Of the three new documentaries broadcast over the last JFK anniversary, National Geographic Channel's The Lost JFK Tapes was clearly the best. It had to be. It was not on Discovery Channel. As readers of this site know, that channel has become the media ghetto for those who still adhere to the discredited Warren Commission. Which was turned into mythology over four decades ago. But through a kind of institutional agreement with another body that lies about the JFK case, The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Discovery is involved in producing propaganda tracts like Inside the Target Car,The Ruby Connection, and Did the Mob Kill JFK? These have all been thoroughly exposed as deliberate deceptions elsewhere on this site. Along with Discovery Channel's phony contraptions that try to support the lies of the Commission, that channel also chooses to withhold from the public the voluminous declassified files made available by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). These were the tens of thousands of documents declassified in the wake of Oliver Stone's film JFK. These documents further reveal that the Warren Commission was nothing but an elaborate cover-up, often in the Commissioners' own words. But you won't even hear about the ARRB on the Discovery Channel.
You won't hear about the ARRB on The Lost JFK Tapes either. But at least you won't have to suffer through the god-awful Dale Myers type manipulation of fact that produces an unsupportable conclusion. What this show does is present the record of that tragic weekend of November 22-24th of 1963. It treats that film and audio record with respect and lets it speak in its own words. Whether it complies with the 1964 Commission official story or not. And because that weekend was so tumultuous, so solemn, so epoch changing, the program has a quiet power to it – a power that comes from commemorative reverie. The people who made it respected the event. And they were out to preserve and honor it for what it was. For certain segments described later, its not the type of film you will see on Discovery Channel, or even featured at the Sixth Floor. The latter is too busy promoting atrocities like Oswald's Ghost (See here for the reasons why).
The film bills itself as being made up largely of unseen footage from that weekend. Yes, a lot of it was. But some of it I had seen before. I should also note that some of the new tapes are audio. And as we shall see later, the fact may be that they were not lost, they were suppressed. But nonetheless, it was all adroitly, and at times poetically, put together.
It begins with a beautiful overhead shot from the clouds as Air Force One descends into Fort Worth. Along with this aerial shot we hear some Errol Morris style documentary background music on the sound track: both pulsating and vibrant. After their arrival, we see the breakfast at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth with President Kennedy making his famous jokes about the attractiveness of his wife, "No one wonders what Lyndon and I are going to wear." We then cut to the arrival in Dallas, and we see a problem the Secret Service had with Kennedy. After the Fort Worth breakfast and upon the arrival in Dallas, the president went ahead and walked into the awaiting crowds to shake hands. As the commentator adds, this made it difficult for the Secret Service to enforce a stricture of theirs: anyone shaking hands with the president had to have both hands exposed in advance.
We then cut to an aerial shot of the motorcade route through Dallas. But not before we see the famous black and white footage of the visibly upset Secret Service agent Henry Rybka being asked by Emory Roberts to leave the escort detail at Love Field.
The actual assassination sequence is also skillfully done. The editors intercut black and white stills with color motion picture footage to convey the impact. Some of the motion picture footage is of those dozens of bystanders running toward the grassy knoll and the sound of the shots. The program then shows regular programming being interrupted on local station WFAA-TV while program director Joe Watson announces the shooting of President Kennedy and Governor Connally. We then cut to Parkland Hospital with doctors arriving and people crying outside. Senator Ralph Yarborough stated that he found a Secret Service agent outside of Parkland hospital pounding the car in despair. He himself said that what had happened is "Too gruesome to describe."
We then watch as the Newman couple – Bill and Gayle – are called to local television to tell the public what had happened. This clip reveals why they are not mentioned in the Warren Report and although interviewed by the FBI, were not called to testify before the Warren Commission. (Jim Marrs, Crossfire, p. 70) The Newmans were standing on the north side of Elm Street, just west of the Stemmons Freeway sign. Bill Newman told the TV audience that, as Kennedy was hit, he heard shots come from behind him. This, of course, would have been up on the grassy knoll, behind the picket fence.
The program then cuts to the Texas School Book Depository a few minutes after the assassination. They say attention was attracted there by the testimony of photographers Malcolm Couch and Robert Jackson who said they saw a rifle barrel being withdrawn from a window on the fifth or sixth floor. Very quickly about two dozen police cars are parked near the intersection of Elm and Houston, with police standing outside the building with shotguns. There is a roof to basement search while employees like Danny Arce and Bonnie Ray Williams are escorted away as witnesses. I should also note in this regard, the show depicts at least two other people being arrested by the police: one for the murder of Officer Tippit, and one for the assassination.
At about this point, Dallas Police inspector J. Herbert Sawyer speaks in front of a TV camera. He says that the assassin's rifle shells were found on the fifth floor. (In Michael Benson's book, Who's Who in the JFK Assassination, he incorrectly quotes Sawyer as saying the shells were found on the third floor. p. 409) Right after this Watson is interviewing WFAA cameraman Ron Reiland. Reiland tells the audience that the weapon discovered at the Depository was an Argentine Mauser. Two more startlers follow: a broadcaster says the shots came form the fifth floor (matching the location of the shells), and the police say they had given the president's trip the maximum security arrangements possible. Which, in retrospect, and with the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig, is a little humorous.
The next stage of the film is the reporting of the death of Tippit in Oak Cliff. It is interesting to note here that the immediate reaction of the police to this report is this: Whoever shot Tippit, had to have been Kennedy's assassin. So I wish the program had shown Reiland's film of a wallet containing Oswald's ID being passed among the law enforcement officers at the Tippit scene. Meanwhile, the narrator could have announced that the police were taking his wallet from Oswald on the way to City Hall.
After this the police report says that an armed man had entered the Texas Theater. It is not explained how they knew the an was armed. Oswald is then apprehended and policeman Paul Bentley addresses the reporters about his arrest. Oswald is then driven to City Hall and arrives at about 1:55 PM. The charge at this time is only the murder of Officer Tippit. One of the things that I thought was memorable about this sequence is the number of times that Oswald denied his guilt in either of the shootings. He complains about being given a hearing "without legal representation." When asked if he shot Kennedy, he says, "I did not shoot anybody." His answers are always cool, clipped, with nearly no hesitation.
Oswald's demeanor is contrasted in the film with what can only be called the utter bedlam of police HQ. This is rendered almost palpable in this film. That the police let all these bystanders into HQ at this time is simply unfathomable. There seemed to have been no control on this until Sunday morning. To have their most famous and important prisoner in inexplicable. Because, as the film also makes clear, that very afternoon the legend that Oswald had built up began to be circulated through the press with a speed that was startling. The whole thing about moving to Russia, his membership in the FPCC, his being fined for an altercation with anti-Castro Cubans in New Orleans, all this gets circulated into the local media. Both incriminating him and creating bias in the minds of the public.
The film now shows Kennedy's body being removed from Parkland Hospital and transported to the airport. We watch the casket being uploaded onto Air Force One while Judge Sarah T. Hughes swears in LBJ. As we watch the plane lift off into the sky, a newsman appropriately intones that this is "One of the blackest days in the history of the United States."
After the plane arrives in Washington and Johnson speaks from Andrews Air Force Base, the film returns to the Dallas Police HQ. The police have called and maintained a Justice of the Peace there late at night since they are going to charge Oswald with Kennedy's assassination. And at this point, the film begins to take up the litany of certainty about Oswald's guilt that DA Henry Wade, Capt. Will Fritz, and Police Chief Jesse Curry began to drum into the media. And through them to the public. For example, Curry says that the police can place Oswald on that floor at the time of the murder, that they can put him in the window, and that he ordered a "similar rifle". Well, the first two are simply false, and the third is a queer choice of words. Did Curry still think the actual weapon was a Mauser? Henry Wade proclaims that no one else was involved in the shootings but Oswald. Which rules out the possibility of accomplices within ten hours of Oswald's arrest. Meanwhile, we see Oswald still denying the alleged "air tight" case against him and still requesting legal representation.
The film then moves to Saturday and Mayor Earle Cabell declaring it a day of mourning in Dallas and that all churches and synagogues stay open. We then listen as the news comes down that Governor Connally will recover. We learn that Connally asked his wife Nellie about the president. She told him he was dead and he replied, "That's what I was afraid of."
On this day, the famous backyard photographs are now in evidence and the FBI says that it has the documentation about Oswald's ordering of the rifle. Curry again declares Oswald as "the man who killed the president." He then describes him as very arrogant during questioning. A reporter then asks Wade how many time he has requested the death penalty. He replies 24 times. He s then asked how many times he achieved it. He replies 23. Oswald is being prepared by the DA for the gallows. Right after this, a reporters prophetically asks Curry if he is worried about Oswald's safety considering the high level of feeling against him in Dallas. Curry replies that no he is not. The proper precautions will be taken and he didn't think anyone in Dallas would try and do away with Oswald.
The film then moves to Sunday at City Hall. The reporters comment on the precautions taken by the police: cars are being checkedbefore entering the basement, no on can get in without press or police ID. We then watch as Oswald is escorted out the elevator, through the office, down the corridor, and shot by Jack Ruby. Incredibly, one newsman named Bob Huffaker says that he thought Ruby was a Secret Service man. What a Secret Service man would be doing in the parking lot at that time is a mystery. And right after this, we see the cover up about Ruby beginning in the ranks of the DPD. For, as most informed observers know, half the police in the parking lot knew who Ruby was. But all the police say is that the assailant was a resident of Dallas, and known to some of the police but his name will not be revealed at this time.
Now that Oswald is dead, the local media, like Bob Walker, immediately proclaim him "the assassin." Then, in defiance of what we just saw, Walker declares that the police had provided more caution and protection for Oswald than any other prisoner in their history. Then, just as absurd, the police finally pronounce Jack Ruby as the "suspect" in Oswald's murder. To top it off, policeman Jim Leavelle says he recognized Ruby, "If in fact he did it." This is the cop who stood right next to Oswald as Ruby shoved a gun into his stomach.
After this, one of the most startling pieces of reportage in the entire program is revealed. The report comes on that one of the only clear things said among the police is that none of them "believes [Ruby] killed Oswaldäout of patriotic fervorä.it is for one reason and that is to seal his lips." This, of course, directly contradicts the future verdict of the Warren Commission. And it reveals that there was a vow of silence taken within the DPD shortly after. Its that kind of revelation that have led Tina Brown's investigative reporter Gerald Posner to try and counter this film. (See here.)
The program winds down by showing us the internments and funerals of Tippit, Oswald and Kennedy. Then we watch as on the 27th, Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress and made his famous statement, "All I have I would give gladly not to be standing here today."
In the last several years, this is the only documentary on the subject that I have seen that is both objective and worth watching. The producers, Tom Jennings and Ron Frank, deserve our thanks and encouragement. They have treated a serious subject with respect and skill. One of the achievements of the film is that I have left many fine human-interest touches out of this description. There is a memorable moment when the news of Kennedy's death comes into the Trade Mart where he was to speak. A black waiter begins to quietly weep and then wipe away his tears. After, a man quietly takes down the seal of the president on the podium where Kennedy was to address the crowd.
Let me close with another fine moment from the film. The afternoon of the murder, a reporter was roving in Dealey Plaza trying to get the general feeling of the populace to what had happened. A young man states, "Why would anyone shoot President Kennedy. He's done so much for us." A woman then says that it's one of the most terrible things to ever happen. A young woman comments that "This is doom for our city." Finally, a middle-aged man with the gift of seeing into the future states: "A great man is gone. We are all going to suffer for this. And we all should."