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PBS show on JFK assassination 'rigged' and 'biased,' author says

Josiah Thompson, author of "Six Seconds in Dallas," said he was "outraged" by a "Cold Case: JFK," a "Nova" special in which he appears, because it short-changed evidence of a second gunman.
Josiah Thompson, author of "Six Seconds in Dallas," said he was "outraged" by a "Cold Case: JFK," a "Nova" special in which he appears, because it short-changed evidence of a second gunman.

In Wednesday's Nova special on the JFK assassination, private investigator Josiah Thompson is an avuncular presence, repeatedly explaining what happened on Nov. 22, 50 years ago in Dallas.

But Thursday the author of Six Seconds in Dallas said he was “outraged,” calling the program “rigged.”

He wasn’t accusing “Cold Case: JFK” of faking or staging any tests, but said the program failed to fully examine acoustic evidence that suggests four shots were fired that day, because doing so might have derailed the show’s conclusion, that Lee Harvey Oswald was probably the only gunman.

"It was very reminiscent of what CBS News did in defending the Warren Commission in 1968 and successive years," Thompson said. "... It was biased and cooked at the beginning."

More coverage
  • Remembering JFK's assassination, 50 years later
  • 50th-anniversary looks at JFK and that day in Dallas
  • Director/producer Rushmore DeNooyer defended the handling of the audio evidence.

    “If you listen to the recordings, you’ll realize, wow, this is a really tangled web here, because there’s nothing obvious or clear,” he said.

    He said he stayed away from Thompson’s new theory on purpose, to let him present it in a new book.

    One Second in Dallas, when finished, Thompson said, will argue that a shot fired from the grassy knoll neither missed nor passed through Kennedy’s head (as others have proposed before) but instead burrowed in edgewise, or “tangentially,” seven-tenths of a second before Oswald's last bullet penetrated the skull from behind.

    That doesn’t contradict the main findings of “Cold Case: JFK,” that Oswald fired three times, hitting JFK and Texas Gov. John Connally with the shot made famous by “the single-bullet theory,” and landing another in the back of Kennedy’s head. Carcano bullets, like the ones fired from the Texas School Book Depository, were capable of both drilling through flesh and bone or making a skull explode, testing showed. Fracture patterns in the skull point to a shot from the rear, and no evidence was found of an exit wound in the back or left side of the head in line with the grassy knoll. 

    Read: Shooting holes in theory that Secret Service agent killed JFK

    "There is no question whatsoever that he was hit in the back of the head," Thompson agrees.

    But what if the third bullet didn’t go through the head, but forcefully clipped it?

    If it came from the knoll, which was to the front and right of the presidential limo, that would explain why Kennedy’s head was thrown back and to the left, and how brain matter landed on two motorcycle cops and Secret Service agent Clint Hill who were to the left of the limo.

    Medical evidence of such a shot might have been obliterated along with a large section of skull that was never recovered.

    If the shot that struck the back of Kennedy’s head was the fourth sound instead, that would explain why less than a second after the third shot, Kennedy’s head suddenly moves forward, around frame 328 on the famous Zapruder film, Thompson said.

    Nova didn’t delve into these possibilities, though it did confirm that a trajectory from the grassy knoll was possible, according to a laser-aided 3-D virtual re-creation of Dealey Plaza.

    Nor did Nova address whether there’s a right-to-left pattern of bullet fragments in x-rays of Kennedy’s brain. “It does not match any entry from the rear,” Thompson said.

    Thompson’s biggest disappointment was how the audio evidence was short-changed.

    In the same sentence that Nova raises the subject, it starts questioning it: “Audio recordings from a police motorcycle ... indicate a fourth shot, but they've been controversial from the beginning.”  And Thompson wasn’t even quoted in that portion of the show.

    "Extremely difficult to understand" is how DeNooyer describes this evidence. “If you listen to the recording you cannot hear gunshots," he said.

    Forget the sounds heard on a YouTube video that purports to marry the acoustics to the silent Zapruder film. “People have laid those sounds in there,” in order to show the timing, because the original sounds are unclear amid the static, DeNooyer said.

    Experts had to infer gunshot sounds through "statistical analysis of wave forms,” he said.

    So the Nova special focused on witnesses instead -- and downplayed them, too. "A fair number" of people heard shots coming from the grassy knoll, political science professor John McAdams says.

    The hard numbers sound more significant. One website, naming names, put the number at more than 50, and 21 police officers reportedly ran to search the area.

    Then Nova undermined them all, playing up how sounds can be deceiving. “With a supersonic rifle bullet like a Carcano an observer can hear two sounds, the crack of the bullet passing, followed by blast of the gun that fired it, all bouncing and echoing between the buildings in Dealey Plaza,” the narrator says.

    But no re-creation was attempted at Dealey Plaza which is open in the direction of the grassy knoll, not surrounded on four sides by buildings. Witness reliability might be tested with firecrackers and billfolds. And if one shot sounds like two, shouldn’t Oswald’s three shots have sounded like six, instead of four?

    Further, rough calculations suggest that the two sounds of a single bullet, heard near the spot of the fatal shot, should appear about a quarter-second apart, not nearly three-quarters.

    “I think the way we summed it up in the program is fair,” DeNooyer said. “We don’t really reach a conclusion.”

    "I got handled by Nova," Thompson said.

    The Californian said his book is complete, except for 100 to 150 pages of endnotes, and it's not about who's behind the slaying. 

    "I have always had zero interest in any kind of conspiracy theories," he said. "I have always wanted to answer one question: What happened?"

    Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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