? weeks? months? Nor is it clear whether NPIC analyzed a copy of the film or an original.

Among the nine pages in Item 450 are four pages of handwritten notes and calculations. One notation describes photographic work done by NPIC:

– Proc, dry 2 hr.

– Print test 3 hr.

– Make 3 prints 1 hr.

– Proc. and dry prints 1 1/2 hr.

In Dallas, Zapruder was supposed to have had an original and three copies. No other copies were known to exist. Now we find that the CIAlaboratory in Washington made three prints — the same number as were supposed to have been made in Dallas. Did NPIC make more, unaccounted for copies; or did the NPIC-produced copies somehow end up as the Dallas copies? Was NPIC producing third-generation prints; or had it somehow obtained the original?

It was researcher David Lifton who, through our discussions and exchanges of date, first suggested that the previously described notation (“proc. dry” etc) referred to work being done with the original film, not a copy. My discussions with a half dozen photographic experts from both academic and commercial photo laboratories, confirm this point.4 “Processing” refers to developing an original. If NPIC had been working with a copy, the first step would have been to print, then process. The NPIC notation “print test” refers to a short piece of film printed from the original and used to check the exposure — to see if the negative is too light or too dark — before printing copies from the original. Thus there is strong indications that NPIC had the original.

The original is assumed to have remained in Dallas in Zapruder’s possession until he sold it to LIFE on November 23, the day after the assassination. This allowed time enough for the original to have been flown from Dallas to D.C., analyzed, and returned to Dallas before LIFE got it. Yet, according to Zapruder and the Secret Service, the original never left Dallas until LIFE purchased it. Perhaps the original made a secret trip to Washington.

Zapruder had already kept one secret about the film from the Warren Commission. In his testimony to the Commission, Zapruder stated that LIFE had paid him $25,000 for the film, all of which he donated to charity. What he did not reveal, even under questioning, was that the deal actually called for $125,000 more to be paid in five yearly installments.5 Zapruder also told the Warren Commission that immediately after the assassination, he went to his office and told his secretary to call the police or Secret Service because “I knew I had something, I figured it might be of some help.”6 But according to Dallas Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels, he was alerted to the film by a reporter from the Dallas Morning News who contacted him and informed him that a man had made some movies that the Secret Service might be interested in.7 The reporter took Sorrels to Zapruder’s office. As Sorrels described it, “Mr. Zapruder agreed to furnish me with a copy of this film with the understanding that it was strictly for official use of the Secret Service and that it would not be shown or given to any newspapers or magazines as he expected to sell the film for as high a price as he could get for it.”

Whether Sorrels was summoned by Zapruder or got word of the film by some other means and surprised Zapruder by showing up at his office, the question still remains whether the Secret Service would be willing to accept only a copy of the film instead of the original. In 1973, LIFE‘s Richard B. Stolly, who negotiated the purchase of the film from Zapruder, opined that “If the federal government had not been in such disarray at that moment (immediately after the assassination) somebody with authority and a sense of history would probably have asked Zapruder for the original film and he probably would have relinquished it.”8 Whether someone in authority asked or told Zapruder, indications are that he did indeed relinquish it.

Was Zapruder really in a position to get the Secret Service to accept his conditions concerning the use of the film? Presumably, the original could have been subpoenaed as evidence, thereby delaying — perhaps even ruining — Zapruder’s chance to make a lucrative deal. The Secret Service, having just lost a President, may not have been inclined to accept a copy of the film instead of the original or to adhere to conditions set by Zapruder. Out at Parkland hospital, Dallas County Medical Examiner Earl Rose, accompanied by a Justice of the Peace, informed Secret Service agents that they could not remove the President’s body and take it to Washington, a position fully consistent with Texas law. The agents drew their guns, pushed the medical examiner and the justice against the wall and took the body. If Secret Service agents were such lions in dealing with Earl Rose, why their lamb-like behavior with Abrahan Zapruder?

If Zapruder did manage to strike a bargain with the Secret Service, the terms may well have been that the Service took the original for a brief time (perhaps only eighteen hours) but promised to keep the loan secret so as not to jeopardize Zapruder’s chances for a deal. If potential buyers knew that the original had been out of Zapruder’s hands, they might have perceived it as second-hand merchandise; if they knew the government was printing extra copies, the exclusivity of the purchase rights might be in doubt.

Exclusivity was very important to the deal, and Zapruder knew it. LIFE‘s Richard B. Stolly recalled that through all the chaos, Zapruder kept his “business sense.”9 Stolly says that Zapruder claimed to have obtained sworn statements from the employees at the film lab in Dallas where the film was first developed, stating that no extra copies of the film had been “bootlegged”; thus “whoever bought the film would have it exclusively.”

Even if NPIC was not analyzing the original film but only a copy, documents in CIA Item #450 reveal that the analysis produced some striking data which logically supported a conclusion of conspiracy. he main thrust of NPIC’s analysis was to construct various three-shot scenarios. The film was studied and the elapsed time between the frames on which the shots occurred was estimated. Nine different three-shot scenarios were produced, by varying the points (frames) at which the President appeared to have been shot by varying the estimated running speed of the camera.

Whether NPIC knew it or not, the majority of their scenarios precluded a lone assassin. In 1964 the FBI tested the rifle found on the sixth floor of the Book Depository. The Bureau discovered that marksmen could not re-aim and re-fire the weapon any faster than 2.25 – 2.30 seconds.10 Thus any interval between shots which is shorter than that would constitute persuasive evidence that there were two gunmen. Five of NPIC’s scenarios had intervals that were too short — 2.1 seconds, 2.0, even 1.0. There is no indication in the released documents that NPIC thought that the five two-gunmen scenarios were any less valid than the four scenarios which allowed sufficient time for a lone assassin.

One of the scenarios which does allow enough time between shots for a lone assassin is labeled “LIFE Magazine.” The calculations in this scenario are identical with those appearing in LIFE‘s December 6, 1963 article “End to Nagging Rumors: Six Critical Seconds.” The article used an analysis of the Z film to attempt to prove that Oswald acted alone. The question arises: was NPIC generating data for LIFE magazine or was the country’s most sophisticated photo-analysis laboratory reading LIFE for analytic clues? So far as we know, LIFE conducted its own analysis for its own auricle, and there is no conclusive evidence to the contrary. But one handwritten note scrawled near the LIFE magazine scenario reads: “They know the exact time of the 1st and 2nd shot?” It is a strange question if “they” is LIFE and if their article is already finished or on the stands. Presumably, LIFE should already know whatever their article states that they know, and the article boasts that LIFE has reconstructed the “precise timing” of the shots.

In 1982 Bernard Fensterwald Jr., a Washington attorney and assassination researcher, filed suit in federal court against the CIAand forced the release of six hundred pages of previously classified documents relating to the assassination. Among them were additional documents concerning NPIC and the Z film. The documents dated back to the mid 1970s when assassination researcher Paul Hoch asked the Rockefeller Commission, which was investigating possible CIA involvement in the JFK assassination, to check into the NPIC analysis of the Z film. The document, which were withheld by the CIAuntil Fensterwald’s suit in 1982, concern CIA‘s response to a Rockefeller Commission query about the NPIC analysis.

By itself, and it believed, the 1982 release seemed to minimize CIA‘s involvement with the Z film. CIAdocuments claimed that the Agency never possessed its own copy of the film until February 1965, when Time Inc. (TIME-LIFE) provided a copy to the CIA‘s Office of Training.11 According to an agreement between TIME and the CIA, the film was not to be duplicated, exhibited or published but only used for CIA“training” — whatever that meant.12 There was no mention of the three copies mysteriously printed by NPIC.

As for the NPIC analysis of the film, the CIAtold the Rockefeller Commission that the Secret Service did bring a copy of the film to CIADirector John McCone “late in 1963.” NPIC conducted an analysis “late that same night.” But “it was not possible to determine the precise time between shots without access to the camera to time the rate of spring rundown.” Furthermore, said CIA, Secret Service agents were present during the analysis and “took the film away with them that night.”13

All of this certainly refers to the same NPIC analysis described in CIAItem #450. The “rate of spring rundown” (running speed of the camera) was not known and had to be estimated by NPIC. Again, if the Secret Service took one “copy” away with them, what happened to the other NPIC copies? Did the Secret Service know about them? And what about the substantive data produced by the NPIC analysis (the nine scenarios, five of which precluded a lone assassin?) There are indications that the Secret Service never got that data, even though it was precisely the kind of information that they hoped to get from the CIA experts at NPIC.

In responding in 1976 to the Rockefeller Commission’s query about the NPIC analysis, the CIA stated: “We assume that Secret Service informed the Warren Commission about anything of value resulting from our technical analysis of the film, but we have no direct knowledge that they did so.”14 There is no evidence that the Secret Service ever told the Warren Commission about the existence of the NPIC analysis much less about the results. One possible explanation for this is that the Secret Service withheld the data so that the Warren Commission wouldn’t see the five conspiracy scenarios. Another possibility is that the CIAwithheld the data from the Secret Service so that the Service wouldn’t see them.

One CIAmemo contained in Item #450 states “We do not know whether the Secret Service took copies of these notes (on the three-shot scenarios) at the time of the analysis.”15 It would seem odd for the Secret Service to go to the trouble to seek out an expert analysis and then not take away any of the data. Yet, no trace of the NPIC analysis has ever appeared in declassified Secret Service files or Warren Commission documents, only NPIC-CIA files. Perhaps the Secret Service never knew that the data existed; perhaps Service agents were only “present” for part of the analysis.

The most intriguing reference in the 1982 release is the CIA‘s description of when NPIC performed its analysis for the Secret Service: “late in 1963.” This could mean November 22 or December 31. Didn’t CIAknow the date when the analysis took place; or was it using the euphemism “late in 1963″ because it was unwilling to admit that it had the film within forty-eight hours of the assassination? CIAstated that NPIC’s analysis was done “late that same night” that the Secret Service brought the film to CIA. Why rush or work overtime, unless “late in 1963″16 really meant November 22nd or 23rd?

I decided to pursue another avenue. Several months after the 1982 CIArelease, I initiated a Freedom of Information request to the Secret Service and asked for “any and all documents relating to Secret Service possession or analysis of the Zapruder film of the John F. Kennedy assassination, or of Mr. Zapruder’s camera, inclusive of any and all documents relating to possession of the film and/or camera by the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) or the Central Intelligence Agency.”

The Secret Service response came as a surprise. They claimed that in 1979 they had turned over to the National Archives in Washington all documents relating to the Kennedy assassination. I had previously researched all of the Warren Commission records in the National Archives pertaining to the CIAand the Secret Service but had found nothing relevant to NPIC’s analysis. I called Mr. Marion Johnson, the archivist in charge of the Warren Commission records, to inquire whether the 1979 material passed on by the Secret Service had been in the files I had already examined. It had not. Due to a shortage of staff, the Archives had not yet security-cleared and processed the six boxes of “new” material. Johnson and his staff processed the boxes within two weeks.

After five hours of wading through the hodgepodge of newly processed documents — which included everything from carbon copies of previously released documents, to copies of the contents of Lee Harvey Oswald’s wallet at the time of his arrest, to 5×8 close-ups of the blood stains and brain matter on the seat of the limousine — I came across the only documents related to the Z film. They reveal that, in 1964, Henry Suydam, LIFE‘s Bureau Chief wrote to Secret Service Director James Rowley to say that LIFE believed that the Secret Service had two copies of the Zapruder film.17 Suydam stressed that the copies were the property of TIME, Inc. and that they should not be shown to anyone outside the government. He further stipulated that the Service could keep them as long as it needed them but must return them to TIME, Inc when it was finished.

Secret Service Director Rowley wrote to Forrest Sorrels, the agent in charge of the Service’s Dallas office, and asked for a detailed account of how the Zapruder film came into Secret Service possession.18 Agent Sorrels’ response provides a strong indication that “late in 1963,” as the CIAvaguely described it, was, in fact, the night of the assassination. Sorrels states that after the film was developed, he obtained “two copies” from Zapruder (the standard explanation), “one copy of which was immediately airmailed to chief (Director of the Secret Service in Washington).”19

“Immediately” would be sometime late in the afternoon following the 12:30 P.M. assassination, after Sorrels had caught up with Zapruder. After a three hour flight from Dallas to Washington, the film would arrive at Secret Service headquarters, be taken to CIAheadquarters, then to NPIC — probably not before early- to mid-evening. So NPIC would be working late into the night on its rush analysis of this most important piece of evidence. It now seems clear that “late that same night,” as CIAdescribed it, was actually the very night of the assassination. Why after all — after rushing the film to Washington by plane — would the Secret Service delay an expert analysis of a film which could conceivably reveal the President’s assassin(s)?

And why would the Secret Service be satisfied with a copy which was less clear than the original? Since it seems certain that NPIC conducted its analysis on the night of the assassination, this greatly increases the likelihood that NPIC had the original (as is indicated by the notations on the CIAItem #450 which described the photographic work). LIFE took possession of the original on November 23; but, before then, Zapruder could have secretly loaned the original to the Secret Service.

In addition to the chain of possession of the film, there is also the matter of Zapruder’s camera. The Z film’s evidentiary potential is, to an important degree, dependent upon calculating the average running speed of the camera. The reader will recall that at the time of its analysis, NPIC did not know the exact speed of Zapruder’s camera. Without this data, absolute and precise determination of the elapsed time between shots are not possible. An interval of forty-two frames between shots with an estimated camera speed of eighteen frames per second would produce an elapsed time of 2.33 seconds. This would allow enough time for a lone gunman to have done the shooting, according to the FBI’s calculation of 2.25 to 2.30 as the minimum time needed to aim and fire. But if Zapruder’s camera ran at 18.8 frames per second instead of 18.0, this same 42-frame interval would be only 2.23 seconds and would fall just below the lone-assassin minimum.

The FBI, having official investigative responsibility, obtained the camera from Zapruder, tested it, and found the average running speed to be 18.3 frames per second.20 This took place nearly two weeks after the assassination.21 But what of NPIC’s very-rushed, very sophisticated analysis conducted the night of the assassination? It makes no sense that after calculating the time between shots in terms of tenths of seconds, NPIC and the CIAwould sit back and wait for a couple of weeks until the FBI provided this key piece of data — the camera speed.

In October 1982, while searching through the FBI’s voluminous, poorly organized assassination files, I came across a memo which strongly supported the notion the NPIC had not waited for the FBI. The December 4, 1963 memo written by FBI agent Robert Barrett, reports that on the date Zapruder handed his camera over to the FBI. Barrett goes on to say that, “He (Zapruder) advised this camera had been in the hands of the United States Secret Service agents on Dec. 3, 1963, as they claimed they wanted to do some checking of it.”22

We do not know how long the Secret Service had the camera or when they got it from Zapruder. Zapruder told the FBI that the Secret Service had the camera on December 3, when they returned it to him; the Service could have borrowed it from him days before that. Thus we have an important break in the known chain of possession of the camera. It went not from Zapruder to the FBI but from Zapruder to the Secret Service then back to Zapruder and then to the FBI. It was then that the FBI made the crucial calculation of 18.3 frames per second, which everyone henceforth would use as the time frame for analyzing the Z film. It is surely possible, even reasonable, that the Secret Service might have done with the camera what it did with the film — secretly rush it to NPIC where it could be analyzed, but where it also could have been tampered with.

The search for additional documents continues. Someday, we may know the real chain of possession of the film and camera. For now, this much is clear. The official, historically accepted chain of possession is wrong. The film’s secret journey to a CIA laboratory in Washington on the night of the assassination raises serious doubts about the film’s integrity as evidence. It also raises questions about who in the intelligence community knew what, when and how concerning John Kennedy’s assassination.

If, as appears to be the case, it was the original of the Z film that was secretly diverted to the CIAlaboratory on November 22, 1963, then the means and opportunity for sophisticated alteration did, in fact, exist — alteration that even the most expert analysis would have difficulty in detecting. By the 1960s cinematography labs had the technical capacity to insert or delete individual frames of a film,to resize images, to create special effects. But it would take an extraordinary sophistication to do so in a manner that would defy detection — the kind of sophistication that one would expect of CIA photo experts.

Between Zapruder and the Secret Service, they had possession of all three of the Dallas-made copies for nearly twenty-four hours. With the original at NPIC and with three copies made there, it is possible that if the film was doctored, the three NPIC copies of the doctored film were substituted for the three Dallas-made copies. It is even possible that all of the Dallas-made copies went to NPIC along with the original and that the switch was made there. We have only Zapruder and the Secret Service’s assertions as to where the copies were for twenty-four hours.

Setting aside the worst-case scenario (so alteration of the original film in order to hide a conspiracy), there is still the fact that NPIC generated data which would logically support a conspiracy theory, and that this data never reached the Warren Commission and appears to have been withheld from the Secret Service as well.

It is possible that the film of the century is more intricately related to the crime of the century than we ever knew — not because it recorded the crime of the century, as we have assumed, but because it was itself an instrument of conspiracy.


Footnotes:

1. See David S. Lifton, Best Evidence (New York: Macmillan, 1980), p. 355n, 557n.
2. Zapruder testimony in Warren Commission Hearings, vol7, pp. 569-76; Lifton, loc. cit; FBI report of agent Robert M. Barrett, Dec. 4, 1963; statement of George Hunt, Managing Editor, LIFE (cited in Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds In Dallas, Berkeley Ca (Berkeley Publ. Co., 1976, pp. 217-18); Richard B. Stolley, “What Happened Next?” Esquire Nov. 1973, pp. 134-5; 262-3.
3.
CIA memo of June 5, 1973 “Secret Service Request,” (for technical equipment). This document was part of the CIA‘s “Domestic Police Training File” (362 pages) obtained by the author through a 1982 Freedom of Information Act request, 1976 hearings of the House Intelligence Committee.
4. I am indebted to Elaine Fisher, Professor of Visual Design at
SoutheasternMassachusettsUniversity, for providing expertise and suggesting other resource persons.
5. New York Times,
May 13, 1965.
6.
Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 7, pp. 569-71.
7. Sorrels testimony:
Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 5, p.352.
8. Stolly, “What Happened Next.”
9. Stolly, “What Happened Next.”
10.
Warren Commission Hearings, vol. 3, p. 407 (Frazer); vol. 3, p. 153.
11.
CIA memo of Oct. 23, 1975 for Deputy Director, “The ‘Zapruder Film’ of President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination” Doc. 1472-492-BT
12.
CIAmemo of Apr. 23, 1975 for Office of the Inspector General, subject: “The ‘Zapruder Film’ of President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination” (Doc. 1627-1085)
13.
CIA“Addendum to Comment on the Zapruder Film,” p. 16, 1982; CIArelease to Fensterwald.
14. Ibid
15.
CIAItem #450, “NPIC Analysis of Zapruder Filming of John F. Kennedy Assassination”
16.
CIA“Addendum to Comment . . ” (see citation 13 above)
17. Suydam letter to Rowley,
Jan. 7, 1964
18. Rowley memo to Sorrels,
Jan. 14, 1964 (Secret Service 00-2-34-000)
19. Sorrels to Inspector Kelly, “Zapruder Film of the Assassination of President Kennedy,”
Jan. 21, 1964.
20. Warren Report
21. Report of FBI Agent Robert M. Barrett (see citation 2), Barrett reports that he received the camera from Zapruder on Dec. 4.
22. Barrett report.

Q & A:
Richard B. Stolley

November 2009

http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0911/q-and-a-richard-b-stolley.html

by Julien Russell Brunet

Richard B. Stolley is one of the preeminent names in American journalism. Over his 56-year career at Time Inc., Stolley spent 19 years at the weekly Life, capturing the events and people of our time, and placing them in perspective for our history. “Life,” he once said, “wasn’t simply about taking great pictures that knocked your socks off, but taking pictures of human contrast and emotion. We saw violence beyond human comprehension and outstanding incidents of human compassion, and we recorded it all for the readers with such skill that pictures we’ve seen a hundred times still evoke exactly the same emotions as they did when they were first published.” After Life suspended publication in December of 1972, Stolley became the founding editor of People, the most successful magazine in publishing history. Upon his retirement as Editorial Director of Time Inc. in 1993, Stolley was appointed the company’s Senior Editorial Adviser.

Last month, Stolley spoke with Julien Russell Brunet about photojournalism – its past, its present, and its future. An edited transcript of the interview appears below.

Q: When you were at Life, was there a sense that you knew that you were covering history? And when you’re that close to history, you’re also helping to make it?

A: There is no question that was true of Life and, particularly, in the South when I was down there in the late 1950s. I went into the South not quite sure of what I was going to find. I just knew this [the civil rights movement] was going to be an immensely important story and that Life was in a position to shape history. I think that was true of any journalist in the South. But that was particularly true of us. One, we lived in the South. We didn’t just parachute in when there was a big story. We were there every day and travelled extensively to many small towns throughout the South. And we were covering the South with both words and pictures. There was no way to convey to the rest of the country and the world what was happening in the South without photographs. That was a very powerful experience for me. More than ever before, I realized the power of the photograph and, particularly, when the photograph was accompanied by words which filled in the gaps. And Lifewas very tough on the subject.

Q: I understand you identified individuals whenever you could.

A: Yes. In Charlotte, North Carolina, one black girl integrated a high school. Usually they never sent one kid in. There would always be a group like in Little Rock, for instance. In this case, it was one tall, nice-looking girl going in. They had cops there, but they weren’t doing anything. So the boys gathered around her and began screaming and spitting on her. I was right behind her. The photographs were very disturbing and revealing. The editor of Life, George Hunt, said, “I want those kids’ names.” He wanted to identify the boys that were spitting on this girl. The whole point being that their names were part of the story, and I think there was some sense that they would be ashamed when they saw their pictures and names in Life, trying to make life miserable for this poor girl. Of all the magazines and publications that covered the South, Life showed the world what was going on in the South and, perhaps more importantly, showed the South what was going on in the South. I think we helped encourage the good people of the South to accept the rule of law.

Q: Speaking about your work in the South, you once said, “We were showing America what the face of hate and the face of courage looked like. And it helped bring about an understanding and a reconciliation in America that would not have occurred if the Lifecameras had not been down there.”

A: No question. There is a book called “The Race Beat” by two journalists [Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff] and it’s about the role of the press in covering civil rights in the South. They talk more about word journalists. They do cover photographers, but the two authors were word journalists and I think they minimize the role of pictures. Photographers from Life and other publications showed America what was happening. People could read about these events, but the photographs were inescapable. You could describe boys spitting on Dorothy Counts, the girl in Charlotte, but showing that photograph of her in this beautiful dress going in and just three or four feet away these boys were screaming with faces all contorted … photographs like that explained to America what was happening in the South in a way that words never could.

Q: Is that what you mean when you use the phrase “the majesty of the still picture”?

A: Yes. The majesty and the power.

Q: But for many photographers who grew up in the days of Life and Look, photojournalism as they know it is dead, isn’t it? As Dirck [Halstead] wrote in an editorial several years ago Revisiting the Death of Photojournalism, at that time “budgets were not a concern. All that mattered was that the photojournalist came back with meaningful and wonderful images.”

A: I wrote the foreword to a new textbook ["American Photojournalism"] about photojournalism by a professor at the University of Indiana [Claude Cookman]. He talks about its impact over the years and I say that, in the sense that it was practiced at Life and Look, there isn’t as much of it anymore, no question about that. But I was just looking today – as a matter of fact, it’s on my computer screen now – at Time.com and its photo archives and, god, it’s just enormous. I am looking at a photo essay called the “Top 10 Doctored Photos.” It’s really interesting. Looking at all this and at the new Web site, Life.com, I don’t know whether you can get away with photojournalism in print anymore, but I think there is a place for it online. There are a lot of photographers out there shooting photo essays and nobody is printing their stuff. But from Dirck’s point of view, he is unhappy and he has the right to be. The kind of photojournalism that did change the world in so many ways, there isn’t much of it anymore.

Q: Of course, changes have also occurred: television, the emergence of the Internet. Do these changes outshine the negative developments? In other words, will the role of the storyteller – visual storytellers included – be enhanced?

A: It already has been. The 2 billion bloggers, or however many there are now, these are all storytellers. Citizen journalists, these are storytellers. There are more stories being told now than ever before in the history of journalism or the history of storytelling. Now, the problem is that the kind of standards of accuracy and fairness that the journalists in the 20th and 21st centuries think are important to apply to storytelling are not being applied to a lot of these stories.

Q: You mean the problem with reliability? Oscar Wilde once wrote that modern journalism “justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarest.”

A: Many of them are just opinions, or made up or Wikipedia facts that turn out not to be true. But that slowly is changing too. Internet storytelling just gets better all the time, whether it is under the umbrella of an established publication or new ones like The Daily BeastThe Huffington Post orSlate. The standards are improving. And, I think, the mainstream media are largely responsible for that because we have said, partly out of self-preservation, that electronic storytelling is dangerous because so much of it is untrue or unfair. And, as a result of that warning, the standards of conventional print journalism are now being applied more and more to Internet journalism and we are all the better for it. This is going to continue. The age of storytelling has never been so robust.

Q: If, as you say, the standards on the Internet are improving, will there be a demand for trained professionals? In other words, is there a future for aspiring journalists or students in journalism school?

A: Yes, I think there is. Right now, we’ve got two major problems. One is that there is a lot more journalism coming from people who are untrained than there is from those who are trained. That is changing, as I said. The second, of course, are the economic difficulties: until the economy recovers, both print and online journalism are going to continue to suffer. But, are there going to be jobs? Yes.

Q: That’s encouraging. Sometimes, the future looks pretty grim. In the July/August issue of The Columbia Journalism Review, David Simon calls on the publishers of The New York Times and The Washington Post to “rescue an imploding industry and thereby achieve an essential civic good for the nation.” Simon writes, “Content matters. And you [Mr. Sulzberger and Ms. Weymouth] must find a way, in the brave new world of digitization, to make people pay for that content. If you do this, you still have a product and there is still an industry, a calling, and a career known as professional journalism.” Do you buy the pay wall argument?

A: There has to be some way for publications or news generators to get paid for some of their content. But I don’t know how to do it. There are three or four experiments going on now. I think sometime in the next five years they will figure this out; people will start paying for some content and it will become an important source of revenue. Newsday, a Long Island (N.Y.) newspaper, has just put all of its online material behind a pay wall. I don’t think you can do that because people can get the same kind of news in a lot of other places. Unique contributions that publications can offer the public are the ones that, I think, have the best chance of being sequestered in some way so that you have to pay to get to them. But a lot of very smart people are trying to figure this out. I don’t know enough of the details to come up with the plan. But somebody is going to.

Q: Others suggest philanthropists should come to the rescue.

A: That’s baloney. Leonard Downie, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, and Michael Schudson, a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, just put out a report ["The Reconstruction of American Journalism"]. They’re talking about philanthropy and foundations coming to the rescue. I just don’t know why a foundation would do it. You also run the danger of foundations wanting to have some control over the content if they invest a lot of money. Nothing overt maybe, but all kinds of subtle, covert things. I don’t think that’s an answer. I think some kind of payment system for online content will happen. There will be efforts to do this and, at first, they’ll fail. There will be some stumbling around. It may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. There may be a whole variety of ways, but I think it will happen.

Q: Some say the Amazon Kindle will be our saviour.

A: It’s possible. But if you are going to get a magazine reader to switch from coated paper to Kindle, it needs to be improved so that the beauty of a magazine – photographs, layout, use of interesting type and all the rest – is reproduced. The Kindle is not there yet. But some of these other reading machines coming down the line may be able to do it.

Q: Does the world still need a picture magazine?

A: My devotion to the still picture is intense. And I think that with the right kind of format, with the right kind of backing, and the right kind of culture, that a picture magazine – one that really stresses the photographic element – could work. In so many ways, television and the Internet have taken over, but I am still a believer in the idea that if you get a magnificent still picture of a news event or of rare beauty or tragedy, people really will want to study it. If you run it big, good quality, it will just stop people.

Q: In spite of having seen it on television?

A: I think because of having seen it on television. It flips by on TV and then the still picture is in front of people and they can look at it and study it. They will. I have seen them do it. Maybe the picture magazine I am talking about will be online. Or maybe, sooner or later, somebody will come along and invent a high-quality, expensive picture magazine that will catch on. I think that’s the way magazines are going to survive in the future: have lower circulation and higher prices. They are going to have more select audiences. Magazines do have an affinity with their audiences that no other medium does. Somebody is going to take advantage of that emotional tie and provide a way to showcase the majesty of the still picture that will be successful online or in print – or, God willing, both.

© Julien Russell Brunet

Email Julien Russell Brunet

Julien Russell Brunet is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto, TrinityCollege, studying economics and political science. In the summer of 2009, Julien was the Ann MacGregor memorial intern at Maclean’s, Canada‘s only national weekly current affairs magazine. In 2007-2008, he was a research assistant to Kenneth Whyte, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Maclean’s, for his book, “The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst” (Random House Canada, 2008). After completing his undergraduate degree, Julien would like to pursue graduate studies and a career in journalism.

JFK: How the Media Assassinated the Real Story

By Robert Hennelly and Jerry Policoff


If the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was one of the darkest tragedies in the republic’s history, the reporting of it has remained one of the worst travesties of the American media. From the first reports out of Dallas in November of 1963 to the merciless flagellation of Oliver Stone’s JFK over the last several months, the mainstream media have disgraced themselves by hewing blindly to the single-assassin theory advanced by the FBI within hours of the murder. Original, enterprise reporting has been left almost entirely to alternative weeklies, monthly magazines, book publishers, and documentary makers. All such efforts over the last 29 years have met the same fate as Oliver Stone’s movie: derision from the mainstream media. At first, the public bought the party line. But gradually, as more and more information slipped through the margins of the media business, and finally through the efforts of Congress itself, the public began to change its mind.

http://www.ctka.net/policoff.html

Time-Life

While the Times was busy selling the Warren Commission story, Life magazine went one step beyond that, actively intervening to spirit away crucial physical evidence in the case. Aside from swooping down on Oswald’s wife and mother and sequestering them in a hotel room to protect Life’s exclusive interviews, Life was in Dallas making arrangements to buy the original Zapruder film only four hours after the assassination. Of the four existing home movies taken that day in DealeyPlaza, the 8mm film, shot by a middle-aged dress manufacturer, was considered to be the best record of JFK’s murder. According to Richard Stolley, who is currently the editorial director of Time Inc. and who handled the Zapruder transaction for Life, the order to acquire the film and “withhold it from public viewing” came from Life’s publisher, C.D. Jackson.

And who was C.D. Jackson? A staunch anticommunist who played a crucial role in the direction of U.S. policy throughout the 1950s, both as “psychological war advisor” to Eisenhower and as a member of anticommunist front groups, Jackson’s publication had long been known for “always pulling chestnuts out of the fire for the CIA,” as the late Drew Pearson once put it. Having shelled out $150,000 for the film (the Zapruder family attorney claims the number was even higher), Stolley headed back to New York with the original print under his arm, leaving investigators with a copy that was next to worthless in terms of forensic analysis. By permitting the chain of custody to include Life magazine, and by accepting a mere copy of a crucial piece of evidence, the law-enforcement authorities were well on their way to compromising their investigation. The critical Zapruder film was kept exclusively in the hands of Time Inc. and out of the public’s reach for the next 12 years, allowing Life to take the American people on one of the longest rides ever in American journalism.

In its very first issue after the assassination, Life seriously misrepresented the content of the Zapruder film, a practice that would continue until the film finally gained general release in 1975. The doctors at ParklandHospital, who had worked on the president, had reported that he had suffered an “apparent” entrance wound to the throat. Since the book depository, from which Oswald had allegedly fired, was to the presidential limousine’s rear, how, some were beginning to wonder, did the president suffer a frontal throat wound? Life’s December 6, 1963, edition gave a simple and conclusive explanation, based on the Zapruder film, an answer only Life could provide. Wrote Life: “The 8mm [Zapruder] film shows the President turning his body far around to the right as he waves to someone in the crowd. His throat is exposed to the sniper’s nest just before he clutches it.” This description of the Zapruder film went a long way toward allaying fears of conspiracy in those early days, for it explained away a troublesome inconsistency in the lone assassin scenario. There was only one problem: The description of the Zapruder film was a total fabrication. Although the film shows Kennedy turning to the right—toward the grassy knoll, that is—at no time does he turn 180 degrees toward the book depository. Indeed, by the time he is hit, he is once again turning toward the front.

Even this yeoman’s effort pales, though beside Life’s October 2, 1964 edition which was largely committed to the newly released Warren report. Rather than assign a staff writer the job of assessing the committee’s work, Life gave the assignment to Warren Commission member Gerald Ford. But it is not the articles in that edition of Life that are so extraordinary, but the pictures, and the pains that were taken to rework them so they fit the Warren report perfectly. The October 2, 1964, issue underwent two major revisions after it hit the stands, expensive changes that required breaking and resetting plates twice, a highly unusual occurrence. That issue of Life was illustrated with eight frames of the Zapruder film along with descriptive captions. One version of caption 6 read: “The assassin’s shot struck the right rear portion of the President’s skull, causing a massive wound and snapping his head to one side.” The photo accompanying this caption—frame 323—shows the president slumped back against the seat, and leaning to the left, an instant after the fatal bullet struck him. The photo makes it look as though shots came from the front—the railroad trestle—or the right—the grassy knoll. A second version of the issue replaces this frame with another, the graphic shot of the president’s head exploding (frame 313). Blood fills the air and all details are obscured. The caption, oddly enough, remained the same—describing his head snapping to one side. A third version carries this same 313 slide—frame 323 has been thrown on the dumpheap of history—but now with a new caption, one that jibes perfectly with the Warren Commission’s findings. “The direction from which shots came was established by this picture taken at the instant the bullet struck the rear of the President’s head and, passing through, caused the front part of his skull to explode forward.” Nice try. Of course, as all the world would learn years later, it was the back of the president’s skull that would explode, suggesting an exit wound, and sending Jackie Kennedy crawling reflexively across the trunk of the limousine to try to salvage the pieces. But this would not be fully understood until the Zapruder film itself had been seen in its entirety. For the moment, the only people in a position to spot Life’s error were the Secret Service, the FBI, and possibly the busy pressmen at R. R. Donnelly, who must have piled up a lot of overtime trying to keep up with the ever-changing facts. (Life wasn’t the only publication on the assassination to have bizarre layout problems. The Warren Commission Report itself never addressed the backward motion of the president’s head, thus sparing itself the burden of having to explain it. This omission was facilitated by the reversal of the two frames following the explosive frame 313 in the Warren Commission’s published volumes, which considerably confused the issue by making it seem as if the head jerked forward. J. Edgar Hoover later blamed the switch on a “printing error.”)

Life’s exclusive monopoly on the Zapruder film came in just as handy for Dan Rather, CBS’s New Orleans bureau chief, who was permitted by Zapruder to see the film before it was whisked off to the vault. Rather told the world he had seen the film and that the president “fell forward with considerable force.” (CBS spokesman Tom Goodman told the Voice that Rather only got to see the film briefly and viewed it on a “crude hand-cranked 8mm machine.”)

What was the effect of these misrepresentations of the Zapruder evidence? One can only guess, but they could well have been crucial to the public’s faith in the single-assassin theory. British journalist Anthony Summers, author of the book Conspiracy,speculates that “if they had shown the film on CBS the weekend of the assassination or at any time the following year there would not have been anyone in America who would not have believed that the shots came from the front of the President and that there was therefore a conspiracy.”

Meanwhile, Life’s sister publication, Time, did its best to swat away any and all conspiracy talk. Time countered the ground swell of conspiracy rumors in Europe with an article in its June 12, 1964, issue. Entitled “J.F.K.: The Murder and the Myths,” the article blamed the speculation on “leftist” writers and publications seeking a “rightist conspiracy.” Proponents of further investigation suffered fates similar to that of Thomas Buchanan, who in 1964 wrote the first book critical of the Warren Report, Who Killed Kennedy? Buchanan’s thesis was groundless, Time argued, because he had allegedly been “fired by the Washington Star in 1948 after he admitted membership in the Communist party.”

By late 1966, however, it was getting harder for the media to hold the line. Calls for a reexamination of the Warren Report now came from former Kennedy aides Arthur Schlesinger and Richard Goodwin, The Saturday Evening Post, the Vatican newspaperL’Osservatore, Walter Lippmann, Cardinal Cushing, William F. Buckley, and the AmericanAcademy of Forensic Sciences. It was in this climate that the New York Times initiated its first independent investigation of the assassination. By 1966 The Timesseemed to be moving away from its stance of unquestioning support for the Warren report. In a November 1966 editorial, the paper acknowledged that there were “Unanswered Questions.”

Harrison Salisbury, then editor of the [Times] op-ed page, called for a new investigation in the pages of The Progressive.Salisbury, who had been a solid supporter of the Warren Commission initially, also told Newsweek that the Times would “go over all the areas of doubt and hope to eliminate them.” That investigation lasted for less than a month. The best look inside the brief investigation came in a Rolling Stone interview with New York Times reporter and assassination investigation team member Martin Waldron. Waldron told Rolling Stone that the team found “a lot of unanswered questions” that the Times did not choose to pursue.

Even Life was beginning to feel the pressure to address the critics and their substantive observations. In 1966 Ed Kearns, Dick Billings, and Josiah Thompson were given the green light to review the Kennedy murder, which would culminate in a magazine series taking a critical look at the Warren Report. Their efforts produced the November 25, 1966Life cover story, “Did Oswald Act Alone? A Matter of Reasonable Doubt.” Accompanying the article was an editorial that called for a new investigation.

Paradoxically, Time in the same week editorially attacked the “phantasmagoria,” dismissing both the Warren Commission’s doubters and the calls for a new investigation. Questioned by The New York Times about the editorial schism at Time-Life, Headley Donovan, editor in chief of both magazines, said, “We would like to see our magazines arrive at consistent positions on major issues, and I am sure in due course we will on this one.” Indeed. Within months, Billings was told by a superior he won’t name, “It is not Life’s function to investigate the Kennedy assassination.” The investigative team was disbanded. The first article in the series was also the last.

But team member Thompson, a former philosophy professor turned private detective, had laboriously made 300 four-by-five transparencies of the suppressed film. After his work with Life he kept this cache and resumed work on his book Six Seconds in Dallas. Thompson and his publisher, Bernard Geis, sought unsuccessfully to get permission from Life to use the Zapruder shots. They offered to turn over all the proceeds from the book to the print giant. The answer was still no. Without the use of the images of the Zapruder film, or at least some facsimile of them, Thompson would have a hard time clinching his argument that Kennedy was hit from the front in the notorious head shot, Zapruder frame 313. After consultation with an attorney, Thompson and Geis decided to have an artist render drawings based on Thompson’s slide-by-slide copy of the contraband film. When the book was ready to be distributed by Random House, the Time-Life steamroller puffed into action and threatened Random House with legal action in the event they went ahead and distributed the book. According to Geis, Random House was ready to cave in to Time-Life, and Geis geared up to send trucks over to the Random House warehouse to pick up the books. In the eleventh hour Random House reconsidered and decided to publish Six Seconds in Dallas, thus giving the American public its first view, albeit as an artist’s rendering, of the most compelling piece of evidence from the assassination of Kennedy. Life was so furious that it took Thompson and his publisher to court on a copyright infringement; the magazine lost because it could not claim financial damage—after all, Thompson had offered all the proceeds to Life. Despite Thompson’s expensive victory (all the legal fees fighting Time Inc. consumed the income from his book), the company’s grip on the film remained every bit as strong as it had been.

Such efforts, large and small, mostly succeeded in keeping the Warren critics marginalized. But finally, the lid blew off in 1975 when activist Dick Gregory and optics expert Robert Groden approached Geraldo Rivera with a newly unearthed clear copy of the Zapruder film. Finally, the American public was to see the Zapruder film in its entirety, unmediated by any editors or censors. ABC’s Good Night America show was the first national television airing of the film to include the deadly frame 313. (Pirated copies had started to crop up in the mid ’60s but were of such poor quality they had no dramatic impact.) “It was one of those things where I said [to ABC], ‘It gets on or I walk,’” Rivera told the Voice. ABC relented, but only after Rivera agreed to sign a waiver accepting sole financial responsibility if Time or the Zapruder family sued. Rivera maintains that Time-Life did not sue because “they were blown away by the reaction to the program.” The airing of the Zapruder film on Rivera’s show was a catalyst for renewed interest in the murder and ultimately culminated in four congressional investigations into various aspects of the controversy. It is probably no accident that Time-Life sold the original film back to Zapruder’s estate for one dollar the following month. (Today, for $75—with costs waived for poor scholars—you can view a VHS copy of the film. The Zapruder estate recently turned down an offer to turn the frames into baseball cards.)

Oliver Stone’s movie JFK relies on the Zapruder film to support the film’s central contention that Kennedy’s fatal wound came from the front, and that therefore a conspiracy existed. Referring to the 8mm film, Stone told the Voice: “It was key. It is the best smoking gun we have to date.” Despite the compelling use of the Zapruder film in Stone’s movie, the man who helped acquire it for Time-Life remains convinced that the Warren Commission got it right and that Oswald did in fact shoot Kennedy from the book depository. “There is nothing in the Zapruder film which contradicts the Warren report,” says Dick Stolley. Oddly enough, the man who shot the film, Abraham Zapruder, according to an article authored by Stolley in the November 1973 Esquire, told the Lifereporter, “My first impression was that the shots were coming from behind me”—that is, from the infamous grassy knoll. Stolley now maintains that the urge to control the Zapruder film had to do with beating out the competition. If the competition was a contest to suppress the most evidence possible, then Life certainly won hands down. But if the competition Stolley refers to is journalistic competition, one wonders why Life bothered….


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 38 other followers