When It Comes To History, The Public Ought to Hear the Facts and Decide:
By BARR MCCLELLAN
|Monday, Apr. 26, 2004|
This column is part of a debate over this historical evidence and related legal issues. For another side of the debate, see John Dean's prior column on this site -- which also raises issues about whether lawsuits should be able to be brought based on allegations of defamation of the dead such as those that have arisen out of this controversy. -- Ed.
The facts of history are notoriously hard to prove, and historical perspectives change over time. Consider John F. Kennedy's assassination. It is perhaps the most carefully researched crime in history. And it is still, in the eyes of many, unsolved.
On November 17, 2003, the History Channel aired what it then termed a "meticulously researched" documentary by director Nigel Turner, entitled "The Guilty Men." The documentary named Lyndon Baines Johnson as a possible key participant in the assassination of JFK. (The documentary was part of the long-running Men Who Killed Kennedy series.)
Subsequently -- in response to objections by a group including Motion Picture Association of America President and former Johnson aide Jack Valenti, and journalist Bill Moyers -- the History Channel named a panel of three historians to review the documentary: Robert Dallek, Stanley Kutler, and Thomas Sugrue.
On April 7, 2004, in a special broadcast, the three-historian panel concluded that the documentary was not credible. In a press release issued before the telecast, the History Channel apologized, and withdrew "The Guilty Men" from future availability. It will not be re-broadcast. Nor will any reply to the panel's broadcast be allowed to be aired on the History Channel.
That was a mistake. The public deserves to see "The Guilty Men," and judge for itself. Not only should the History Channel re-broadcast "The Guilty Men," as it does so many other programs, but it should also allot time for a reply to the panel's evaluation to be presented.
This historical dispute should be judged not by historians, but by the public, after hearing historical evidence -- just as a criminal trial is resolved not by judges, but by a jury.
Moreover, as in a court case, the prosecution -- here, the documentarian and/or those who support him -- should have the final word, a chance to sum up for that jury. Instead, the prosecution's case has, in effect, been wiped from the record, with only LBJ's defense allowed to stand. That's not right.
Why "The Guilty Men" Deserves to Be Seen
"The Guilty Men" featured eleven interviewees -- including myself -- who presented important new evidence that had not previously been aired. My book, Blood, Money & Power: How LBK Killed JFK, offers further relevant evidence. Together, the documentary and the book present a solid case showing LBJ was deeply involved in the assassination of JFK.
This case is based on 68 exhibits of hard evidence. One key item discloses a letter by Ed Clark, the "secret boss" of Texas, explaining how a man must be taken care of for good, and questionable financing must be accepted, with a reply by LBJ stating he knew the risk Clark was taking, and he would be protected.
Another is a grand jury's finding in 1984 that LBJ was an unindicted co-conspirator in the homicide of a federal investigator in 1961. Mac Wallace tried to get Henry Marshall to back off, and killed him when the Department of Agriculture agent would not go along. Fingerprint identification by a highly qualified latent print examiner matched Wallace's print card to latent prints recovered by the Warren Commission from the snipers' nest used by Oswald.
Moreover, the direct testimony of the eleven interviewees in the documentary is itself powerful evidence. Seven recounted personal experiences. One expert was the fingerprint examiner, whose qualifications included many years with the Austin police department, during which time he advised Kodak on a print match system. He reviewed Wallace's print card and the latent prints from the Warren Commission to conclude there were 34 match points. This conclusion followed extensive peer review. (Most courts require a minimum of twelve to fourteen match points so the identification is solid.) Three of the interviewees in the documentary were historians presenting statements that had been fact-checked.
Together, all these witnesses cannot be ignored. But ignore these key witnesses was exactly what the three-historian panel did.
Given the strength of the evidence, the panel of historians was wrong to dismiss the documentary. And the History Channel was even more wrong to refuse to re-air the documentary -- when, instead, it should have provided airtime for a reply.
The Panel of Experts Should Not Have Judged Credibility and Used Secret Evidence
The broadcast by the panel of historians was deeply flawed. It gave no compelling reason to retire "The Guilty Men" and refuse to rebroadcast it -- nor any reason for the History Channel to apologize for airing it in the first place.
One reason the historians' broadcast was flawed was that it made credibility determinations, rather than presenting evidence for the public to make its own such determinations.
Plainly, the historians believed the Warren Report was correct -- and thus refused to believe any challenge to it could be credible. Plainly, they also deemed LBJ's credibility to be high, despite evidence of shady doings -- and even criminal involvement on his part.
After making these determinations, they were hardly neutral presenters of historical evidence. Instead, they were defenders of both the much-criticized Warren Report, and the much-criticized LBJ. Shouldn't someone less biased have been put on the panel? Shouldn't the panel have included at least one person who questioned the Warren Report, as so many do, or was familiar with the dark side of LBJ?
Another reason the broadcast was flawed was that it reportedly relied on some undisclosed "documentation" by Valenti. If the historians saw it, the public -- and defenders of the documentary, including myself -- should see it too.
Proceedings upon secret evidence are hardly the American way. And it is the public who must assess credibility, in the end. We cannot trust historians, who may have their own biases, to do it for us.
The historians had a right to be heard. But so did the documentary. And the documentarian deserved, as well, a right to reply.
Despite the Panel Broadcast, the Jury Is Still Out on the JFK Assassination
Though the History Channel has opted to stifle debate on this issue, that tactic is unlikely to work forever. Future disclosures of additional relevant evidence will likely occur -- and if fairness does not convince the History Channel to change its mind, perhaps future evidence will.
The records yet to be disclosed including Jackie Kennedy's sealed records, records at the Department of Justice and the FBI, some tapes at the JFK Library, Robert Caro's exceptional research, William Manchester original interviews, and LBJ's legal records.
We must hope this additional evidence will shed some light, since for now, the History Channel has chosen to leave the public in darkness.