See Additional Reviews of Inside the Target Car
- By Dr. David W. Mantik
- Part One of James DiEugenio
- Part Two of James DiEugenio
- Part Three of James DiEugenio
The JFK Assassination Aftermath and TV Shows
One would think that once the Warren Report (WR) hit the stands in 1964 the government would have said, "there you have it", and moved on to something else. However, there were so many flaws within that it invited a fair amount of criticism. Although the critics were quickly pointed out to be un-American, they continued to grow in number and volume. Their voice threatened to drown out that of the Warren Commission. Something had to be done.
Some on the Commission, like Allen Dulles, actually believed the American public would not bother to read the WR. Apparently, they believed that their appeal to authority, dictated by those supposedly the most revered in our government, would be sufficient. They thought that the American public was merely 'sheeple', and would do as they were told. They were wrong.
In order to quickly cover their tracks, a special posse was formed behind the scenes devoted to stomping out the growing Critical Community (sometimes called Conspiracy Theorists, or CT's). New books were quickly written to re-emphasize the 'conclusions' of the WR, while some new CT books were written in order to confuse the CT community. And someone in the posse (which we will refer to as the Ongoing Cover-up, or OC) had an 'aha' moment when it came to pushing the WR agendas on that new media called TV.
So into the fray jumped the networks, anxious to please; most of them probably co-opted by the OC even prior to the JFK assassination. The sheeple believe our newscasters. So, of course, they would believe what these people had to say about the assassination. This spewing of TV jargon would be more persuasive to the sheeple than any doubts they might have had. Quickly, a TV show on the WR was developed. Others followed. The Jim Garrison investigation was decimated by the NBC White Paper propaganda show against him. The OC had hit the big-time, and television had become the new means of controlling the public.
Which brings us to the present. Fairly recently, the Discovery Channel decided to fund shows on the JFK assassination. Their ultimate conclusion, after allegedly looking 'objectively' at all the facts, was—you guessed it—a recrowning of the Warren Commission. On the other hand, in 2004 the SPEED Channel did a one-hour documentary on the Presidential Limousine,. This was called Behind the Headlights: JFK Presidential Limousine (currently available on You Tube.) This program, for which I helped develop the script and was interviewed for, was conspiracy-based and contained new information about what happened to the limo after the assassination. It clearly demonstrated that the limo was the primary crime scene and that there had been a cover-up. How could this be allowed to stand? So somebody at Discovery Channel had a bright idea to do a program focusing on the limo as the crime scene. And that brings us to "JFK: Inside the Target Car", and my participation in it.
A few years earlier, a production company called Creative Differences called me. A producer named Robert Erickson interviewed me by phone for possible involvement in a show they were doing for the Discovery Channel. It came to be called Beyond the Magic Bullet (BTMB). This was broadcast in 2004. The show ultimately progressed in a different direction, and I was not included. I had been involved with a few other TV programs around that time. Most notably the Fox News 2-hour JFK assassination special entitled Case Not Closed in 2003, and a pilot for the show Tech Effect which ended up being too expensive to complete. Interacting with the producers of those shows had left me calm and empowered. Interacting with Erickson left me vaguely uncomfortable.
As a rule, I do not spend much time watching Warren Commission apologist shows. I did watch the single bullet test in BTMB, but was put off by the shows' easily-apparent hypocrisy. They had not even bothered to specify which exact single bullet scenario they were attempting to follow. Another heads-up I should have taken more seriously.
So when Robert Erickson e-mailed me last spring about the new show his company Creative Differences was doing on the limo for the DC, I did not exactly leap right into it. But I did decide to keep an open mind.
Initially, I did not have any suspicions about the show being scripted to coincide with a Warren Commission apologist agenda--even though common sense told me that could probably be a factor. The script looked interesting. Though much of it was a rehash of my 2004 SPEED Channel documentary. Which was puzzling. Plus, it included an objective which has been one of my major priorities for over 10 years: to view the limo windshield held at the National Archives (NARA). I was to go to Washington DC with the producers and they would hire a glass forensic expert. The windshield would be examined and photographed in High Definition. How much more exciting could an investigation get?
I enlisted the aid of Congressman Jim Ramsted, who wrote a dynamite letter endorsing the request to NARA to view the windshield. I thought: What could possibly go wrong? Little did I know.
Erickson had spoken with Bob Casey, the curator for Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where the rebuilt limo is on display. Casey mentioned that Lincoln Motors had begun etching numbers into the windshields of its cars during the sixties. Was it possible that the NARA windshield contained such a number? If so, it might be possible to track it down to determine if it was the one in the limo when it was delivered to the White House garage in June of 1961. More importantly, it might be possible to determine if it was the one in the car during the assassination.
The DC letter and the Ramsted letter were sent to NARA at the end of April. We waited anxiously. In a few weeks, we heard back. Apparently, they had sent someone scurrying down to the windshield to check for a number etched on the edge, and when they didn't find one, heaved a sigh of relief and refused our request. The door to viewing the windshield had been shut. However, a new one was about to open.
Trip to Dearborn
In June we continued with the next section of the program. Bob Casey and I were to be interviewed next to the rebuilt limousine at Henry Ford Museum. Robert Erickson was waiting for me at the Detroit airport. He was very pleasant, yet cool and somehow calculating. I began to have the sensation that perhaps I was being set up. We had dinner at a Chili's and discussed the questions he would ask in the interview the next morning. Apparently, I was being relegated to fill-in material, as none of the questions were very interesting or exciting. I tried to figure out an angle where I could contribute something new to the show, but seemed to be blocked. What do you want me to say? I asked. I then added: "You've given all my best lines away." It was a very frustrating evening. Here I was being told that I was needed because I was 'the limo expert', but I was obviously being sidelined for some unknown reason. Erickson also asked me about some of the more far-out theories connected to the limo and what I thought about them. He asked me about getting in touch with a few other fringe CT researchers. I gave him what information I had, and then had an insight: "He's trolling for kooks," I thought. Little did I know I was one of them.
Erickson also talked about the previous program, Beyond the Magic Bullet. He said the feedback on the show had been pretty negative, and didn't understand why. Without explaining that I had not watched the entire show, I talked to him about my idea of different SB scenarios. I referenced an article I had written on them, called "The Pretty Pig's Saturday Night." I told him, "By not specifying which scenario you were following, you were setting yourself up for trouble." He didn't seem to understand.
The Henry Ford interviews were to be done before the doors opened, which meant that the set-up began at around 5:30 a.m. The Museum was dark and quiet—an extraordinary event in itself. There was a small group of girls who scarfed us up coffee and bottles of juice and water. A woman from the research staff was also present. The cameraman worked quickly and at 6:15 Erickson said, "Shall we get started"? I had been looking over my notes for valuable information to add to the bland questions, and quickly switched gears.
The interview was boring and rote, and I was unable to contribute much more than the bare bones that had been previewed the night before. I got to sit at the rear of the limo; an hour later Bob Casey sat at the front. I had a chance afterward to walk around the Museum in the quiet, looking at the other presidential limousines, the autos, planes, trains and vacuum cleaners from years gone by. That in itself was a dream come true.
The Museum opened, light streamed in the windows, and the Kennedy limousine was again the center of attention. The crowds were kept back as the 'beauty shots' of the limo were filmed; some from the camera mounted on a dolly, moving silently back and forth. It was a beautiful sight. Afterwards, a staffer did some measurements of the limo rear seat and we were allowed to take photos of her holding the measuring tape. We were not allowed inside the limo. A low blow.
After the cameraman had packed up his gear, we all went to lunch and discussed plans for the rest of the day. We thought about going to the Gerald Ford Library, as there were some interesting documents there. Erickson also mentioned possibly seeing a replica limo that they planned to borrow for a day. Before I knew it, we were looking at the only other limo built from the Hess ∓ Eisenhardt blueprints (not available to the public) by Kevin MacDonald, a protege of Hess. The car had been built back in the 80's, and used for the movie JFK, as well as for other movies and TV shows. The top was off, a bottle of water lay on a jump seat and a container of tennis balls had been tossed carelessly in the back seat. It was hardly stately, but my heart was in my throat. This was the car as it had looked on November 22, 1963.
The car was in some ways exquisite, and in others grotesque. The jump seats were the wrong shape and covered in plastic rather than leather; the metal handholds were not correctly shaped. The tires were modern. The plexi-glass top sections were opaque and could only be used with the canvas cover. The rear seat was not built up; as of course, it did not contain the mechanisms to move it up and down as had the original. Otherwise, the car was a gem. We took measurements and photos of it, and reluctantly left. "I don't know what to do," said Erickson, "now that the NARA segment has been scrubbed." "Go to the car, I said."
And so began the process that culminated in the replica limo being shipped to Dallas, and the possibility of having a true reenactment of the fatal shot of the assassination.
In our last discussion later that day, Erickson and I went over all the limo photos and documents I had brought with me. We talked about the black ∓ white FBI photos, taken during the forensic exam early Saturday morning. We talked about the color SS photos, CE 352 and CE 353. Erickson kept insisting they had been taken during the FBI exam. No, I patiently explained, they were not taken until late Saturday afternoon. Which was well over 24 hours after the assassination. And after the Secret Service had scoured the car for hours, and later, the FBI had done the same thing, including removing the rear seat. I tried to explain: There was no way that these photos could resemble what the car had looked like at Parkland Hospital. However, it felt as though I were talking to a brick wall. Later I came to realize that the actual timing of the photos was irrelevant; the timing had to be juggled to give Erickson and Dealey Plaza consultant Gary Mack what they wanted.
Replica Limo in Dallas and a Test
About two weeks later the replica limo had arrived in Dallas, and was available for shooting for a week. Although I was on the outside from this point on, it was exciting to think that there would be a chance to do an accurate re-enactment of the fatal headshot (and disprove the Warren Commission in the process). Also, they would be able to copy the measurements of the rear section of the replica limo for their firing test simulator, which would just be a crude copy in plywood. E-mails went back and forth between Erickson and me. I suggested that they use Zapruder film frame 312 ( Z-312) head position as the focus point for their reenactment. I hoped that if they followed through on this, they would discover that both the Commission and House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) positions were wrong. Obviously, I expected to hear some follow-up questions about it.
Surely there would be some discussion as to the difference between the Warren Commission, HSCA and Z-312 angles for JFK's head? Yet, this did not happen. They did have other experts on hand. What were they being told? Did they just choose a position that they felt their test would fare better with? If Abraham Zapruder could see the back of JFK's head in Z-312, how could it be totally accessible from the sniper's nest, which was many feet up the street? Wouldn't Kennedy's head have to be tilted on both a horizontal and vertical plane? And when one looks at other films, this appears to be the case.
"Where would a shot from the grassy knoll have come from?" Erickson asked. Not being there, I could not be specific, so I suggested: "Use a representative spot." At one point, Erickson seemed concerned that there was no clear shot with the correct trajectory from the grassy knoll unless someone was standing on something, such as a car. That was puzzling to me. But again, at a distance, there was nothing much to say. Of course, by this time, the Sixth Floor Museum's Gary Mack was literally at the center of everything.
Firing Tests in LA
Next came the actual tests. The replica skulls were designed by the Australian company Adelaide T ∓ E and were expensive. They were supposed to react exactly as a human head would. Nobody bothered to mention to me that they were mounted on a rigid neck. While I had been asked for feedback, I tried to walk a tightrope between answering their questions and not doing their homework for them. In addition, I wanted to remain outside and objective and not unintentionally put anything into the mix that might invalidate the test. Such was my naivetÈ. Had I known they were going to use nothing like a real neck or torso, I would have asked them how they thought their test could even attempt to duplicate the fatal headshot? Because they would be unable to duplicate the 'back-and-to-the-left' head movement. No use. As it turned out, Gary Mack later in the show tries to sidestep the problem while trying to claim the test was still valid. I disagree. Apples and oranges. Then word came back that something extraordinary had happened with one of the grassy knoll tests. But what? Quickly, the show's script was rewritten to focus on the tests. It was probably at about this time that the press release was solidified. But there is little doubt that the basics were in place before this show even went into production.
I had been posting about the program on Spartacus Education Forum. One post in early September, initiated by another forum member, touched on the test. Within a few days, I received this email from Erickson:
I've been alerted to some commentaries on the web about the program. I enjoyed your article about [ ... ] and the State fair... But I would like to have you refrain from any further discussions about the program and its contents until its aired. Thanks.
Gary Mack regularly lurks at the Education Forum, though he does not condescend to post. I had little doubt who 'alerted' Erickson. A gauntlet had been thrown; a line drawn in the sand. While nothing had been said about the fact that I was being monitored, nor had I signed any confidentiality statement, it became evident that the stakes for this show were pretty high. It was at about this point that it seemed everything began to solidify into the show that became JFK: Inside the Target Car. I finally got the picture. I was on the outside; Gary Mack was on the inside. I had little doubt that with the verbal chastising would also come the excising of snippets of my interview from the final show. I began to wonder what else would happen.
The Grandiose Claims of the Discovery Channel Communications Press Release
"JFK: INSIDE THE TARGET CAR is the latest example of using break-through technology to authenticate scientific theories," said John Ford, president and general manager, Discovery Channel. "This special encompasses an intensive forensic investigation that proves the origin of the fatal bullet. It's momentous for the network to help support the science behind this definitive evidence."[...]
The results of these precision ballistics tests provide some clear answers to the events that unfolded in Dealey Plaza. Comparing the splatter patterns from these test angles, with the historical evidence gleaned from eyewitness testimony and Secret Service reports, as well as an exact digitized overlay of the Zapruder film, the forensic team draws the definitive conclusion that the fatal shot could have only come from the sixth floor window of the Book Depository and not anywhere else, just as the Warren Commission determined in 1964."
Reading this press release provided one of the bigger gut-punches I had felt since reading the Warren Report for the first time. Suddenly, everything came into focus. The press release had probably been written even prior to the tests. It defined this show, along with the other Discovery Channel offerings, as yet another means to use the fallacy of appealing to authority in order to redo the Warren Report. I was outraged. Nothing that I had experienced during the development of the show had prepared me for a press release containing claims of this magnitude. For one thing, from all I had heard, they had done absolutely nothing worthy of saying they had done more than an 'ad hoc' test. By their own admission they had no idea where a shot from the grassy knoll would have originated, nor what kind of gun or ammo would have been used. It seemed they had failed to do their homework, and had not even jumped through the modest hoops that I had offered to them. What was going on? What had I gotten myself into? I was about to find out.
First Airing of ITTC
It was with a mixed sense of curiosity and foreboding that I sat down to watch the show. Much of the early part of the show was neatly packaged, but somewhat ho-hum; including the interview with Nellie Connally, much of which had already been shown on the networks.
The scenes of the replica however, interspersed between shots of the actual limo, culminating in the re-enactment session in Dallas, were breathtaking. If nothing else had been accomplished, this remarkable car, its flaws not visible because they were in the interior, created for us a fresh sensation of being there with the Kennedys on that fatal ride.
The development of the dummy heads at Adelaide T ∓ E was fascinating. It was discomfiting, however, that there were no features on the faces. That made it very difficult to verify the alignment of the head. Was that intentional? And, of course, the heads were built on rigid necks. While Gary Mack tried to explain away the significance of that fact, I was horrified. Without a moving neck there would be no way to verify the 'back-and-to-the left' movement of the Z313 fatal headshot. There was no way any test with a rigid neck would provide anything but suggestive conclusions. Hadn't Discovery Channel realized that when they had made the high-falautin' claims in their press release? I guess not. They were on a roll.
Test One at the Grassy Knoll (GK)
Test One of the grassy knoll shot blew the entire head off of the rigid neck. This was the test, I think, that created such excitement in the emails I had received from Erickson. It didn't seem to bother them that the result was achieved with a rigid neck. Nor did it seem to bother them that the Winchester and ammo they were using might not have been that used on 11.22.63.
However, at this point, they certainly could have regrouped and analyzed their results objectively. Had they stopped jumping up and down long enough to do so, it might have occurred to them to at least change the ammunition used in the second grassy knoll shot to a frangible bullet; something postulated by numerous researchers throughout the years--me included.
Test Two at the GK
This test, however, did provide interesting input. They could have retained the blood spatter and spray frames and later compared them with the shot from the sixth floor "sniper's perch" to see if they could say anything exclusively about one spot or the other. They did not.
They did achieve an analogous amount of damage to the head, though the shot had gone through to the left side of the head. No surprise, however, as the ammo was not a frangible bullet. Rather than addressing the limitations of their test, Gary Mack then backs away by saying that if the fatal shot had come from that position on the grassy knoll fence, Jackie would have been killed. This was an error by Mack which he had to retract in his later online discussion.
So there were a number of missed opportunities in the grassy knoll tests of this show. They could have been upfront and acknowledged them, and at least qualified their claims about the results they thought they had achieved. But, oh no, they were too busy jumping in the streets! They had just destroyed the keystone of the conspiracy theorists, or so they thought. At long last, the precious Warren Report was being vindicated. Such joy, in my opinion, seems to have blinded their common sense.
Test Three at the Sniper's Nest (SN) of the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD)
Same situation—rigid neck, no passengers in the car, head at an angle where they can see the white target on the right side—definitely not Z-312. They take the shot, then rejoice in a manner that has become predictable, at an outcome that should have caused them to run for cover. The shot blew off the top of the dummy head. Skull pieces went everywhere. Nobody tracked the huge pieces that went forward—only the one that went backward. Why? The shot from the SN of the TSBD did produce a lot of spray—but then, so did the others. Because they only chose to focus on the spray of that shot, there is no definition given as to how, if at all, it differed from that of the other test shots. Without passengers in the vehicle, to be later removed, there is no possibility that whatever debris that was in the plywood model bore any resemblance to what was actually in the limo when it arrived at Parkland Hospital. Nevertheless, they merrily moved forward per their script to later make such a declaration. And, of course, there was no 'back-and-to-the-left' motion; without which, of course, they had only an ad hoc test. Of course, they did not even attempt to do that, as they had remained in blissful ignorance that the WR fatal headshot scenario was quite different than what they attempted to do.
So, what, if anything, did this test actually prove? It demonstrated that the Mannlicher Carcano ammo, from the cartridges conveniently found on the floor of the SN, probably did not cause the Z-313 head wound. The x-rays and photographs show a nearly-intact skull, not one with huge chunks of skull missing. Now, in typical Warren Report fashion, the show attempts to tie up all its loose ends with more fascinating and meaningless 'tests' and images, clumsily trying to dodge the fact that if they accomplished anything, it was to disprove the Commission, not to re-prove it. And of course, that was what I believed was the case almost right from the start. Fortunately, their hubris caused them to overlook all the clues they left in the show as to what everything really represents. But then, perhaps that is what happens when you try to get a mouthpiece for the Ongoing Cover-up to do the job of a limo researcher?
The "Corrected" Show
After numerous complaints to Discovery Channel, by me and many others, reporting the numerous inaccuracies of the show, in December another version was aired. It corrected the error that the color Secret Service photos were taken 'the next day' (as opposed to well over 24-hours after the assassination and after numerous exams) and did revise the reenactment footage to show what they believed a closer reenactment of Z-313.
Warren Report Redux and the State of the Ongoing Cover-up
So here we have yet another TV show using some of the same tactics the Commission did to try to claim they had 'reproven' the Warren Report. Although numerous flaws and loose ends were left visible, and the narrative of the show did not correspond with the so-called 'evidence' that they had found, not to mention the fact that they didn't bother to follow up on information obtained in their early test in terms of revising the later ones, they are comfortable touting the claim that they have dropped a bomb on the critical community by 'proving' the fatal headshot could not have come from the grassy knoll. And, in a perfectly illogical turn, then claiming that it could 'only' have come from the "sniper's nest". And in true Warren Report apologist form, anyone who mounts a criticism to the glaring inadequacies of the show is ridiculed, and the articles are termed 'ranting'. So too were the earliest dissenters from the Warren Commission attacked, even to the extent that they were labeled 'Communists' for refusing to follow the party line.
So here we have another excellent example, unfortunately, of just how far the OC will go to attempt to push the myth of the Warren Report. As we head toward the next big anniversary of the assassination—the 50th—we can be sure that the players are in place and the agendas at work to attempt to continue to attack and ridicule the critical community and leave no 'valid answers' to the assassination except the Warren Report. Various Kennedy assassination online forums have already been infiltrated with false Conspiracy Theorists who will, one by one, as did Gary Mack in this show, 'come to see the light' of the 'truth' of the Warren Commission. The Commission advocates are already present in the forums as well, to bring 'common sense' into the convoluted circus that the research community has become.
The OC has money and it has power. Even more so, it has persistence and tenacity. It will, I believe, continue until all the documents at the National Archives have been gutted and then released. Then they will be able to proclaim that there is 'nothing more to learn'. There is also a highly restrictive process in place at the Archives, where you practically have to be vetted by the JFK Research staff in order to see certain groups of papers which are supposed to be 'available'. And, of course, even a reasonable request to view the windshield and finally give it a proper forensic examination is subject to denial. The stakes are extremely high; for our individual freedoms were permanently compromised not only when JFK was killed but when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered before our eyes after being denied legal representation and then denied a presumption of innocence after his death.
If anything good can be accomplished by this show and its accompanying press release, let it be that it encourages us to engage once more in a battle to learn the whole truth of what happened, banding together and mentoring each other. Using an historical research process, weighing and evaluating information, rather than making appeals to authority by claiming 'conclusively', 'exclusively' or using any absolute conclusion. Nothing is absolute about the assassination except that President Kennedy, J. D. Tippit and Lee Oswald are dead, and Connally was injured. We know who killed Oswald. But we can and should move forward to a complete release of all of the remaining documents. We may then try to have the conclusions of the Commission declared null and void because they were based on denying a citizen the presumption of innocence. We have not been defeated in the past, and we do not need to be defeated in the future. Let the real research, differentiated from the type done for this program, continue.