Before I even begin to discuss this two-hour program, it is necessary for one to have read my lengthy review of the book of the same name, The Kennedy Detail.1 This Discovery Channel documentary originally aired—twice—on 12/2/10 and, again, on 12/4/10 (It was originally supposed to debut on the 47th anniversary of the assassination on 11/22/10 but, for some reason or reasons unknown, the show aired a week and a half later. Like the release of the book on 11/2/10, Election Day, the marketing strategy of Blaine’s work was a tad suspect, in my opinion, but I digress). As one who has interviewed and corresponded with most of the Secret Service agents who served under JFK2, I was most looking forward to this documentary, as there can be an appeal to an audio/visual format of one’s point-of-view that can get lost in translation in strict black and white writings. That said, as with the book of the same name, there are some things to commend in The Kennedy Detail television special, while there are also several noteworthy items to condemn or, at the very least, tread cautiously on.
I must give credit where credit is due: I was most impressed with many of the visuals—the many sundry films and photographs used—in this documentary. In addition, I was also heartened to see then-and–now photographs of the agents and some of their wives, as well. For the record, the JFK Secret Service agents involved in the production were (naturally) Gerald Blaine (in Austin on 11/22/63), Clint Hill (in Dallas on 11/22/63), Paul Landis (same), Winston Lawson (same), David Grant (same, albeit at the Trade Mart), Ron Pontius (the 11/21/63 Houston lead advance agent), and, oddly enough, Toby Chandler (attending Secret Service school in Washington, D.C. on 11/22/63), "as well as Tom Wells (with Caroline Kennedy at the White House on 11/22/63).". The non-assassination aspects of this program were, by and large, entertaining and somewhat riveting at times; in this regard, I don’t have much of a problem with these areas of the production, per se, except with the almost too saccharine “Camelot” portrayal of the Kennedys and the “choir-boy,” near angelic image that was portrayed of the agents themselves, traits also to be found in the book, as well. Then again, regarding the latter image portrayal, one would think it would be in Blaine’s best interest to put the best foot forward, so to speak, and present the agents in the finest light possible, especially in light of their miserable failings on 11/22/63, the day President Kennedy was assassinated under their watch.
There is an old saying: “The devil is in the details.” It is with this in mind that a look at some of those details, mentioned in the program or avoided, as they pertain to the Secret Service and the assassination of JFK, is in order now.
- In a curious and ironic program note, the 2009 Discovery Channel documentary Secrets of the Secret Service aired right before both initial airings of The Kennedy Detail program and, in this show, an official Secret Service documentary, the narrator, as well as a couple former agents, Joseph Funk and Joe Petro, briefly mention the mistakes the agents made with regard to the assassination that go directly against what is being espoused in the Blaine production; quite a noticeable contrast, to say the least, and one that many people, myself included, noticed immediately.3 In general, the “blame-the-victim” (i.e., JFK) notion that is such part and parcel of both the Blaine book and documentary is largely replaced by rightfully noting the mistakes made by the agency: taking the president through Dealey Plaza, in particular, as well as the equally false “blame-the-staff” idea, a notion Blaine does not even mention in his book and is, for the record—like blaming JFK for the security deficiencies—false. Specifically, the most alarming contrast with The Kennedy Detail program is what The Secrets of the Secret Service decided to deal with that the Blaine show strangely avoided.
- Although it is mentioned in his book4: the infamous WFAA/ABC black and white video of an agent being recalled at Love Field during the start of the motorcade in Dallas was not included in The Kennedy Detail program. The Secrets program did show the clip of an agent complaining for being left behind at Love Field, which is quite an endorsement considering that, once again, this is an official Secret Service documentary made with agency input. (As mentioned in my review of the book, many other people agreed with my opinion of what is being shown in this footage, including, notably, former JFK agent Larry Newman, the Henry Rybka family, and countless authors and researchers who have viewed the video, not to mention the 3 million plus people who have viewed this controversial video, popularized by myself, on YouTube.5) It is strange that Blaine's program chose not to show this footage even to debunk it. Equally disturbing is the aforementioned contrast between his views, as espoused only in his book, and my views, as displayed on the very same network on the very same night of Blaine’s documentary! To his “credit”, Blaine and Hill both endorse their book point-of-view regarding the Love Field agent recall video during their joint appearance on C-SPAN on 11/28/10.6
- Ironically, my view that my letter to Mr. Hill was the catalyst for the Blaine book was discussed by the agents and host Brian Lamb on the show (I was also noted in a major review of the book in the Vancouver Sun7 ). For her part, co-author Lisa McCubbin posted the following on 11/24/10 on the official Facebook edition of The Kennedy Detail:
Contrary to Vince Palamara's claims, the book was absolutely NOT written to counteract his letter to Clint Hill. Mr. Hill never read Palamara's letter—it went straight into the trash. Gerald Blaine wrote this book on his volition, and Mr. Hill contributed after much deliberation.8 (emphasis added)
For his part, Hill told Brian Lamb on the aforementioned C-SPAN program four days later:
I recall receiving a letter which I sent back to him. I didn’t bother with it…he called me and I said ”Hello” but that was about it. But he alleges that because he sent me a letter 22 pages in length apparently, and that I discussed [it] with Jerry. I forgot that I ever got a 22-page letter from this particular individual until I heard him say it on TV and I never discussed it with Jerry or anybody else because it wasn’t important to me.9 (emphasis added)
Yet, in the biggest contradiction of all, Blaine quoted from my letter to Hill when I spoke to him on 6/10/05 and mentioned his deep friendship with Hill, as well, extending back to the late 1950’s. For the record, I received Hill’s signed receipt for the letter and it was never returned to me.10 For his part, Blaine stated on the very same C-SPAN program: “I have never talked to any author of a book”. Another blatant falsehood that went unchallenged: Blaine was interviewed on 5/12/65 for Manchester’s massive best-selling The Death of a President (Blaine is thanked in Manchester’s One Brief Shining Moment, as well) and he was interviewed 2/7/04 and 6/10/05, not to mention e-mail correspondence, by myself for my book Survivor’s Guilt: The Secret Service & The Failure To Protect The President.11
Bear with this seeming digression just a tad more, for it does indeed bear directly on both Blaine’s book and on the documentary under specific discussion herein. On the C-SPAN appearance with Hill, regarding myself, Blaine stated: “I am familiar with him, I don’t know him… My assessment of Mr. Palamara is that he called probably all of the agents [true], and what agent who answers a phone is going to answer a question ”Was President Kennedy easy to protect?” [many of them did, and, like Blaine, told me that JFK was a very nice man, never interfered with the actions of the Secret Service at all, nor did President Kennedy ever order the agents off his limousine] Well, probably he was too easy to protect because he was assassinated [what?]. But the fact that the agents aren’t going to tell him anything [many told me information of much value, Blaine included] and he alludes to the fact that when I wrote the book, most of these people were dead. Well, I worked with these people, I knew them like brothers and I knew exactly what was going on and always respected Jim Rowley because he stood up to the issue and said ”Look, we can’t say the President invited himself to be killed so let’s squash this.” So that was the word throughout the Secret Service and he—Mr. Palamara is—there are a number of things that had happened [sic] that he has no credibility [your opinion, Mr. Blaine], he is a self-described expert in his area which I don’t know what it is, he was born after the assassination [as was your co-author, Lisa McCubbin!] and he keeps creating solutions to the assassination until they are proven wrong [again, your opinion, Mr. Blaine].”
- But Blaine wasn’t finished with me just yet: “The Zapruder film, when the Zapruder film was run at normal speed, another theme that Palamara throws out is that Bill Greer stopped the car, when it’s run at its normal speed, you will notice the car absolutely does not stop at all. This happened in less than six seconds after the President was hit in the throat and moving along.” (emphasis added) Oh, so you agree with my “theory” that JFK was shot in the neck from the FRONT, do you, Mr. Blaine? And there were close to sixty witnesses to the limousine slowing or stopping, including seven Secret Service agents and Jacqueline Kennedy—not my theory, just the facts.12
- Returning directly to The Kennedy Detail documentary, Ron Pontius specifically refers to one of my articles13 (also a part of a chapter in my book14) without naming me.15 As the narrator, Martin Sheen, notes: “The most painful theories point fingers at the agents themselves.” To his credit, Pontius mentioned earlier in the program how the threats to Kennedy’s life increased dramatically over those directed toward Eisenhower when JFK took office.16 That said, the same narrator later mentioned that “Dallas worried the men on the detail,”17 a notion seemingly not made manifest in the security preparations for the fateful Dallas trip.
- Keeping all of these points into focus, as with the book itself, it is the fraudulent allegations that JFK ordered the agents off the limousine in Tampa, Florida on 11/18/63, which allegedly were made into standing orders for Kennedy’s trip to Texas four days later, that is given a spotlight herein. Blaine’s words are simply incredible (literally, not credible) and deserve to be quoted, verbatim, here: “President Kennedy made a decision, and he politely told everybody, ‘You know, we’re starting the campaign now, and the people are my asset,’" said agent Jerry Blaine. "And so, we all of a sudden understood. It left a firm command to stay off the back of the car."18
Huh? “Everybody”? THAT alleged statement “left a firm command”? As I stated in the review for Blaine’s book, not only do many films and photos depict the agents (still) riding on (or walking/ jogging very near) the rear of the limousine in Tampa19, including a few shown in this documentary, Congressman Sam Gibbons, who actually rode a mere foot away in the presidential limo with JFK, wrote to me in a letter dated 1/15/04: “I rode with Kennedy every time he rode. I heard no such order. As I remember it the agents rode on the rear bumper all the way. Kennedy was very happy during his visit to Tampa. Sam Gibbons.” Also, photographer Tony Zappone, then a 16-year-old witness to the motorcade in Tampa (one of whose photos for this motorcade was ironically used in The Kennedy Detail!), told me that the agents were “definitely on the back of the car for most of the day until they started back for MacDill AFB at the end of the day.”20 Agent Hill fibs and blames the entering of the freeway via Dealey Plaza as the reason agents weren’t on the back of the car during the shooting21, neglecting to mention the fact that, during prior trips, the agents rode on the rear of the car at fast highway speeds, including in Tampa four days before, as well as in Berlin and Bogota, Columbia, to name just a couple others.22 Again, please see my detailed review of The Kennedy Detail book for much more on this.23
While it is nice to see Toby Chandler and David Grant talk about JFK, they add little or nothing to the assassination debate itself (and neither Grant nor Hill mention the fact that Grant is Clint Hill’s brother in-law, a fact revealed to myself when I spoke to Gerald Blaine on 6/10/05). For his part, Paul Landis lambastes researchers for “having a field day” with conspiracy theories, yet doesn’t mention that he, himself, tremendously helped these “theorists” via his reports (plural) describing a shot to JFK from the front.24 Hill further confirms that the back of JFK’s head was gone.25 Finally, Agent Lawson says that there were only three shots, yet fails to mention that, around the very same time as the filming of this documentary, he also stated that he “saw a huge hole in the back of the president’s head.”26
Is it any wonder, then, why I refer to The Kennedy Detail Discovery Channel documentary as being slick propaganda, designed to blame President Kennedy for his own assassination by falsely stating that he ordered the agents off his limousine, as well as propagating the whole Oswald-acted-alone mantra?
4. See especially pages 359-360. See also my video rebuttals to Blaine’s take on what is being depicted: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gB8WmbvmTw and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDhvGHrM_dQ&feature=related
7. http://www.vancouversun.com/Kennedy+keepers+reveal/3858819/story.html; see also: http://www.bloggernews.net/125523 and http://justiceforkennedy.blogspot.com/2010/11/rapid-dogs-of-internet-alert-how-many.html
9. Hill, referring to myself, added: “And so far as him being an expert, I don’t know where the expert part came from. I spent a long time in the Secret Service in protection and I’m not an expert, but apparently he became an expert somewhere up in Pennsylvania, I don’t know where.” See also 1:08 of: http://news.discovery.com/videos/history-kennedy-detail-confronting-conspiracies.html
20. E-mail to Vince Palamara from Tony Zappone dated 10/20/10
24. Landis’s report dated November 27, 1963: 18 H 758–9; Landis’s detailed report dated November 30, 1963: 18 H 751–7; HSCA Report, pp. 89, 606 (referencing Landis’s interview, February 17, 1979 outside contact report, JFK Document 014571)
25. Hill’s November 30, 1963 report: 18 H 740–5. (See also the 2004 National Geographic documentary, Inside the U.S. Secret Service.)
26. See article in The Virginian-Pilot ,June 17, 2010, by Bill Bartel: http://hamptonroads.com/2010/06/do-you-remember-where-you-were-he-does-jfk#rfq