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Wednesday, 15 August 2007 19:00

Vincent Bugliosi, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

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With statements like Mr. Goetzman's, one doubts if Goetzman, Hanks and Paxton really read Bugliosi's 2,740 pages or any of the critical literature released prior, or subsequent, to Reclaimimg History - especially within a month's time.


I

"Vincent Bugliosi is working on a book, in which he plans to evaluate the most important issues in the JFK case."

No, this was not a publisher's coming attraction blurb posted last book season on Amazon.com. Rather, it was the lead item in Paul Hoch's newsletter, Echoes of Conspiracy, from October 16, 1987! Twenty years later, famed Manson gang prosecutor Bugliosi and publisher W.W. Norton have delivered a massive, oversized tome. And what it lacks in new (or old) persuasive material it makes up for in sarcasm, invective, and ad hominem attacks directed at critics of the Warren Commission's findings.

It may seem unusual to employ Bugliosi's name in the same vein as Shakespeare's, but amidst all of his bluster and bombast this reviewer was ultimately reminded of the line from Act 5 of Macbeth. To paraphrase: Reclaiming History is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

To trace the genesis of this work one has to go back to a mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald sponsored by London Weekend Television over the course of three days in late July of 1986. Copious hours of footage were edited down to four hours and broadcast in 2-hour installments over two consecutive nights on November 21 and 22, 1986 on the Showtime cable channel. (It was broadcast in England and other European countries as well). Bugliosi was selected as the "prosecutor" and Oswald was represented posthumously by noted attorney Gerry Spence. Actual witnesses were called to the stand and the overall production was fairly noteworthy. As one who videotaped the program and watched it several times later, I came away from it feeling Gerry Spence was ill-prepared. (Bugliosi goes to great lengths in his book to dispel this, noting all of the time and resources Spence spent on the case). After deliberating for a day, the mock jury returned a verdict of guilty. As much as Bugliosi likes to remind his audience of this fact in both the book and interviews, he obviously views this as quite the feather in his cap. And he should. For just after the trial, Bugliosi signed a contract with Norton and received a generous advance (rumor has put it as high a $1,000,000) to write about the trial and the case in general. Indeed Bugliosi writes in his introduction that he commenced work on the book following the trial in 1986, bringing the tally on his time card for the project up to 21 years.

II

Flash forward several years from the trial and Bugliosi still hasn't delivered a book. In the intervening years however numerous events have transpired, not the least of which was Oliver Stone's 1991 film, JFK. Stone's film electrified audiences with its pro-conspiracy slant and led to the formation of the temporary government body, the Assassination Records and Review Board. After the ARRB closed its doors in 1998, some six million pages of documents had been disgorged from various government agencies and private citizens and placed in the National Archives. Bugliosi, whose mandate was to cover all aspects of the JFK case, now had a daunting task on his hand. Indeed, in the August 18, 1998 edition of the New York Post they announced that "Bugliosi's Final Verdict Delayed." (The book's original title was Final Verdict: The Simple Truth on the Killing of John F. Kennedy). Quoting a spokeswoman for Norton, the article acknowledged that, "Vincent asked for more time with the manuscript and people felt that this was not a book that they wanted to rush into print ... It was in the fall ('98) catalog - so we must have thought in April that it was realistic for publication this year." According to the Post "the book will now be bumped to the spring of 1999." (Bugliosi was only eight years late). Now, at the 11th hour the tireless senior citizen doggedly combed through the archives, interviewed numerous witnesses, kept up on all of the assassination literature and began writing his magnum opus. (Actually the low-tech Bugliosi dictated his manuscript into a Dictaphone and had a dictation secretary type up his work. Bugliosi would then handwrite edits and inserts on yellow legal paper for further typing). All of this while churning out 3 other books!

III

What was ultimately delivered was a bloated, padded defense of the indefensible: the single bullet theory and the other conclusions of the Warren Commission. The book totals 1,612 oversized pages and weighs in at a whopping 5+ pounds. On top of that, it includes a CD-ROM which contains an additional 1,128 pages of source notes and endnotes, requiring the reader to have a computer by his side. (something that apparently Bugliosi doesn't even have). Indeed, Bugliosi admits that if he had followed standard publishing conventions his work would have totaled 13 volumes!

What strikes one most upon reading Bugliosi's work is the amount of ad hominem attacks he launches at the JFK research community. Few are spared Bugliosi's vitriol. Most are referred to as "zanies" (Bugliosi's favorite. It's even used in a chapter title).The Chief Military Analyst for the ARRB is called "insane," "obscenely irresponsible", "harebrained" and his theories "mad." Joachim Joesten, an early critic, is a "communist". Colonel Fletcher Prouty is a "wacky, right-winger." Mark Lane - a "left-winger."

"Conspiracy theorist" is Bugliosi's term of choice for JFK researchers and in Bugliosi's hands it is a pejorative. It is tossed about in the same manner that "commie" and "pinko" were some fifty and sixty years ago.

Indeed, the most troubling aspect of Bugliosi's name-calling campaign is the amount of red-baiting in the book. As if stuck in a time warp, Bugliosi trots out such fractured tidbits as "Mark Lane was the slickest and most voluble of the early left-wing group of writers, and the KGB (per copies of documents from KGB files spirited out of Russia by a KGB defector in 1992) even contributed two thousand dollars, through an intermediary whose association with the KGB Lane was probably unaware of, to Lane's efforts." Bugliosi devotes a whole chapter to his Lane bashing.

Bugliosi further smears Lane (as well as Harold Weisberg) by quoting Johann Rush who accuses Lane and Weisberg as being "leftists sympathetic to Marxist ideology." Bugliosi quotes Rush throughout his book and Rush's anti-communist screeds make INCA's Ed Butler sound like FDR. Bugliosi even uses Rush as an "expert" commentator on the acoustic evidence. Right about now the reader may be asking: "Who is Johann Rush?" Well, Bugliosi's political and scientific expert is the WDSU cameraman who filmed Oswald's 1963 pamphleteering mission in front of the New Orleans International Trade Mart! As for Joachim Joesten, without a bit of shame Bugliosi presents Joesten's Gestapo file, intelligence prepared by the Nazi's, as proof of his communist leanings. (The file was originally requested of the CIA by the Warren Commission as a means of countering Joesten's early criticism of the lone assassin theory. The CIA was only too happy to oblige in the smear job as evidenced by the comments written by a CIA official on the routing slip; "Let's really stick it to him!"

Even this author's modest effort in the field (Let Justice Be Done) gets a trip to Bugliosi's wood shed and a look at how he treats my work may give some insight on how he deals with others in the field as well.

On page 980 of the main text he writes; "Conspiracy author William Davy, who believes Clay Shaw was involved in Kennedy's assassination, writes, "Curiously, both Somoza and Juan Peron were patients and friends of Shaw's close associate, Dr. Alton Ochsner ... Ochsner is best known for his association with Ed Butler and the Information Council of the Americas, or INCA ... INCA was composed of several members of the New Orleans elite. These included ... Eustis and William B. Reily. The Reily family owned William B. Reily & Co., makes of Luzianne coffee. It was at Reily's where Oswald found work as a machine greaser in the summer of 1963""

It's important to note the dots between the sentences in Bugliosi's presentation above, because what he has done is quote my work from 3 different pages and 2 distinct chapters, separated by 117 pages and then presents it as a seamless narrative. Of course, you would have to check his endnote, inconveniently located on the CD-ROM, as well as my book, to verify this. At numerous points in his book, Bugliosi takes the critics to task for just this kind of conduct.

Further distortion of the record is on page 824 of the notes section, where Bugliosi writes that, "Conspiracy author William Davy suspects [Leslie Norman] Bradley of possibly being involved in the assassination because on August 21, 1966, a Houston man named S. M. Kauffroth wrote the FBI office in Houston and said that Bradley had told him on November 24, 1963,that after being released from the Cuban prison in May of 1963 it was tough to survive financially but that Clay Shaw was "helping us.""

I defy any reader of my book to find a passage where I insinuate, imply or anywhere state that Bradley was involved in the assassination. I quote only what is in the FBI document that Bugliosi notes above.

Bugliosi keeps his dismal track record intact when he states that I wrote that Permindex is a "CIA front." He then cites pages 95 and 98 of my book. However, on page 95, the CIA isn't even mentioned and on page 98 it is mentioned only in the context of a quote in the Italian newspapers as to that possibility.

I could go on, but I'm sure the reader gets the point. One last thing though is his attempted smear of me with guilt by association. On page 543 he writes that Judyth Baker's allegations of her affair with Oswald and other New Orleans intrigues "looks like any other conspiracy book that could have been written by, well, Harrison Livingstone, or Robert Groden, or Jim Garrison, or William Davy, with all the allegations of conspiracy one would expect to find in these books." At no point have I ever endorsed (publicly or privately) or even written about Ms. Baker's Harlequin Romance version of events in New Orleans.

At this point one has to wonder if Bugliosi even fully read my book.

IV

Of course the mainstream media response to all of this can be summarized in one word: predictable. Ever since their rush to judgment in endorsing the Warren Report in 1964, they have been looking for a redeemer to pull their bacon out of the credibility fire. The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Washington Post and many of the cable news outlets have practically tripped over themselves in their ardent endorsements. The Washington Post teased its readers with a blurb on the cover to their Book World magazine that read: JFK's Murder Solved. Inside, the review was headlined, "Goodbye, Grassy Knoll". The adoration was heaped on by reviewer Alan Wolfe who, like Bugliosi, couldn't resist the name calling: Mark Lane is overweening and paranoid, Oliver Stone is irresponsible.

However, The Post's review was bush league compared to The New York Times reviewer who urged that anyone who believes in conspiracies should be marginalized, ridiculed and shunned, "the way we do smokers." The remarks were so strident that it provoked a response in the form of a letter to the editor signed by author Norman Mailer, and journalists David Talbot, Jefferson Morley and Anthony Summers.

The media love fest seemed to have played itself out early and the book would probably have died the ignominious death it so richly deserves except Forest Gump came to the rescue. Shortly after the book was released Variety announced:

"HBO is near a deal with Playtone that will turn Vincent Bugliosi's 1,632-page book "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy" into a miniseries.

Ten-parter will debunk long-held conspiracy theories and establish that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

HBO is wrapping up a deal to finance and air the mini, which will depict Oswald's journey to becoming an assassin and his subsequent murder on live TV by Jack Ruby.

Playtone's Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman will exec produce along with their "Big Love" star Bill Paxton.

The network will make a companion documentary special, with Bugliosi addressing myriad conspiracy theories, including those involving the Mafia, the KGB or Fidel Castro in JFK's assassination.

Project was hatched after Hanks, Paxton and Goetzman had a conversation about the shooting. They decided to look at Bugliosi's book, published last month by W.W. Norton, as the basis for a possible project.

"I totally believed there was a conspiracy, but after you read the book, you are almost embarrassed that you ever believed it," Goetzman said. "To think that guys who grew up in the '60s would make a miniseries supporting the idea that Oswald acted alone is something I certainly wouldn't have predicted. But time and evidence can change the way we view things."

"Many more people will see the miniseries than will read the book," Bugliosi told Daily Variety. "With the integrity that Tom, Gary and Bill bring, I think that we will finally be able to make a substantial dent in the 75% of people in this country who still believe the conspiracy theorists."

With statements like Mr. Goetzman's, one doubts if Goetzman, Hanks and Paxton really read Bugliosi's 2,740 pages or any of the critical literature released prior, or subsequent, to Reclaimimg History - especially within a month's time. (For an example of a book that would make for a much more compelling dramatic narrative, the aforementioned should check out David Talbot's Brothers.)

If the readers find HBO's position as offensive as I do, try cancelling your subscription to their service and let the VPs of the network and Mr. Hanks' representatives know of your displeasure. It's your history. Reclaim it.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 22:46
William Davy

Bill Davy has been writing and researching the JFK case, with an emphasis on the Jim Garrison inquiry, since the early 1990s.  He became a contributor to Probe Magazine and then did a monograph on Clay Shaw.  That long essay turned into his fine book, Let Justice Be Done: New Light on the Jim Garrison Investigation.  Thereafter he continued to write essays and reviews for CTKA, and has also spoken at various conferences on the JFK case.

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