Tag Archives: Time-Life

JFK, Mass Media, and the Origins of ‘Conspiracy Theory’

Prefatory Note on Censorship in Academe

This study was written in 2013-14 as part of my academic research as Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. I have had numerous papers addressing news coverage of historical events published in academic journals over the past two decades. However, this was the first attempt to offer a scholarly treatment of a research object related to a conspiracy–how the news media “framed” New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s JFK assassination inquiry.

When I presented the paper at the Association For Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Montreal Conference in 2014 the panel respondent congratulated me on what he deemed to be a very well-researched and written manuscript. He further remarked that it was at most a draft or two away from submission for editorial review at a scholarly journal. I was also confident the study would eventually achieve publication. 

The paper was subsequently rejected by five journals out-of-hand. The editors refused to even send the paper out for review, which never occurred to me before. Notably, each editor provided a different reason for not wanting to give it further consideration. What is more, three of the venues had published my work in previous years. The paper nevertheless offers a timely contribution to understanding the historical origins of the term “conspiracy theory” and its development from perhaps the most momentous event in 20th century American politics.

This helped me to further realize how despite celebrated notions of unbridled inquiry and academic freedom, certain subjects so historically central to the nation’s history in fact remain taboo among academics–those entrusted by society to research such matters–vis-á-vis their counterparts in professional journalism, with both camps still proceeding in tacit agreement to police the boundaries of permissible discourse and thought. -JFT


Introduction

“It appears that certain elements of the mass media have an active interest in preventing this case from ever coming to trial at all and find it necessary to employ against me every smear device in the book.” –Jim Garrison (Playboy 1967)

The news media’s failure to interrogate and question the “the lone assassin” theory by the 1964 Presidents Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, otherwise known as the Warren Commission, should be recognized as one of the greatest episodes of journalistic misconduct in US history. The mass media have played a pivotal role in the coverup of the Kennedy (JFK) assassination that they unabashedly practice to this day. New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation of the November 22, 1963 event was the first substantial challenge to the official narrative. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) countered Garrison’s efforts by calling upon its media assets to directly attack, defame, even sabotage the inquiry.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

From this episode the CIA developed one of its most potent psychological weapons against political dissent: the “conspiracy theory” label. Over its 50-year lifespan the label has time and again demonstrated its effectiveness in policing the public sphere by calling into question the credibility and even the sanity of journalists, academics, or any other public figure that dares question authorized myths for the masses.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #89

The famous film of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination captured by amateur filmographer Abraham Zapruder was likely altered from its original with advanced technology in a CIA-owned laboratory within hours of the event. These are the observations of veteran JFK assassination researcher David S. Lifton.

“In 1971, I was permitted to study, in the L.A. offices of Time-Life, a 35mm print made from what Time-Life called the ‘camera original’ of the Zapruder film,” Lifton begins.

To my surprise, I found that those frames showed the large head wound situated toward the right front, not the rear of the head as reported by Dallas observers. The rear of the head gave the appearance of having been “blacked out”–or of having been in a deep shadow.

I also discovered splices on the film which had never been mentioned by Time-Life. I then began exploring the possibility that the Zapruder film itself had been altered sometime before it became Warren Commission evidence in 1964, perhaps even before it went to Life on November 23, 1963. (Life purchased the film on November 25, 1963 for $150,000.) But alteration of the film required a film laboratory with the sophisticated apparatus normally used by Hollywood to create “special effects.” Was the original Zapruder film at some point taken to such a laboratory? Officially, the film went only from Zapruder and Kodak in Dallas; then to Jamison Film Co. in Dallas, where three prints were made (two for the Secret Service, and one for Zapruder); then back to Zapruder, and then to the vault at Life. I suspected it had taken a secret detour, but I could find no directr evidence to prove that.

Then, in 1976, among records released by the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act, Paul Hoch found CIA item 450, a group of documents indicating the Zapruder film was at the CIA’s National Photo Interpretation Center (NPIC), possibly on Friday night, November 22, 1963, and certainly within days of the assassination. NPIC is one of the most sophisticated photo labs in the world.

The CIA documents indicate that the film, when at NPIC, was not yet numbered as it was later by the FBI laboratory. CIA tables and frame numbers arranged in a multiple-column format bearing such headings as “frames on which shots occur” and “seconds between shots” explores various three-shot interpretations of the film. One document refers to the existence of either a negative or master positive–and calls for the striking of four prints from that item: one “test print,” and a second group of three prints. the total job, it indicated, would take seven hours. the making of four prints is significant–that number is exactly what existed in Dallas: an original, and three prints made from that original.

In 1976, I interviewed Herbert Orth, the photo chief at Life. Orth believed the film never left his custody in 1963. Yet the CIA documents establish that it, or a copy, was worked on at the CIA’s film lab in Washington. Indeed, the figures used in the CIA documents to describe the time intervals between shots–“74 frames later” and “48 frames after that”–are identical with those used in the first Life article about the film (Life, 11/29/63, “End to Nagging Rumors: The Six Critical Seconds”). Was the CIA supplying Life with data? Or did the agency have the film later, and was it reading Life for its information?

In my view, previously unreported CIA possession of the Zapruder film compromised the film’s value as evidence: (1) the forward motion of Kennedy’s head, for one frame preceding frame 313, might be the result of an altered film, and if that was so, it made the theory of a forward high-angle shot completely unnecessary; (2) an altered film might also explain why the occipital area, where the Dallas doctors saw a wound, appears suspiciously dark, whereaas a large wound appears on the forward right-hand side of the head, where the Dallas doctors saw no wound at all. Dr. Paul Peters, one of the Dallas doctors quoted in this book, when ashown color blowups made from the Zapruder film frames depicting these wounds, wrote, “The wound which you marked … I never saw and I don’t htink there was such a wound. I think that was simply an artifact of copying Zapruder’s movie … The only wound I saw on President Kennedy’s head was in the occipitoparietal area on the right side.”

David S. Lifton, Best Evidence: Disguise and Deception in the Asssassination of John F. Kennedy, New York: MacMillan, 1980, 555-557f.

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