Tuesday, 28 August 2012 14:18

Jesse Ventura's Conspiracy Theory on JFK

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Seamus Coogan looks at the way the series Conspiracy Theory handled the JFK case, and ponders why it was not what it could have been.


I: Introduction

CTKA has some respect for Jesse Ventura and his book, American Conspiracies, co-written with Dick Russell. As for Ventura's series Conspiracy Theory, I agree with Jim DiEugenio that it certainly "is what it is" and that Ventura is likely under a lot of pressure to put eyes in front of the screen. And TruTv was brave enough to run the show. But let's not romanticize them here. Their courage has a more practical application: The channel itself is obsessed with rather unstimulating and seemingly staged "reality" television shows such as Party Heat and Ma's Roadhouse and Full Throttle Saloon. Once we accept that the channel's viewers are largely male, hormonal, and not likely to be reading, say, JFK and the Unspeakable nor Ventura's latest book anytime soon, it's pretty easy to figure out that the bottom line is ratings, advertising, and cash.

Ventura has said that the series itself is there to entertain and for people to make up their own minds about what they have viewed. That's all well and good. But his work with Russell would have been a far more stable and rewarding platform to start from. If we are going for "entertainment," then I have to ask, "When did Russell's work with Ventura ever become boring or a flop with the wider public?" American Conspiracies, like his other work with Ventura, Don't Start the Revolution without Me, is a best seller. Jesse Ventura's a cult hero. He's popular. So favorable ratings would seem a given: middle-America finds him an extremely interesting figure. Indeed, Ventura turns heads around the world—hence the potential for overseas sales of the show are enormous.

Why, then, pitch the program to the lowest common denominator? I feel the show preaches far too much to an often ill-informed captive conspiracy market. As a result, it actually alienates more people than it could potentially motivate. It's not Conspiracy Theory (a title I dislike intensely—as I do not consider myself in any way a "conspiracy theorist"). Its title should instead be either Preaching to the Converted or Opportunity Lost. Indeed, the show loses it with its think-tank scenes.

It's readily apparent that the show's talent spotters, Tara-Anne Johnson and Christine Scowley, couldn't cast a net in a goldfish pond. Because one has to wonder when looking at the show's "investigators' " bios: How on earth did these people ever get cast as "investigators?" Indeed, I posit that none of Ventura's researchers—both on- and off-camera—actually know very much about what research into hidden political agendas really entails. I mean in this series they have even called David Icke and Alex Jones "experts" on certain topics. I doubt it.

Jesse Ventura is an ex-Navy Seal, pro-wrestler, author, actor, and a former mayor and governor. He is, by all accounts, a street-wise guy. As a producer, host, and star of the program then, why didn't he have, say, an ex-detective, historian, or a tough investigative journalist on his show as (at least) one of his investigators? I don't buy there being too short a turnover time for this sort of thing. Good professional research is straightforward, not convoluted, and thus time-saving. You consult with people who know their stuff and then you go ahead and make the show. It's pretty simple.

As a result, the think-tank group-talk scenes are as inauthentic as the researchers themselves. In fact, they make for some of the lamest television I have ever seen. As Tom Jeffers explains:

The only thing I hate about his show is when they all get together in the board room and someone tries to play devil's advocate. It just seems too planned and contrived. Otherwise, keep on Jesse! (Tom Jeffers: Murder Solved, November 20th 2010)

What's scary is that the bright spark who thought these scenes a "cool" idea probably thought the opening scene to the Kennedy episode was also a brilliant stroke. I disagree, and will explain why soon enough.

Now, speaking of mood setting, I realize my introduction has been a little heavy-handed. So I assure the reader that Ventura does bring some positives to this particular episode. Do they outweigh the negatives? Well that's a good question and it's going to be answered at the end. But hold tight. It's a wild ride. In particular, the first seven minutes, which Ed Wood couldn't have directed better.

II: "Ron," the Mark Felt of the New Millennium

What's astounding about the graphics and the preview is that it's almost three minutes (2:43) before any meaningful dialogue is heard. I liked how Ventura let people know about the importance of the assassination. And he is correct, the JFK case is indeed the "grand-daddy of them all," since it's where doubts about our government got started. But this is the sole bright spot here. The bridge scene that followed was so ill-conceived that I had to get some objectivity on it. So I proceeded to show the scene to a number of non-assassination minded friends and family (five people total). And they all replied (without suggestion on my behalf) that the bridge sequence was "staged," "lame," "funny," and "cheesy."

"Ron," a man in ailing health, met Ventura on a bridge overlooking what seemed like a freeway (his idea of a secret location). Now there are numerous CCTV cameras around overpasses; in particular, ones near major roads. Furthermore, any motorists coming by on the bridge would have seen those involved as camera crews. To cap it all off, Ventura and "Ron" stood directly under two rather bright, large, and ornate street lights. Where did Ventura's common sense go here? "Ron," who appears to be wheelchair-bound, claimed he was given his information while he was working on a film about the assassination. It was handed over by a young CIA operative who wanted the truth out. The stunning revelation from this young man? The CIA and Nixon were involved with the lads from Operation 40, and they killed President Kennedy.

"Ron" is clearly an amateur when it comes to secret locations. And his "secret documents" weren't very convincing either. For one, Ron's source had clearly redacted parts of the front page before he had given it to him. Thus, it looked like Ron's friend had in fact censored "the truth" for him.

The likely reality is that Ron's buddy in the CIA was a narrative creation, and that these documents were just a badly cobbled together batch of photo-copied or printed Freedom of Information (FOIA) documents. In one shot, we can clearly see that one of the sheets is a House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) letter to Thomas Downing, apparently discussing the appointment of its first director Richard Sprague—which has nothing to do with Richard Nixon and Operation 40. Nor does the Oswald backyard photo that can clearly be seen in another shot. My favorite top-secret government document, however, is one that can be seen at 5:32 entitled, "The Guns that Killed Kennedy," which is one of the most up-front releases from the CIA I have ever seen.

This strongly suggests that "Ron" is a narrative creation himself, and, in all likelihood, a researcher. Who this shoddy researcher-turned-thespian really is, aside, when Ventura declares to his board that "These documents link the killing of JFK to Watergate," the damage has been done. For, as we have seen, the documents as seen and revealed prove nothing of the sort.

Luckily, Ventura seems to change track around the 7:22 minute mark. Instead of going along with Ron's idea that Nixon was involved in the Kennedy hit, he insists instead that Nixon was set up for Watergate. Okay, fine. He was indeed set up. But he then goes off the rails by speculating that Nixon was dethroned because of his digging into the Kennedy assassination. This leads him into very dangerous waters of the type discussed in CTKA's reviews of John Hankey's JFK 2. (Please see The Dark Legacy of John Hankey and JFK 2 Updated.)

There is simply no evidence that Nixon ever asked CIA Director Richard Helms for the documents pertaining to Operation 40. But there is evidence that Nixon wanted documents pertaining to the Bay of Pigs well before Watergate broke out. Helms delivered the files in question to Nixon on October 21, 1971. But these files were not Nixon's only concern. He also requested files on the assassinations of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic in May of 1961 and Ngo Dinh Diem circa November 1963 in Vietnam. (David Frost's interview with Richard Helms 22nd - 23rd of May 1978)

Why did Nixon want these files? Perhaps to see if there was some possible incrimination of himself in these three theatres prior to Kennedy's assassination. Or he could have been trying to find dirt on members of the Democratic Party in those events. As mentioned before, Ventura doesn't go that far. But it needs to be pointed out that a few deluded people like "Ron" have regularly pushed the Nixon-killed-Kennedy angle. But if this was so, then why, Dear Ron, did Nixon wait until 1971 to procure them? He was inaugurated in 1969. Furthermore, it is rumored that Helms didn't give Nixon all of the available files. Why would Helms not give him those documents? Maybe because it was his—not Nixon's—role he was likely afraid of divulging.

Another important and often overlooked aspect by the "Nixon in on it" lobby is the meeting H. R. Halderman refers to in his book, The Ends of Power. This happened on the 23rd of June, 1972. It is referred to as the infamous "Bay of Pigs" meeting between Helms and Haldeman in the White House. Helms was told by Halderman that if the FBI didn't call off their investigation into Watergate, it could bring up the whole "Bay of Pigs" thing. Haldeman later believed that the phrase was code for the "Kennedy assassination." Helms lost his composure and after calming down instructed his counterpart, deputy General Vernon Walters, to do what Haldeman requested—which, by the way, ended up hurting Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

Two things here: It was Helms who was clearly worried, not Nixon. Furthermore, Nixon stated, "Well, we protected Helms from one hell of a lot of things." (Stanley Kutler, Abuse of Power, pg 68) Prior to discussing the Bay of Pigs, however, Nixon vastly underestimated Helms, who had many other methods at his disposal to bring Nixon down: the CIA-controlled news media for one, and willing CIA collaborators—Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward at The Washington Post—for another. He also had top FBI officials on his books as CIA informants. And he had inside men on Nixon's espionage unit (Howard Hunt and James McCord). In fact, the question arises: Had Helms really had been playing Nixon all the way along?

Now, let us cut to the chase: What is the proof of a connection between Nixon and Operaiton 40? There has never been any credible evidence of this adduced by anyone. Further, the general feeling amongst researchers is that the Kennedy assassination was enacted likely by an amalgam of individuals. It was not an Operation 40-led initiative, nor could it be called Operation 40. (Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked, p. 372) We also have, for starters, very little real idea of who the assassins were. And I challenge anybody to tell me that Ventura's investigators are on par with Jim Douglass, David Talbot, Jim Garrison, and Anthony Summers, who looked extensively into anti-Castro Cuban activities and don't even bother to mention Operation 40 in their works. Gaeton Fonzi looked closer into it than most. He mentions Operation 40, but he never mentions nor hints that this group took out the President; nor does Larry Hancock, who speculates that some members may have been involved. The information about Operation 40's nefarious murderous dealings from some of its purported members (Marita Lorenz, Gerry Hemming and E Howard Hunt) should be taken with a massive chunk of salt. Hence, I advise caution.

As for Operation 40 being the masterminds of the Watergate break-in, this is a real stretch of logic. Two of the Watergate team's leaders, James McCord and Gordon Liddy (who was ex-FBI) were never members of Operation 40. McCord kept an autographed picture of his boss Richard Helms on his desk and is considered the one responsible for purposefully getting the burglars caught by amateurishly taping a door—twice. In fact, the group they presided over was called "the plumbers" and were part of CREEP (Committee to Re-elect the President). Thus, when Ventura says "All of the Watergate burglars were involved in Operation 40" —implying they were all hand picked and selected by Nixon himself, he is badly mistaken. For example, Nixon never actually hired Hunt; it was actually Charles Colson. (Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda, p. 33) In fact, evidence indicates that Nixon didn't even know that Hunt was on his staff until it was too late.

Ventura never should have strayed this far. It's "too much, too soon" and the show is far too short. Nixon and Watergate are deeply complex and deserve their own well-investigated documentary. There are definitely some ties between the Kennedy assassination and Watergate. But to do justice to that subject would take a show perhaps twice as long as this one—with consultants the stature of, say, Jim Hougan, and with information beyond reproach. It was not something to be appended capriciously to a show on the JFK case and is clearly something Ventura's people did not have the experience, knowledge and acumen to grasp.

III: Jesse Recovers via Osanic and Prouty

Up until now things were not looking good. But, seemingly out of nowhere, Ventura finally gets on the board. And by the 7:50 minute mark he really needed to hustle.

Ventura suddenly states that he is off to see Fletcher Prouty. Of course, Prouty is deceased. But thanks to the many hours of taped interviews by Len Osanic, the Colonel speaks from the grave and offers a ray of hope in the darkness. Though it's far too brief, Prouty (one of the most misrepresented and misquoted critics in research history, by both pro-conspiracy and lone-nut advocates) is used properly, straight, and to the point this time around. Prouty tells it like it is: Oswald was a US agent and the protection of the president that day was pathetic. Both true assertions. Ventura could have scored more points here. But he has to make the silly call that "Fletcher Prouty backed those CIA documents." No he didn't. I have little doubt that had Prouty seen them he would laughed himself silly. But hey, Ventura's finally got points on the board. And with a click of a bolt-action Mannlicher-Carcano, he's off to Dallas to score even more.

Ventura is now in the company of his assistant Alex Piper in Dealey Plaza. Since Colonel Prouty's cameo, Ventura seems rejuvenated. After a nice run-down of Dealey Plaza and how the events there inspired him "to always question authority," we next encounter the remarkably well-preserved but decidedly nervous-looking Bill Newman. This was a great little segment and explained how much of a con-job the Commission was by not contacting Newman for his version of events, particularly when has was so close to the action. In addition to being a credible witness, the clincher as to why the Commission didn't want him is that Newman never thought the shots he heard came from the depository.

Ventura lurches a little at 13:33 when he says Johnson set up the Warren Commission. He did so in name, but it was actually Eastern Establishment figures Eugene Rostow and Joseph Alsop (both known CIA assets) that applied pressure to Johnson and got him to form the Commission. Johnson was reluctant and had wanted the investigation carried out in Texas. (Donald Gibson in The Assassinations, pgs. 3-17) But it's a nice return when he mentions that Ford on his deathbed admitted the CIA "had destroyed or withheld critical evidence" (Gerald Ford: Foreword, pg XXII Warren Commission Report. 2004). Ventura then quickly discusses the joke of the "magic bullet theory" and Arlen Specter's work on it. It was also good that he mentioned Ford's admission that he altered the placement of the wounds to conform to Specter's representation of what happened. This was all done with a minimum of fuss.

Though the extremely quick editing throughout the show was slightly annoying, there were some nice technical elements in this segment. The camera set-ups and cutting of juxtaposing pictures of Newman in relation to Kennedy and the car were very well done. Another goody was the brief transposition of the Moorman Knoll photo taken in 1963 with Dealey Plaza of today. It was an oddly haunting image in a show that tried too hard to provide a sense of the sinister. Ventura even succeeds in making Piper look interesting as he explains the "back and to the left" motion and the potential shot from the knoll. Thus, even if he had overlooked having a brief chat with Dealey Plaza talisman Bob Groden, Ventura scores another palpable hit.

The big guy is on a roll.

IV: Off to see The Wizard

At around 15:26 he's off to see the "Woeful Wizard" of Dealey Plaza, Gary Mack, in the Sixth Floor Texas School Book Depository Museum. Ventura does well explaining to the audience that the proprietors advocate the lone gunman theory. He doesn't do so well when Mack explains the reason why the window is sectioned off like it is.

The whole thing about this corner of the building's historical integrity is a joke. There are numerous accounts of the crime scene being contaminated, nay, changed around after the shooting. Here's another stinker: The boxes we see in the enclosure haven't been in place there since 1963. They are in fact duplicates. The window frame was actually removed once-upon-a-time, and there's even a debate about the current one's authenticity.

If Jesse hadn't been taken in by Mack's charm-offensive, he really could have torn him up. As it stands, however, the original wooden floor line and Mack's enduring quest for authenticity gets funnier and funnier—and more hypocritical—the more I think about it. Thus, I have to give Ventura a point here. In fact, Mack gave it to him on a platter.

At 16:06 Ventura now goes on the range to take on some hay bales. The irony here is that, unlike Gary Mack and his nefarious recreations, Ventura admits that his targets are stationary. Thus, his honesty in the shortcomings of this experiment earns him a point here. But Ventura makes a bit of a mistake also. Oswald actually had 5.6 seconds to perform the shooting. However, Ventura by adding close to an extra second to make it 6.3 seconds aids Oswald's cause. And it's actually an interesting mistake, as Ventura doesn't even get anywhere near the bungled time, let alone the official 5.6 seconds.

Here, it would have been good to include an independent marksman or two. The reality is that an experiment of this magnitude really deserves an entire show. But it was good that Ventura mentioned the failed experiments by the military for the Warren Commission. Thus, in spite of the problems, I think Ventura did well enough and scores a few good points here once more. But again, he could have done better. Ventura tends to make mistakes when bad researchers are lurking around. He would have been better served with higher-quality people.

It's 18:50 now, and we return to the "Wiz" Gary Mack (the magical conjurer of tricks like Inside the Target Car for the History Channel—real name: Larry Dunkel) in the depository. For Mack's sake, Ventura explains his Mannlicher-Carcano target practice tests, expresses his serious doubts as to Oswald's miraculous marksmanship, and then asks the Wiz: "You're the curator of this museum, so naturally you have to follow museum policy. Let's pretend we're not here. Let's pretend you and I are sittin' out havin' a "cold one." What's your position at that point?" Mack admits that in his quiet times (when he's not sitting on his wand) he has suspicions that "there's more to it than Oswald."

Ventura scores again, but it's really no different to what Mack and Dave Perry have said to numerous other people involved in research over the years. That being the HSCA concluded that there was a probable conspiracy in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

V: Oswald's Route

We are now more-or-less halfway through at 20:05. It was bumpy at the start, but it hasn't really been too bad thus far. There are some nice graphics showing where and how Oswald got to his rooming house at North Beckley after the assassination. But I think Ventura, after some good stuff in discussing the frailty of the Oswald description, fails to raise the bar here. He could have briefly mentioned the dubious manner in which it came about not to mention—as Tony Frank pointed out at JFK Lancer—that Oswald's description was similar to one given to the CIA a month before his rise to infamy:

Back on October 10, 1963, after CIA Headquarters received a report that someone using the name Lee Oswald contacted the Soviet Embassy, a cable to the CIA's Mexico City station informed them that there is a 23-year-old defector named Oswald, who has "light brown wavy hair," is "five feet ten inches" tall, and weighs "one hundred sixty five pounds."

Ventura also never entertains recreating and timing the distance that Oswald had to walk from Beckley to 10th and Patton. As explained by John Armstrong below, these calculations make it extremely difficult to make it to Tippit's death scene in the time that Tippit was first reported killed. The following would have been a fun exercise (in line with his recreation of Oswald's purported shooting attempt, and need not have taken up much time at all):

If Tippit was shot as early as 1:10, "Harvey Oswald" could not possibly have run from his rooming house to 10th & Patton…in 6 minutes. In addition to this time problem, not a single witness, in heavily populated Oak Cliff, saw anyone resembling Harvey Oswald after the Tippit shooting (except Mrs. Roberts and those at the Texas Theatre).

In order for the Warren Commission to assert that Oswald killed Tippit, there had to be enough time for him to walk from his rooming house to 10th & Patton—about a mile away. The Warren Commission and HSCA ignored [Helen] Markham's time of 1:06 PM, did not interview T. F. Bowley (1:10 PM), did not ask Roger Craig (1:06 PM) and did not use the time shown on original Dallas police logs. Instead, the Warren Commission (1964) concluded that Oswald walked that distance in 13 minutes. The House Select Committee on Assassinations (1978) determined the time was 14 minutes, 30 seconds. Both concluded Oswald was last seen at the corner of Beckley and Zang at 1:03 PM. Either of their times, 13 minutes or 14 minutes and 30 seconds, would place Oswald at 10th & Patton at 1:16 PM or later. The time of the Tippit shooting as placed by the Commission,1:16 PM, contradicted the testimony of Markham, Bowley, Craig and the Dallas Police log. Another problem for the Warren Commission to overcome was the direction in which Oswald was walking. If he was walking west, as all of the evidence suggested, he would have had to cover even more ground in the same unreasonably short period of time. The Dallas Police recorded that the defendant was walking "west in the 400 block of East 10th." The Commission ignored the evidence—5 witnesses and the official Dallas Police report of the event—and said he was walking east, away from the Texas Theater.

Now some have complained that Ventura takes it as a given that Oswald performed the execution of the policeman. I don't see it that way. Ventura makes the point that Oswald, after shooting Tippit, dumped his shells as if leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. While he may have needed clarity on this issue, I think he is implying here that Oswald was either stupid or someone else did it to frame him. The Tippit shooting has so many oddities in it that we can't blame Ventura for not going into them all, e.g., like Oswald's dropping one of his three wallets that day at the crime scene, and the shells discovered being described as coming from an automatic handgun, or the descriptions of more than one assailant at the scene. These are the tip of the iceberg. And considering what Ventura has "jam packed" into the show thus far, he's provided a decent overview of events. Yet one can't help but think that he could have done more in Oak Cliff had he not wasted those precious minutes at the start.

Ventura and Piper's journey takes them to a newly revamped Texas Theater, where they meet Jim Marrs, author of the best selling Crossfire. We are now around 22:26 seconds into the action and it already feels like we have covered some distance in that short time. And I must admit, that takes skill. Ventura has given a remarkably concise overview of the day's events, which, in a small way, makes up for the lost opportunities presented with the Tippit shooting. Marrs'work and his associates outside of his JFK field in the late nineties may raise a few eyebrows nowadays, but he still makes for a good interview. And what he speculates about Oswald's purpose in the theatre— meeting with a contact to find out what was going on—generally meets with wide agreement. As do his accusations that Oswald was some kind of low-level CIA operative. The stuff about Oswald at Atsugi in Japan, his Russian defection, and George DeMohrenschildt has aroused suspicions for years. Many, including myself, consider DeMohrenschildt to have been Oswald's handler until George was instructed to offload him into the wolf's lair, i.e., Ruth and Michael Paine, along the CIA-associated and extremely conservative White Russian community.

Ventura's narration and scripting in this part of the show flows nicely, and he sells the idea that if anybody knew or suspected Oswald's CIA connections it was his widow Marina, who, at 24:16, we now encounter on the phone. While Ventura does well in this segment, one feels there's a bit of the theatrical in the air because of Marina's plea for safety about her daughters limiting what she can say. Marina's daughters actually made public appearances in the early nineties and explained their lives and their suspicions of the official version. June, the eldest daughter, can be seen discussing the topic at the 30th anniversary, and having a little go at Gerald Posner. While Rachel Porter has also gone public.

After Ventura met with Marina, he also seemed to hype up Marina Oswald's coming forward about her belief in a conspiracy and her belief in Lee's innocence on his show. However, she voiced suspicions before this, and rather frequently, as in this discourse with Jack Anderson in 1988. She also said the same kind of things to Danny Schecter in his documentary Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy, and also—as Tony Frank pointed out on the Lancer Forum—on The Oprah Winfrey Show on the 22nd of November, 1996. (This interview was transcribed by the late Rich DellaRosa.)

But cutting Ventura some slack, Marina has not spoken for a long time, and he does have a show to sell. His asking Marina about Oswald's ties to the CIA met with an affirmative; his asking her about her ties to the KGB (which she emphatically denied) was a goody; and her feelings about DeMohrenschildt's ties to the agency were handy to have on the record.

There was also one controversial and rather complex aspect of the case that I felt Ventura handled quite well. In fact, it was perhaps my favorite part of the show. This was the case of Marina Oswald steadfastly saying that she took the controversial backyard photos. Now, I, for one, advocate for their being at least some element of fakery in the pictures, in particular the image featured on the cover of Life magazine. However, I actually enjoyed Ventura's different take on Marina Oswald and the photos. Because whether those particular photos are faked or not, it's forgotten that the issue of their authenticity clouds other, perhaps, more important issues.

Namely, that Oswald, as shown by Ventura and Marrs, was clearly busy posing as a communist for a good part of his later life. When, quite clearly, he was not one at all. Now, if by some extremely slim chance the photos are genuine, who or what motivated Oswald to pose in them, in his get-up, with two ideologically opposed leftist publications, thus incriminating himself anyhow? This sort of double-ended, measured, and responsible take on an extremely controversial piece of secondary evidence was a nice touch on Ventura's part. Rather than creating an argument or giving a direct answer, he gave the viewer something to ponder. And, though I disagree, I congratulate him for putting it out there as he did.

VI: Russ Baker's Road to Nowhere

Ventura is really gliding at this point. But all glory is fleeting, particularly when you don't really have genuine JFK investigators on your staff. Thus, around the 28:00 mark Ventura's "wet behind the ears" research team did him in. June Sarpong calls Ventura—and bang!—we are in Russ Baker land. The issues surrounding every single thing Baker discussed in this show concerning Bush's involvement in the assassination have been investigated in depth by Jim DiEugenio in his telling review of Baker's extremely poor book, Family of Secrets, and indirectly by myself in my essay, The Dark Legacy of John Hankey. Needless to say, Ventura's golden offensive now turns into a retreat.

Baker's statement that Bush had forgotten where he was that day is extraordinary, and I can't recall Baker making any such claim in his work, Family of Secrets. Furthermore, I could find no statement or source with George Bush ever making that comment, bar Paul Kangas (yet again). And Kangas is one of the worst offenders in terms of serial Bush disinformation. For example, he once again provided absolutely no sources for the following 1991 diatribe in his piece, The Nixon-Bush Connection to the Kennedy Assassination:

On the day of the assassination Bush was in Texas, but he denies knowing exactly where he was. Since he had been the supervisor for the secret Cuban teams, headed by former Cuban police commander Felix Rodriguez, since 1960, it is likely Bush was also in Dallas in 1963. Several of the Cubans he was supervising as dirty-tricks teams for Nixon, were photographed in the Zagruder film [sic]

Anybody who can call it the "Zagruder film" and later on say that George's father's name was "Preston" rather than "Prescott," and that "Preston" was running his 1960 campaign (which is utterly bizarre, since Bush first ran for the Senate against Ralph Yarbrough in 1964 and not even Baker says his father was running this campaign then), is someone any real researcher would avoid like the plague. Baker clearly has not checked the veracity of Kangas' work, and thus clearly is not a genuine researcher. His modus operandi is to angle for the sensational. The "forgetful Bush" story is used to make it out as if George was sneaking around Dallas that day. This is as ludicrous as his reasoning behind the Parrott memo, as Jim DiEugenio writes:

... First of all, if you were a covert CIA operator in on the Kennedy plot, would you announce in advance that you would be in Dallas to give a speech on the evening of 11/21? Further, would you put that announcement in the newspapers? Well, that is what Bush did in the Dallas Morning News on 11/20.

At the actual time of the assassination, Bush was in Tyler, Texas. The author says he made the FBI call about Parrott to establish an alibi. This makes no sense. Why? Because Bush already had an alibi. As Kitty Kelley established, the vice-president of the Kiwanis Club—a man named Aubrey Irby—was with Bush at the time of Kennedy's murder. Along with about a hundred other people. For Bush was about to give a luncheon speech at the Blackstone Hotel. He had just started when Irby told him what had happened. Bush called off the speech. (Baker, p. 54) Question for the author: With about 101 witnesses, why would you need a phone call to establish your alibi?

The author then writes that Bush told the FBI he would be in Dallas later on the 22nd, and that he would be staying at the Sheraton that night. Baker finds it suspicious that he did not stay the night as he said he was going to. Or as Baker writes in his full Inspector Javert—or John Hankey—mode: "Why state that he expected to spend the night at the Dallas Sheraton if he was not planning to stay?" (p. 59) Well Russ, maybe he was planning to. But because he later realized that Dallas would not be a real good place to campaign in that night, he changed his mind. I mean don't you think the populace was mentally preoccupied? (review of Baker's, Family of Secrets, section III)

As for the Bush/DeMohrenschildt links, the world of oil is a small one. Bush drilled for it and DeMohrenschildt was a geologist who tried to find it. The two then crossed paths. If Bush was so involved in the case and so worried about his connection with DeMohrenschildt, then why is there a public record of their correspondence? Surely, if Bush was concerned about it he wouldn't have contacted him in any way and he would have found some way to destroy this type of incriminating record. Once again, let's refer Mr. Baker back to DiEugenio's wrecking ball:

Bush made two replies to the 9/76 missive by the Baron. One was to his staff, which had forwarded the letter to him. These are rough bullet notes saying the following: that he did know DeMohrenschildt, that the Baron got involved with dealings in Haiti, that his name was prominent in the Oswald affair, that the Baron knew Oswald prior to the JFK murder, at one time DeMohrenschildt had money, Bush had not heard from him in years, and he was not sure what his role was in the JFK matter. (Baker, p. 267)

On the whole this is accurate. But Baker takes issue with the last two points. Concerning the first, he says that Bush was in contact with the oil geologist in 1971, and that DeMohrenschildt had written Bush a note when he became GOP County Chair in 1973. Bush may or may not have gotten that note. If he did not, he had not heard from him in about six years. Concerning the last, if Bush was not in on the JFK plot, then in 1976, that was a quite defensible stance.

Bush wrote the Baron a brief letter back saying he sympathized with his situation. But although there was media attention to his case, he could not find any official interest right then. He then said he wished he could do more, and then signed off. Considering the fact that Epstein and Oltmans were likely working off the books for Angleton, his observation about "official interest" was probably correct. Thus ended the Bush/Baron relationship. Almost like he knows he has very little here, Baker tags on some meandering scuttlebutt about a man named Jim Savage who delivered the Baron's car to him in Palm Beach on his return from Amsterdam. It's another of his Scrabble type name association games: Kerr-McGee, the FBI, Sun Oil, even the Pew family. ([Family of Secrets,] pgs. 275-277); (ibid; Section IV)

But Baker isn't finished with his performance. At 30:00 he states categorically that "the Baron" had said the following in his correspondence to Bush:

"Perhaps I have been indiscrete in talking too much about Lee Harvey Oswald"…… Six months later George DeMohrenschildt was dead.

I could not find this quote in the record. On the first page of his letter to Bush, DeMohrenschildt, briefly mentions he has been "behaving like a damn fool since my daughter died" and he has "tried to write stupidly and unsuccessfully about Lee Harvey Oswald and must have annoyed a lot of people." It's abundantly clear he is under duress at this time and the major cause of stress is not his writing about the case, it's the death of his daughter. And he's likely mentioning that those people who are annoyed were the ones wanting to give them his story.

Because what Baker also ignores here is the people he was "annoying" were Willem Oltmans and author Edward Jay Epstein. These two were suspected intelligence assets of James Angleton, who was applying pressure to a slowly unraveling DeMohrenschildt. Of the two, Epstein had the more overt contact with Angleton and was the last person to see DeMohrenschildt alive. I would love to see if Baker could establish a close working relationship between Bush, Epstein, Oltmans, and Angleton—for any amount of money.

Finally, as for the purported photo of Bush outside the Texas School Book Depository, if George was so high up the "monkey chain," then why would he allow himself to be photographed in broad daylight outside of the alleged crime scene in the middle of an election campaign? Was he going for the insider's who-shot-JFK minority-vote? Wouldn't he be in radio contact at a safe-house or in a nearby building? This picture has been examined at JFK forums like Spartacus Educational from every angle and enlargement. It has met with universal disapproval of being Geroge H. W. Bush. Ventura takes a hit here. And it was wholly unnecessary. It's also not cushioned by the impact of knowing that he's going to end his show with none other than Saint John Hunt (as alluded to in his think-tank discussion meeting about the three tramps in which he named E. Howard Hunt as the "old tramp"). Ventura needs something to happen now, and it's the last chance he's really going to get.

VII: Vince gets Minced

After Baker's lamentable appeareance, Ventura's documentary now heads into its final quarter. Next up is Vincent Bugliosi. If Ventura nails it, he stands a good chance of weathering the storm whipped up by Hunt. If Ventura stumbles here, if he actually uses the documents provided by Ron (Fetzer), if he calls in Baker, or if he evokes Hunt, the party really is as good as over. Thankfully, when 33:10 rolls around, Ventura is out of the clutches of Baker, et al. He doesn't even mention them in any way, shape, or form. Instead, he talks to Vince in an assertive yet polite fashion. And Bugliosi doesn't handle it very well at all.

For an extremely long time now, Bugliosi has been using the argument that the CIA or The Mob would be groggy to hire Oswald as a gunman. The point never properly asked of Bugliosi in any interview I've seen of him before is: "What serious person maintains he was even a shooter?" And Ventura's point that he was a perfect patsy troubled Bugliosi greatly. In fact, Ventura was confirming for the world what researchers had known for a long time: namely, that Bugliosi can't handle what he dishes out. Because when Bugliosi states that there is no evidence that Oswald was tied to the CIA or The Mob, Ventura shoots back the name of George DeMohrenschildt. And now Bugliosi starts to falter seriously. Just imagine if the scope had been widened further. The list of CIA affiliated suspects in Oswald's life could fill pages. Indeed they have (The Paines anyone?). Vince asks the cameras to be shut off as Ventura has barely slipped into first gear.

This is the sort of direct questioning that Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Steve Colbert, Alex Jones (yes, Alex Jones), and numerous other media demagogues have avoided with Bugliosi. Ventura shamed them all. In fact, he shamed an entire media state. In light of Hanks' upcoming production of Bugliosi's Oswald-did-it work, this is pure gold. And Bugliosi's eventually asking for the camera to be turned off put Ventura back in the driving seat after the Baker debacle.

What's remarkable about all this is that by Bugliosi giving up the goose so quickly and in such a manner against Ventura, one can now see why he has never fronted up for a debate with heavyweights like Gary Aguilar and Jim DiEugenio, who (more than once) have both agreed to debate Bugliosi in a one-on-one moderated debate.

Ventura's outing of Bugliosi was so complete, a Bugliosi fan on YouTube wrote:

Come on Vince WTF? I almost bought your book. I won't now. You're a crock of bull.

Beezy2127

VIII: On the Hunt for a Useful Idiot

It is now 35:20 and we are into the last eight or nine minutes of the show. Prior to this you may recall that Ventura has picked out E. Howard Hunt as one of the three tramps of lore. There are some major problems with this. The other pictures depicting the tramps reveal he actually looks little like Hunt at all. Mark Lane never used the photos of Hunt in the Liberty Lobby trial in 1985 because he felt Hunt looked too old (amongst other things I shall discuss shortly). Plus the real identities of the tramps apparently were uncovered by Ray and Mary LaFontaine in one of the few interesting pieces of information they espoused in their below average book, Oswald Talked.

Ventura's insistence on using Hunt, his son, and the tramps issue has a major bearing on current research and some of the more prominent talking heads in its circles. This is furthered by the fact that Ventura managed to use people like Baker and Jim Fetzer in his documentary. So when Ventura falls for someone like Saint John Hunt, an interested party fresh to the situation may think that: a) All researchers are like this; b) Ventura has somehow seriously slipped up; c) Researchers cannot agree on anything; d) I'm going back to sleep.

Hence the issue of Saint John Hunt is a very cloudy one. Indeed, an increasing number of people regard his story as calculated toxic smog. And like acid rain, Hunt hits the ground running. According to "our hero," the Watergate burglars were going for a safe that contained evidence of Nixon's role in Operation 40. If you skipped the entries about Nixon and this group you may want to revisit it about now, as Hunt is talking nonsense. Operation 40 was a pure CIA operation that was embedded secretly inside the Bay of Pigs plans—so much so that it would not be known to any president or vice-president. As is the idea of Operation 40 touring the world and killing people deemed dangerous to interests of the United States. There is no evidence Operation 40 operated outside of Cuban Operations in any way, shape, or form.

But further, Ventura's BS detector, which is usually pretty good, must have been turned off at this point. He never thought to ask the obvious question: "What the heck would Operation 40 plans be doing in the offices of Spencer Oliver or Larry O'Brien at the Democratic National Committee HQ?"

E. Howard Hunt's "confessional" naming of the villains has some exciting little pieces in it, and the names of Morales and Phillips (deservedly) raise some eyebrows. But they had done so well before Saint John ever wandered into town. Hunt's old man then names Johnson at the top of a list. Of course, it's just his opinion (like we really needed another one from him). He presents no real evidence for his claim. Furthermore, for those that had studied Hunt, Sr. for a long time, it was no surprise to them he'd give a garbled account of events. For instance, in a version of the story, he actually said that Frank Sturgis had invited him in to the plot but he declined. How Sturgis ever got mixed up with LBJ is never made clear. Nor is the fact that—as was made clear by Watergate—Hunt was Sturgis' superior. Why would Sturgis reveal such a rogue operation to someone above him in the formal chain of command?

Public opinion on Hunt in research circles has swung rather dramatically against him since those halcyon days in April 2007 when Rolling Stone's Erick Hildegard's favorable article, The Last Confession of E. Howard Hunt, pushed Hunt onto the national stage. The following comments I found make for some revealing reading, in particular, Larry Hancock's observation of the Hunt &amp Son / Kevin Costner charade:

I shall not mince words. The LBJ "mastermind" characterization ranks as the most simple-minded, dangerous-to-the-truth hypothesis in the history of Kennedy assassination investigations. It is tantamount to proclaiming that a welder designed the Petronas Towers." ~Charles Drago: Deep Politics Forum 20th November 2010

As far as Howard Hunt's confession goes, I don't know if he is trustworthy. Without proof, his confession is meaningless; yet Ventura made it seem like the case was solved because Hunt said so. I did enjoy Ventura tearing lone nut theorist Bugliosi a new one. ~Matthew De Luca: JFK Lancer Forum 21st November 2010

The national security establishment is properly deemed a RICO enterprise, using any appropriate asset beneath the 1948 statutory cloak of plausible denial. To the extent Saint John participates in the Art and Arts of E. Howard Hunt, he may be fulfilling his father's intelligence operative strategy as much as merely sexing up his book for profit. ~Phil Dragoo: 19th October Murder Solved Forum 2010

I never believed that Hunt would jeopardize himself by dressing as a tramp. He had no need to "get his hands dirty". He wasn't that type of guy. He was the type that had others do the dirty work while he drank his cognac and smoked his Cubans. ~Tom Jeffers: 19th October Murder Solved Forum 2010

With opinions like this, it was clearly folly for Ventura to make E. Howard Hunt out to be a tramp and then portray Saint John Hunt be some kind of "fearful whistleblower." For those of you who have read CTKA's expose on Alex Jones and his poor understanding of the Kennedy assassination, Saint John Hunt's line below is the most hilarious thing I have seen in the show—trumpeting anything from "Ron," Baker, and the Wiz:

The more sunlight that comes on to this, the more exposure I get in telling my story, puts me in a greater level of danger. ... [sound of gunshot]

This is coming from a man who made national headlines and has been pitching and selling his father's "rehashed" story (not to mention nude images of his wife) over the Internet for the better part of some three years. Hence, his fears about exposure seem about as sincere as his father's confession. JFK Lancer's Larry Hancock provided the best outline of the problems facing Hunt, his credibility, and the style of show Ventura uses as a vehicle:

Unfortunately most of you (and none of the TV audience) were there at the Lancer Conference where David Giamarco presented for almost two hours on his and Kevin Costner's multi-year odyssey with Hunt that was the precursor to this story. In the end, after spending immense amounts of time with Hunt they became completely negative on his whole story and could get nothing from him that would substantiate his sketchy outline of a plot. I've tried to deconstruct this particular tangent in the new edition of Someone Would Have Talked, but it's such a good fiction tale, evil Johnson and insanely jealous former husband Cord Meyer, combine to kill JFK that it sells. ~Larry Hancock; JFK Lancer Forum, 23rd November 2010

IX: Conclusion

Ventura ends the show with a breakdown of the presidents that followed JFK. It's unclear why he does this. Does he truly believe all were involved? He was decidedly tepid with Nixon in the beginning. Had something changed? It's no big deal Bush and Ford held senior positions, and it's no big deal Ford made Bush the head of the CIA. It's implied that they had somehow earned their place at the table via their roles in the Kennedy assassination. Well, I don't know how much these two actually have to be grateful about. Ford inherited a doomed administration while George's tenure at the CIA and his perceived cozy relationship with America's elite dogged him for the rest of his political career.

Thus, in the end, it's a very close call on this show. The silly introduction and the use of the likes of Russ Baker, "Ron," and Saint John Hunt contributed in handicapping important parts and episodes. As did the production, pitch, and approach of the show itself. That is, the very fast-paced, moving camera style that has been so pervasive since the advent of MTV—and which Fox has made a staple of TV shows everywhere. Needless to say, Len Osanic and many of the show's supporters are correct: For all its problems, it was a far better attempt at getting to the truth than anything thrown at us from the Discovery or History Channels in recent years. Furthermore, there were no lame Mob-did-it angles, nor did Ventura indulge in the Zapruder film and body alteration guff. Ventura, crippled by a poor investigative staff, was still able (through sheer force of personality alone) to pull it out of the fire. Prouty's, Newman's, and Marrs' cameos were timely, and Ventura interacted well with all of them. Ventura's shooting practice was both entertaining and enlightening. And "The Wiz's" doubts about the official line on Oswald (not to mention his fascination for sixties-era wooden flooring) were fascinating, especially in light of his official duties.

Ventura's handling of Marina Oswald, though a bit "fluffy," brought out her suspicions of DeMohrenschildt and Oswald's ties to the agency. Adding to this, Ventura handled the question of the backyard photo well. Vince Bugliosi's reclaiming histrionic implosion on camera—perhaps the highlight of the program—will live long in the memory. As will Ventura's closing statement about not being allowed to film in Arlington, and his condemnation of the single-bullet line.

The real question harks back to the beginning of the essay and Dick Russell. Had Russell been involved, I have no doubt Ventura's margin of success would have been wider. In fact, it probably would have been quite good. Why he was not involved means either one of two things. He wasn't approached, or he didn't like the direction they were taking with it. I know for a fact that John Armstrong declined to appear because of the show's deficiencies. Why did the producers settle for a mere pass when it could have been "top of the class?"

Last modified on Sunday, 30 October 2016 17:29
Seamus Coogan

Seamus Coogan is one of a number of JFK assassination researchers hailing from New Zealand and Australia.  He has devoted considerable effort to ferreting out and exposing unfounded and sensationalistic or far-fetched conspiratorial hypotheses.  His most notable contributions include those on John Hankey's JFK II, on Alex Jones, and on the Majestic Papers.  He  has also reviewed numerous books for this site.

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