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hollywood & history - the debate over jfk - part two
What obligation does Hollywood owe facts, accuracy, the truth? When popular history like Oliver Stone's JFK gets hold of a subject, what kind of damage can be done?

Those are the central questions in this panel discussion with authors Norman Mailer and Edward J. Epstein, screenwriter Nora Ephron, and producer/director Oliver Stone. Although Stone's 1991 film was hailed as a cinematic tour de force, it ignited a firestorm of controversy for the way it mixed fact with conjecture, truth with fiction. The discussion was held at Town Hall, New York City, on the night of March 3, 1992. It was sponsored by The Nation Institute and the Center for American Culture Studies at Columbia University.

Here is the edited transcript of the second half of this three-hour discussion.

audio: listen to part 2 (realplayer

MAX HOLLAND: Finally, the infamous Single Bullet Theory. When the House reinvestigated the Kennedy assassination in 1979, their conclusion, using sophisticated techniques not even available to the Warren Commission, was that "the forensic pathology panel's conclusions were consistent with the so-called Single Bullet Theory advanced by the Warren Commission." Dr. Michael Baden, who is chief here in New York City, was the head of that panel.

In the film JFK, as everyone who has seen it will remember, perhaps the climax of that film comes when Kevin Costner says "We are supposed to believe that a bullet hit John Kennedy and then took a 90 degree turn in mid-air, when all the evidence points that there was a single bullet consistent with the wounds found on Kennedy and John Connelly." I give only three instances, there are many, many more. Facts that Oliver Stone doesn't even concede exist. Given this tendentious treatment, JFK the film does not reclaim our history.

Rather, to my mind, it reflects what Mr. Stone has said elsewhere about movies in general. This is from an article in Mother Jones, March-April 1991, not too long after the film about The Doors was released:

" I feel that movies are not reality, but an approximation of reality, and in some cases, a wished fulfillment," Stone once told American Film.

Thus my question to Mr. Stone: Isn't the film JFK a case of wish fulfillment?


STONE: I don't know where you get your facts.


STONE: First of all you point to the House investigation as if it were a final investigation, [Applause] and we know that the House, I think, the House investigation was severely compromised by Mr. Blakey's participation in the house investigation. Even you Mr. Epstein have joined me in that. The House investigation I believe started very well with Mr. Sprague and I think politics de-railed it. But there is some work. But I cannot say that's the Bible here. When you talk about Marina, I asked her that specific question, she did say she took the photograph with Lee, yes. With that rifle, she said that to me. But she did say very clearly, that she was standing on the stairs when she took the photograph. And as you know, the photograph shows the stairs behind Mr. Oswald.


We also now know, from this last week, that there was a strange mat found down by the Dallas Police Files. Seems to be a cut-out of some kind, that maybe was used in this event. We don't know what it's for, it's a mystery object, much like the Rosetta Stone you talk about being the Tippit killing. Which is-- The Tippit killing, very blatantly, there is no chain of evidence on that particular gun that Mr. Oswald had. The cartridges found at the scene do not match. There was the-- Officer Poe put his initials inside the cartridge cases. Those same cartridges never reappeared again. They just vanished. The closest eye witness to the murder of Tippit never identified Oswald in a lineup, Domingo Benavides. Mrs. Acquilla Clemons never identified-- saw two gunmen.

And we have the whole issue of this lineup. The lineup itself is highly suspect because it wasn't done right. Mr. Oswald was brought screaming into a lineup, with a t-shirt, a black eye, and protesting that he had no lawyer present. And he identified himself by name at the time, as Lee Harvey Oswald. Who was famous throughout the country as being, because of the media, the assassin of the President. And that's where.-- The Warren Commission found their five or six witnesses that pointed to Oswald as the killer of Tippit. But where is the chain of evidence ballistically? It does not exist.

This work is a work of fiction.  It tries to get at major truths and it might be right or it might be wrong.  But we have to regard it as fiction, not fact.

The autopsy sir, the Bethesda autopsy. If you at this point maintain that those autopsy are correct I think that you are severely dislocated from reality. [Laughter] [Applause]

That autopsy, at best, if not rigged, was a highly compromised affair. As Jim Garrison brought out in his trial, by bringing Pierre Fink to the trial, who said on the stand that he was not allowed to track the wound in the neck, because there were military officers there telling him what to do.

We also now know, from the Gemberling Document, and Agent O'Neill and Agent Gemberling, FBI people, that the doctor put his finger in the back wound and it was like three or four centimeters long. It was not a deep wound. That is supposed to be the magic bullet of which you speak. That means that bullet went into the back and came out his neck. But we know that the wound was a shallow wound. That has never been explained by anybody from the House-- Or the Warren or the House investigations.


HOLLAND: Well that's an interesting mlange of fact and fiction. I guess my response to you would be, you are severely dislocated sir, if you do not believe that John F. Kennedy participated and helped plan efforts to assassinate Castro and the coup that overthrew Diem.

STONE: Well I don't-- Present your evidence that he knew about the assassinations to kill Castro or Diem.

ARTHUR SALZMAN: Okay, Professor Friedman?

STONE: In fact I spoke to Mr. Lucien Conein, who is was with the CIA and he, if anything Mr. Conein would have a motive to destroy Kennedy because he was on the side of a very strong Vietnam policy. Mr. Conein told me, in Arlington, Virginia that the plan was to remove the Diems, get them on a plane, there was a plane standing there. He said the Diem brothers went to the tarmac, they were about to get on the plane and get out of the country, when one of the Diem brothers turned to the older one and said-- They muttered something, they whispered, and then they decided that they wanted to go back to the palace, presumably to get some more something, he didn't know what. They went back and they were never seen again because the Vietnamese military interrupted them.

SALZMAN: We're going to try and keep this rather orderly, we're going to try. So Professor Friedman, and then Mr. Epstein.

LEON FRIEDMAN: Well I'm sitting here trying to sort this all out, and in five minutes you're not going to be able to give all the evidence. What happened between the House report and the original Warren Commission report were that the doctors at the Warren Commission did not use photographs, x-rays, in their report. Partly because all the evidence they had to rely on had to be published thereafter and they didn't want the photographs and x-rays to go. So the first time around the Warren Commission did not use the original x-rays and photographs. The second time around -- there were two other reports in between -- the House Assassination Committee did use photographs and x-rays. And they did make at least three or four additional analyses of both the ballistics and the entry wounds that the Warren Commission did not.

And among the things that they did were to discover that the bullet that went through Connolly -- First of all the bullet that went through Kennedy, wherever it was, the fibers in the back went in and the fibers of his shirt in the front went out. So that is consistent with an entry wound in the back and exit wound in the front. In addition, that was never any doubt, there was no question about it at the autopsy. Mr. Stone is absolutely correct, the doctors couldn't find the entry wound, their explanations for that, I don't want to bore you with all of that. But what the House Assassination Committee did was to discover that Connolly's wound, and they looked at photographs, was oval in shape. That is to say it wasn't a round wound, which indicates that the bullet was tumbling. And the only way it could've tumbled is if it had gone through something beforehand. And what else was there to go through other than Kennedy. And, again, their analysis, eight of nine, Cyril Wecht from Pittsburgh has dissented from a lot of this because he thinks too much metal was lost-- So that the two additional analyses that were made by the House Assassination Committee was to look more closely at the wounds, to look at the x-rays and photographs, to check the size of the wound, and to actually-- They did compare his x-rays, the x-rays were without question JFK's x-rays, they looked at dental records to do so.

And it was their analysis, again there is nothing sure about this, they said more probably than not, in their opinion, whatever that meant, there was a single bullet. There were two bullets that went into Kennedy from above and behind. Now that does not disprove conspiracy, that only means that the base facts on which you start your analysis were consistent between the two reports.

Now Oliver Stone is absolutely correct, the lineup was a horror show. Oswald is dragged in there and says "Look, what am I doing here. The other people don't look the same as me." And the eyewitness says that's the one who did it, the one who's up there screaming and yelling [Laughter]. Now there was a lot of sloppiness in the evidence, but I suppose what you have to do is start at whatever hard, I mean again not for movie purposes, for determination of what happened, you start with what solid hard evidence you have and build up from that. And the House Assassination Report added something significant to the early report and it seems after looking at that material, that the evidence for two bullets, above and behind, starts to look a little better than it did the first time around. Whatever that adds to the whole controversy.

STONE: This is nonsense [Laughter]. The HSCA Single Bullet Theory is not the Warren Commission Single Bullet Theory, because the neck wound that was originally here in the Warren Commission was moved below the shoulder blade. When you move a wound down six inches it changes all the trajectories and the whole scenario. It was in the back. And you are still not dealing with the Gemberling and O'Neill testimony that there was a shallow back wound and they saw the doctor put his finger in that shallow back wound.

You also, as you saw in my movie, you saw the face, you saw the stolen photographs of Kennedy at the autopsy and he's lying with his face up. That was a real picture taken by a Secret Service agent. It was stolen and it was passed on to the research community. The face is a clean face. If that shot went into the back of his head as they showed us in that phony photograph showing the small wound in the back of his head-- Believe me, I was in the infantry so was Mr. Mailer, his face would've been blown out from the front. There would've been an exit area in his face [Applause], there would be no face. And the fibers facing out on the neck of the shirt are from a scalpel cut. The Dallas doctors cut his shirt and tied to perform a tracheotomy, it is not a bullet hole.

SALZMAN: At the risk of never getting to Bill Schaap, we'll take a quick response from Mr. Epstein.

Edward J. EPSTEIN: Yeah I'm not going to really respond. I agree with Oliver Stone on a couple of points. I just wanted to make two comments.

I just really want to make two comments which go to the heart of this discussion. Your question on the so-called Single Bullet Theory-- You say that it's a fact that a single bullet went through President Kennedy and Connolly. It's not a fact. It may be a possibility, that's all the House Committee says. Whether you believe it or not, it uses the word that you quoted -- "consistent". It's a probability. I don't know whether the odds are one in ten, one in a thousand, one in one. But you can't hold the film accountable for not putting in every probability.

Now as far as the film goes, I didn't know how to interpret all this. Because if this was from Garrison's point of view, as I interpreted the film-- Garrison did believe that the Single Bullet Theory was wrong. He didn't actually appear in the trial, his assistant DA did, but he would've said those things if he appeared there. So I agree with Norman's standard that that's perfectly fair. I mean if this is presenting Jim Garrison's view-- When I saw the film I thought "That is Jim Garrison." You know, the photograph you bring up certainly was a photograph that Marina took of Lee Harvey Oswald. I know that because the photograph was given to eight other people and two of them gave me copies of the photographs. So I don't doubt your point, but I know that Jim Garrison believed that the photograph was the composite he says it was. So if we're calling Mr. Stone and telling him to be accurate in presenting Garrison's point of view, we can't tell him to fictionalize Garrison too, in order to make him come out with conclusions


SALZMAN: Why don't we take a question from the man who has worked closely with Jim Garrison on the book. Mr. Schaap.

BILL SCHAAP: Thank you I just-- Is this on? I just want to preface my question with one thing I really have to say to Norman. Because I'm more concerned if he feels this way than I am if Mr. Epstein feels this way. I've known Jim Garrison for many years and my partner Ellen Ray has known him 25 years, and he's not, and I don't think ever was, a venal, ambitious man. To me it's inconceivable that anyone with ambition for high office would possibly have dreamed of doing what Jim Garrison did [Applause]. Now I -- Although my colleagues and I did publish Jim's book On The Trail Of The Assassins, of which we will always be proud, actually in fact for many years I spent most of my time simply battling the CIA through Covert Action Information Bulletin and a series of books, including Garrison's.

So I'd like to pose this to the panel. In my opinion, the CIA in particular, and I'm using it broadly and we might include the related military intelligence agencies and the intelligence components of the FBI and the executive-- At least as the CIA is constituted at present, with the bulk of its resources devoted not to gathering intelligence like many Americans think, although less and less every day, but to covert operations and disinformation, I think it ought simply to be abolished [Applause]. I think we ought to start over with an intelligence organization that actually gathers intelligence. And doesn't raise and deploy secret armies, topple elected governments around the world, assassinate leaders, cause literally, not figuratively but literally millions of deaths, and orchestrate a worldwide network of disinformation.

So I want to ask the panelists this. If you agree with me about the damage the CIA has done and can do, and I'm not pre-supposing that there are no CIA fans on the panel although I have my doubts, irrespective of what it or any of its present or former personnel might have had to do with the assassination, doesn't this film JFK provide the best opportunity we've had in years and years to mobilize public opinion, especially the young, against this most powerful branch of secret government?

And if you agree with that, I would wonder if any of you have any ideas on what we could do to keep this ball rolling [Applause]. Beyond opening the files, we're all in favor of opening the files, although I was most impressed by Norman's line in his article about the Mercedes in the South Bronx-- "I'm not so sure what's going to be left." But can't we start a national debate now about the need to get rid of the invisible government and in particular the CIA?


NORMAN MAILER: Well you're not going to be happy with what I have to say. I was over at Langley about a month ago. It was reported in the Times. It was misreported in the Times. It was reported as a love fest and of course it wasn't that. It was a courteous occasion. Because one of the things we were each trying to show the other is that we had better manners. The CIA was trying to show me they had better manners than I did, and I was trying to show them that I had better manners than they do. But it was not a love fest. We had serious disagreements. I did-- I was able to say at one point, because as I say they were quite courteous and listened to me so carefully, that I got carried away with it until afterward I realized that I had told them much more about what I thought than they had told me about what they thought [Laughter]. But then I thought afterward, well that's what they're supposed to be. An intelligence-gathering information--[Laughter].

So, at any rate, the point I want to make is that I think we're entering an enormously complex and difficult world. Ten years ago I would've said yes, abolish the God damn thing. Get rid of it, it's hideous. It's just a towel boy for the Cold War. It obeys the needs and necessities of every President who's carrying on that phony Cold War, knowing perfectly well that the Russians are through. But we've still got to go on with it because it works. It works for getting votes, it works for getting this. It is-- They don't say to themselves it's also going to wreck the economy but now we found that out.

It was clear to me when I saw JFK that I was seeing Oliver Stone's version of the story and I didn't object to it any more than I object to the 601 books about the assassination.it is not just a wild and wacky look at the assassination, but manages to convey 30 years of Kennedy assassination madness and recapitulate it in a way that seems to me practically ontological.

The Cold War-- Whether you support the Cold War or not, the Cold War went on-- I was saying to them at Langley, twenty years longer than it had to. Nixon was probably ready to make the peace back in the early `70s. Which I present to you-- If you want to have a nice paranoid notion to sleep on tonight, maybe that's why Watergate occurred. [Laughter]

But-- The new Gary Sick. But at any rate, the problem we face now is that now we need a good intelligence agency. We need a very good one. We need one even capable of occasionally doing something pretty ugly and dirty. I am not absolutely convinced in my own heart that it would've been worse to kill Saddam Hussein than to kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqi [Applause]. It's a very difficult point because the moment you start saying yes let's have wet jobs you're opening the door to all sorts of horrors. But there's a terrible horror on the other side.

[crowd noise]

SALZMAN: Wait, wait, wait, hold on a minute.

MAILER: What we do need, and I'll end on this. What we absolutely do have to know at this point is which Third World countries in the world are getting nuclear potential. Because if you get a minor war between two Third World countries that's a nuclear war, it's going to make the oil fields of Kuwait look like a pool. The ecological damage that'll be done, it won't destroy the world, but the ecological damage will be horrendous. So that we have to have that kind of intelligence at least.

This happens to be the wrong year in which, I believe, to dismantle the CIA. What we have to hope instead is that maybe they can come around the turn if America comes around the turn. If America, as I fear, gets worse and worse and goes further and further to the right, it will really make very little difference whether there's a powerful CIA or not, because there'll be so many powerful right-wing organizations running the government that it just won't matter. But if we go the other way, if we move to the left, there has to come a point when there is, I wouldn't say a rapprochement with the CIA, but a recognition that it can have serious functions. Thank you.


SALZMAN: Victor do you want to respond.

VICTOR NAVASKY: I would only say, it seems to me the way to find out whether Third World countries have nuclear capability is to give support to a strong United Nations international inspection machinery [Applause], not to a strong secret police organization.

SALZMAN: Mr. Stone? Do you want to comment on the abolishment of the CIA?

STONE: Umm-- [Laughter]. Listen, I tried to see Gates but he won't see me. But he'd see Norman.

SALZMAN: Okay, our last question. Mr. Hitchens.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I'm all to conscious of occupying the ghastly position between you and your turn so I'll be brief [Laughter]. I'll take my stand on the high ground of history however, in the seconds that remain to me. The reason I'll do that is because history is, as I was taught, a dialectical. And synthesizes fact and myth for our convenience. And I have a question to two gentleman on the panel, to Oliver Stone and to Normal Mailer. Both of these comrades have made great use of a key phrase upon which I want to take them. The phrase is "American Innocence" and the corollary word is "loss of same" as experienced in 1963. I myself find this an objectionably narcissistic description of the history of the period. [Applause]

The United States in 1963 was a society stranded between McCarthyism and desegregation. Still a segregated society. Kennedy and his family had supported McCarthy and had not supported desegregation [Applause]. It was a society where Joseph Kennedy, a man who had made his fortune by organized crime and who had, and I very much sympathize with what Oliver Stone says about the Second World War, origins of the Cold War, but you had in Joseph Kennedy's case being flat out on the other side in the Second World War.

Where a man of this caliber could buy political careers for more than one of his sons. It was a society in which the President could plan the invasion of Cuba, at least discussion the assassination of the Cuban Revolution's leader, and fuck the mistress of one of the mob leaders who was involved in the second project [Laughter]. And keep all of that out of the press which adored him. You media haters [Applause]-- You media haters, and I know you're out there, should ask yourselves, is it not the case that the modern art of media manipulation begins with Camelot? Only The Nation, only The Nation resisted Arthur Schlessinger's pressure not to print what it knew about the Bay of Pigs. Everybody else played the White House game, and the media game was Keep Kennedy Afloat. It was a society in which JFK, in other words, could run against Eisenhower and Nixon from the right, inventing a missile gap which he knew not to exist, and thus very greatly gratifying, incidentally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Now if this gentleman is the idyllic realm of Sir Galahad of which we have been deprived, might not your counter-myth turn out to be somewhat more conservative than you have so far allowed? And if indeed we are to get another and more serious inquiry, why would it be the case that most of the missing evidence is sealed in the Kennedy family vaults and archives?


Or should I say the Kennedy Dynasty vaults and archives. In order to perpetuate the Arthurian metaphor which we've been stuck, ever since Jackie Kennedy went to see a musical. [Laughter] [Applause]

In other words, what do you think gentleman, what do you think ladies, what do you think comrades and friends all, of the only likely and plausible theory, the one that fits all the known facts, and does no violence to a sense of justice in proportion, known as the Blowback Theory? Whereby John Fitzgerald Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy of sources he had himself willingly set in motion. And the cover-up is just the cover-up, because the pre-existing use by the President of those sources is listed among the things that are not fit to print, and not fit for us to know. Do we not therefore have a hypothesis that does no favor to any realm of any illusion? Thank you.


[Tape Break]

MAILER: ...this country because he's one of the few examples we know of a man who started with every tradition, and familial tradition on the right. And with a great deal of political skill and sophistication and double-dealing, like all major politicians, he moved and maneuvered, and moved and maneuvered, but he was able to react to experience. So that our take on him, if we track him, was that he moved at least to the center from the far right. And I do happen to know a bit about what was going on with Castro. And the fact of the matter is that like all politicians, like Castro himself, Kennedy was doing two things at once. He was carrying on Mongoose and attempting to destroy Cuba, and weaken it, savage it, scar it, and on the other hand he was also beginning to recognize that it was going nowhere and he was also taking up peace initiatives. This is what politicians do. They work both sides of the street. They're incompetent if they don't.

And it got to the point where we don't know. One of the things that that assassination took away from us is the further growth or failure to grow of Jack Kennedy. So I don't see him as a little liberal plaster saint, but I do think he was a man who was flexible, who was extremely intelligent for a U.S. President, and he was growing. [Laughter] [Applause]

SALZMAN: We're ready for questions, what I must ask-- Photographers if you're in the middle of the aisle would you please move away. I need people to come down to the microphone.

__: Let Stone respond!

SALZMAN: Do you have a response?

STONE: I think Norman said it well. And I don't think Christopher you can visit the sins of the father on the son [Applause]. In the Trotskyite tradition I feel always that you find it impossible for the system to adjust and to reform. And this has always been source of my debates with you. I feel that the system is changeable, and I think Norman put his finger on it when he talked about the ability of the man to change. He was an intelligent and articulate man, and he was a smart man, and he saw it coming. Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was very politically popular. Peace was popular in '64. He had, of course, to maintain a strong, as Bush does with Buchanan, a strong conservative position. Because the Goldwater thing was coming.

And I think that there's one small little thing that you overlook. He may have been involved with McCarthy but just before he died he made-- There was an award that he was about to make, to Robert Oppenheimer, he was going to give him the Enrico Fermi Prize. And as you know, that was an extremely, extremely sensitive issue. I think that Jack Kennedy came a long way and would've been a great second-term president.


SALZMAN: Do we have a question?

__: More Hitchens!

__: Yeah more Hitchens!

HITCHENS: That's really not sufficient public demand but thanks all the same [Laughter]. I do think it is time for the floor.

Q: I don't know which mic is supposed to go first, but I guess I'll start. I'd like to ask-- I'd like to add to something that Mr. Hitchens said about the innocence thing before. Mr. Mailer, to further correct you, you said that when Kennedy was shot that that was the end of American innocence. You're a little bit closer than Don Henley but you're still way far off. When the Europeans came here and holocausted most of the American Indians, that was the end of American innocence. Since that time this country has treated blacks, gays, Asians, and many other groups like horse shit. And I don't know why you indulge in this myth.

And I'd like to ask you-- You were on Primetime Live a couple of months ago and Sam Donaldson asked you about the Gulf War. You seemed to say something a little bit different tonight, but you-- He said "Are you for the Gulf War?" and you said "Well it shouldn't have happened but it's good for America to have a war like that every twenty years." Were you serious?

MAILER: Well that's two questions. The last one first. I think we did need that war, I think that's how bad things were. It was not a war that made one the least bit happy but I think we needed it. I think things would be even worse without that war.

[crowd noise]

Q: Why not go to war on the people--

MAILER: May I finish? May I finish?

SALZMAN: Wait a minute, please.

__: ... (inaudible) Genocide, 100,000 people dead!

MAILER: Let me finish would you.

[crowd noise]

MAILER: One of the reasons there were 100,000 people dead is that--

__: Because of George Bush, that's why. [Applause]

MAILER: Hey pal, knock off [Laughter]. If I'm talking I'm talking. If you have no interest in hearing what I have to say then either make more noise or leave. But if I am talking I hate being interrupted, it's like getting hit with a jab. Doesn't bring out the best in you.

George Bush blew that war. I think he'd had only 300 Americans killed and I think he felt at the end of the war that day, it would be a great record. So he didn't want to go on one more day. If he'd gone on one more day there might not have been 100,000 Iraqi killed. But in any event, war is merely one of the horrors that face us. If you're going to take an absolute liberal position, as for instance Victor did, and said let's do it through the UN, the fact of the matter is the UN is not competent to find out where all the nuclear things are buried. We're going to miss the KGB before it's all over because they were good at that. The CIA is probably pretty good at that. You need that kind of information.

We're entering an extraordinary world where all the old signals are off. It used to be that Third World countries were wonderful little places that were terribly exploited. Now they're ugly places that are run by maniacs very often. We have to face that fact. If you keep using liberal jargon forever you will finally die in your own platitudes.

Q: Who sold arms to Iraq and Iran in the early `80s? Are you a moron?

SALZMAN: Excuse me.

People you really must ask questions. If you disagree with what somebody has to say please do not address a question to that person. It is--

Q: That gentleman has left the mic.

SALZMAN: It is very hard for us to see with the lights on, so when you speak-- We're going to go upstairs, down here, the guy in the center, and then we'll go over there, and then over there, but please be sure to identify yourself. And please make it a very quick question.

Q: Mr. Stone, thank you for making JFK. I have a question. Mark Lane recently wrote that George Bush was a CIA agent operating out of Houston, Texas in '63, and he was connected with the Bay of Pigs operation, and he knew Mohrenschildt, who was Oswald's connection supposedly to the CIA. Now after your extensive research I was wondering, do you know or do you believe Bush was CIA operative in '63, connected possibly to the assassination? And do you believe that he should be impeached for his dealings? [Laughter]

Notwithstanding Iran-Contra and his involvement.

STONE: Mark Lane has made an issue of it, he knows more about it. I know that there was a CIA agent called George Bush, by that name, but he seems to have a different middle initial and there's been some confusion on the issue. I do believe that it's possible Mr. Bush knew some of these Cuban anti-Castro exiles, because he was in the oil business. And he may well have been involved with the CIA at that point. But I don't put him at Dealey Plaza or see him there [Laughter]. But we should ask him that. And as Norman said, there should be an investigation. We should have people like Richard Helms grilled. We should have people like Ruth Payne brought out, and people like Warren de Breys (?), the FBI agent that handled Oswald. He's still alive and he's in New Orleans, he's 80-years-old, let's bring him out there, let's have a strong investigation. Get to the bottom of it. Thank you. [Applause]

NAVASKY: There was a George Bush in the CIA. Back in 1963. The agency-- When a fellow named McBride wrote an article about it in The Nation, the agency for the first time in its history publicly denied something out loud. It always said we don't comment on it, and it referred reporters to this man, without giving his address, but it told what his rank was in the agency and what he did. McBride then tracked down this other, second George Bush. The second George Bush had indeed worked for the agency, but he was not the George Bush that McBride had written about, he had a different job. And he was upset that the agency had revealed what his rank was when he left. So there is a mystery about whether Bush was in touch with the Agency prior to the time that he swore before Congress that he had never been in touch with the Agency before he became its director.

On the other hand, Ed Epstein ought to know about De Mohrenschildt because he was with him the morning he committed suicide. And maybe he could tell us about that.

EPSTEIN: George De Mohrenschildt would just be more food for thought. I was with him, I was interviewing him, on a four-day interview, and in the middle he shot himself [Laughter]. I don't know whether I bored him to death or there were extraneous factors [Laughter]. But the only thing that always interested me about it is the last thing that he pointed to before he went home and got killed. Was that he had a photograph that Oswald had given him, he claimed the night Oswald went to shoot at a right-wing general called Walker.

He said that he reported this to the CIA contact man he was with. And why I always found this interesting, going back to the conspiracy that Hitch talks about, is that it would show that if the CIA had had knowledge that he was a potential assassin, they would've had reason to do a cover-up no matter what their involvement was. So I always found that fairly interesting. I always consider it another unresolved, mysterious death. But thank you Victor.

SALZMAN: Mr. Stone, go ahead.

STONE: One little thing. My researcher tells me that we know that in De Mohrenschildt's phone book George Poppy Bush is mentioned and his phone number is given. That's interesting. And Costner, Kevin Costner, when he saw Bush, told me that Bush's first reaction to his shooting the film in Washington was to tell Kevin where he was on that day [Laughter].

EPSTEIN: You know it's not suspicious-- It's not suspicious that Bush knew De Mohrenschildt, because De Mohrenschildt was in the oil business at the same time Bush was.

STONE: Of course, of course.

SALZMAN: Okay we have a question over there?

STONE: But De Mohrenschildt may have been CIA.

Q: Thank you Mr. Salzman. Mr. Salzman asked us to identify ourselves, so. I'm with an organization called New Jewish Agenda, and I wanted to ask Mr. Stone-- You mentioned the name Fletcher Prouty three times in your opening talk. Fletcher Prouty, among many things, was not only one of your advisors, but I understand he serves on the Populist Action Committee of an organization known as the Liberty Lobby. The Liberty Lobby is an organization of the far-right that currently supports with money and political clout, the candidacy of David Duke for president. It is an organization that peddles the theory that the Holocaust is a Jewish hoax. And this man was a crucial advisor to your film.

How are we to regard with credibility of any significance, anything you or this film has to say, especially on those parts of the film where Mr. Prouty was involved? How could you, as someone who claims to be believe in democracy, work with such people who have shown a lifelong hostility to democracy? And how could you as a Jew work with people who peddle the worst kinds of anti-Semitism? How could you?

STONE: Listen, half Jew, take it easy [Laughter].

Q: It makes no difference to the Nazis.

STONE: Yeah I'd go first, I'd go first. But listen, we got the Nazis they're already here. They're not wearing uniforms and they're not goose-stepping. But-- you worry about.

Listen, Fletcher Prouty is a member of the Liberty Lobby. I've checked with the ADL, he never made any single one anti-Semitic comment and he joined the Liberty Lobby late in life. I am concerned with his actions from-- Actually from 1940 on, to 1963. That is what concerns me. And his credibility I think his unquestionable. He is a strong right-winger, he was at the time, he was involved in Black Ops, and he knows a lot about these coups. You do not find, let's say, college professors in this business. People with the necessarily politically correct views.

This man was an operative, and he turned against the CIA and his former position. And I think he's very brave to have done that and he has pointed up in the Secret Team, and in numerous articles the flaws of the CIA, since he retired his commission in 1964 as a Colonel, Chief of Special Operations. He briefed people like Dulles, Cabal and Bissell.

SALZMAN: I have two people up here who would like to comment, then we'll have time I'm afraid for only one more question. I'm sorry about that.

Q: I have a question upstairs.

SALZMAN: I'm sorry, just one minute.

Q: It's down here, it's over here.

Q: Alright sorry, I didn't see you.

NAVASKY: I would just like to refer interested readers to a letter I think that will appear in The Nation from Jonathan Quitney--

__: Turn the light on!

NAVASKY: In which he talks about how Stone even misused Fletcher Prouty. Fletcher Prouty told Stone apparently that there was lax security in Texas. Stone turned that into a order that the army should stand down.

SALZMAN: Mr. Epstein.

EPSTEIN: I want to comment on Fletcher Prouty, not on JFK. Fletcher Prouty is one of the great professional sources of our time [Laughter]. I interviewed him on at least three different stories. When I interviewed him for my book Legend, the Reader's Digest, which fact-checked the part that I published, wouldn't publish it because his entire career had been-- He had falsified it in the military and wasn't where he said. He says on almost any issue he was an editor of a magazine called Gallery. Which was sort of a Penthouse type. And he will say almost anything that someone wants to hear. I know nothing about the Liberty Lobby or any of that, I'd never found him to be anti-Semitic, never heard a remark like that.

But I do know that he's extremely accommodating [Laughter] and I was very excited when I first met him. And when I realized that Donald Sutherland, who said "Call me X, because if my name gets known I'll get killed", was actually supposed to be old Fletcher Prouty, who has written books himself, he appears in Mark Lane's book, he appears everywhere, he's a terrific source and journalists might need him, but I don't think his credibility is beyond question.


SALZMAN: I have a question on the left and that's going to be the last question, I'm sorry. This will have to be the last one.

ALLEN BRODY: Thank you. My name is Allen Brody and I write for the Marketing Press. So I have a question to Oliver Stone, and to any who care to comment. The obvious Rosetta Stone in this case was Jack Ruby. Why did he do it? My question is, why wasn't he given what people in marketing would call the "depth interview", why wasn't he cross-examined? In particular, in the movie, Jim Garrison says they didn't want to talk to Jack Ruby because that would tip off the papers. The next thing, the story got into the front page. So the papers were in fact tipped off. But he never went back and interrogated Jack Ruby.

My other question, on a slightly different note, is if your next movie is a disaster, will you blame it on the CIA? [Laughter] Thank you.

STONE: We showed the interview with Ruby, that's actual testimony. He asked to be taken to Washington, he asked that of Justice Warren. Warren gave him the answer that was given in the film, that it could not be done. It would be too difficult, there was too many problems when making the move. But there's no question that Mr. Ruby seemed to have some things on his mind that he wanted to share. But he did not feel comfortable or safe in Dallas. As we now know he had a re-trial coming up and he died very suddenly of cancer. It's open to speculation.

Mr. Ruby also-- Let me just go-- What was your other question, I'm sorry. Oh, the disaster? Forget it-- [Laughter].

I don't know what Mr. Epstein is talking about, Fletcher Prouty has a commission. He can call the Pentagon and he can check on this tomorrow.

EPSTEIN: He didn't work for Jack Kennedy is what I mean, where he claims.

STONE: He never worked for Jack Kennedy, he worked as a Chief of Special Operations, he was attached to (Gen. Victor) Krulak in the Pentagon, and he worked on the Taylor-McNamara Report of October '63. Which is what forecast the withdrawal of all the troops in '65. And this is-- This is entirely credible and is checkable. And I don't know why you're saying these things about Mr. Prouty when you know he served his country for some 20-plus years.

Q: I have a question for Mr. Stone please.

STONE: I would like to go back at some point to the issue of Jim Garrison with Mr. Epstein.

HITCHENS: Serving his country is putting it a bit high.

Q: May I ask a question of Mr. Stone please?

Mr. Stone, Ms. Ephron and Mr. Mailer have both asked this question but never really gave you the opportunity to answer it. As a filmmaker and as a screenwriter-- There have been references to Mr. Garrison's flawed character and the darker side of his character. Why didn't you include that in the screenplay?

STONE: I think that's a legitimate criticism and I've answered it before. I think that it is strictly not a biography of Jim Garrison. I have three hours and eight minutes, and I've told four stories here. I told a bit of the Garrison investigation in New Orleans. I used it as a, in a sense, to get through the looking glass to the larger issue of the reenactment in Dealey Plaza, which is the second story. The third story is Oswald's background, the fourth story is the Fletcher Prouty story. So I have four tales to tell. To go into the various flaws of Jim, I think makes the film a smaller film, a biographical film, and I think would've taken the focus off the larger issue. Which is what Jim says in the movie, "We're through the looking glass here. Black is white, white is black, let's get to the bottom of this case: Why Kennedy was killed."

I consider Jim Garrison a hero [Applause]. Because in the 1960's he was saying that elements of the CIA killed our President. That was an outrageous statement. It would've destroyed any political career. He could not have run for dog catcher off of that statement. And he was destroyed for it. His credibility was questioned, he was scandalized, he was vilified.

Mr. Epstein, who spent 48 hours in New Orleans, has judged Mr. Garrison, I think very harshly. When I spoke to Mr. Ivon, who was his main man, Lou Ivon who was played in the film, he spent more time with David Ferrie it is true, than Jim Garrison. It is based on talks with Mr. Ivon that I sketched out the scene in the motel room where Mr. Ferrie is ranting and raving. According to Mr. Ivon he was ranting and raving.

EPSTEIN: Why isn't it in Jim Garrison's book then?

STONE: Because it isn't, okay. That's another issue. Mr. Ivon is talking to me about this when I was down in New Orleans. Because Jim Garrison was not there. He's not going to exactly write what he doesn't know. Mr. Ferrie was known as a ranter and a raver. And we don't say that what he says is true, we show him in the full fury of his madness, let's say, where he says at one point very clearly "who the fuck knows who shot Kennedy? The shooters don't even fucking know." Implying the method of espionage where possibly the assassins don't even know the names of the people that hired them.

And we know that Mr. Ferrie knew Mr. Oswald from the Civil Air Patrol, from his library card. Ferrie said in a speech to a veterans group that he had flown missions for the CIA, and boasted of training anti-Castro Cubans for the Bay of Pigs. We know he knew Clay Shaw from a photograph that emerged, that was not available to Mr. Garrison, showing Mr. Shaw and Mr. Ferrie in drag together with two other young men at a party. It emerged and it's very clearly those two people. Mr. Epstein talks about Garrison's arrests of Townsend, Chandler and Sheridan.

Walter Sheridan should've been arrested because there's-- The motivation of this documentary that Mr. Sheridan worked on, one time NBC correspondent, is highly questionable and I wrote a letter about it to the New York Times. We have CIA documents that have come to the light, that say before the NBC documentary was aired that Sheridan put on, that Sheridan was in New Orleans to, quote, "Destroy Garrison's act." Now how the hell does the CIA know what NBC is going to put on the air four weeks before?

There must've been some contact between the CIA and Mr. Sheridan, who has a government history. The CIA-- That documentary went on and on with these witnesses that Mr. Epstein offers, but the CIA documents say that Sheridan offered a witness $500 for his story for the NBC program. Perry Russo told me that he was offered a trip to California, to get out, to start a new life in California. The witness in this $500 didn't think that it was enough money and he went home. Later he signed affidavits saying he made the whole thing up. None of the witnesses that Sheridan brought ever stood by their testimony outside that documentary. That's why Garrison subpoenaed him. Not only did he subpoena those two witnesses, but he also went to the FCC and he got, because it was such a hatchet job on the air, for one hour his whole reputation was destroyed, he got a half-an-hour rejoinder through the FCC and I urge you to look at this piece of film.

EPSTEIN: The FCC doesn't have power over networks. ... (inaudible)

STONE: He got on the air because of the injustice essentially of the one-hour documentary, and I urge you to look at this piece of film because Mr. Garrison speaks very well for himself. And as Bill Schaap said he's a very articulate man. He did arrest the wrong man. Edgar Eugene Bradley was a mistake and he had him confused with another man called Eugene Hale Brady.

EPSTEIN: Why did he arrest him?

STONE: Eugene Hale Brady is a long story, I don't think we're going to get into it at this stage of the name (sic.). But Brady is an interesting figure and he may have been at Dealey Plaza that day. Russo was not the only evidence against Shaw. There was the Dean Andrews testimony that a Clay Bertrand had contacted him and asked him to go to Dallas.

EPSTEIN: But I want to ask you about that, just about the Andrews.

EPSTEIN: He convicted Dean Andrews of perjury. In the conviction it was because Andrews said that he had made up the name Bertrand. And he was convicted of perjury. If Andrews had, if that was true, and I will concede you that, if he had made up the name Bertrand then how could witnesses have identified Bertrand as Shaw and used that name before they had ever heard it before? Back in 1962.

STONE: Well the connection to Bertrand, we have Officer Habighorst who saw--When Mr. Shaw was arrested he gave as his alias Clay Bertrand. And that testimony was shown in the film. Officer Habighorst was not allowed to testify by the judge because Shaw did not have a lawyer present. There was a woman at Eastern Airlines, I think a very credible woman, who again testified to Shaw signing the alias Bertrand. This is important. There were ten witnesses in Clinton, Louisiana, ten witnesses, that saw Shaw, Oswald, and Ferrie together at a Corps civil rights rally. We have Brosheres and Logan, two other members of the, let's say the homosexual underworld in New Orleans, that have made the connections, not only Perry Russo, Brosheres, and Logan made the connections of Shaw to Ferrie.

Shaw was a perjurer on the stand. Not only that, we now know, from the Helms' testimony, and the Markettie (?) testimony, the CIA was very concerned about Shaw's trial, and did their utmost to help him. Helms admitted that he was a contact agent for the CIA. We know Shaw was a member of the board of Permindex in Italy. Permindex is a fascist company that was thrown out of Italy, why? For supplying funds to the OAS, which was trying to assassinate Charles de Gaul.

Garrison did three things, I think, that whatever, whatever flaws, and he did three things that I think are crucial, and they've been overlooked. And I'm sure Bill can add some things. But one, he liberated the Zapruder film from Time-Life, and he showed it for the first time in a public forum [Applause]. Two, he conclusively proved that Oswald-- It was supposed to be a lone-nut communist, had anti-communist associations in Dallas and New Orleans. With people like Ferrie and Bannister. And I think Shaw. And that was-- The HSAC hearings brought this to the fore, these connections, and confirmed Ferrie knowing Oswald. And the third thing he did, and I think it's crucial, we've discussed it earlier, is he brought Pierre Fink under testimony and under duress, to admit that they were not able to track the wound of the neck wound at the Bethesda autopsy because there were military officers telling them what to do. I think we should Jim Garrison a little more credit than what Mr. Epstein has done.


EPSTEIN: Oliver-- Jim Garrison, we can differ on our opinion of whether Jim Garrison was a good man or a bad man. We can differ about Fletcher Prouty. But your idea that a journalist should be arrested because he tries to foul up an investigation, this I think is radical. Because as Norman Mailer said, you know, basically, and I agreed with this, and with what Nora said, is the big issue about your film is political. I agree that it's not the pettiness of facts being wrong or anything else. People are angry about it because they don't like the politics of it. I think everyone in this room agrees on that.

What Norman Mailer said is that people will agree one way or agree another way. Life magazine, which you say, you know, gave the film to-- Or Garrison liberated from it. They were partners with Garrison in the investigation. David Chandler was the reporter for Life that was arrested, or not arrested, an arrest warrant was issued for him, he got out. Life magazine came out and said that Garrison was a fraud. I don't put any credit on that, but I'm saying that we have to allow different opinion. Just as I'm willing to allow you your opinion, I'm glad your film is out, I think it's a terrific film, I have an opinion and so does Walter Sheridan. Who you said was government connected, yes he was government connected, he was a very close friend of Bobby Kennedy and he worked on the "Get Jimmy Hoffa" movement, and he certainly was a political figure. I agree with that. But even political figures have a right to get into this debate.

And Bobby Kennedy did send them to New Orleans, because Bobby Kennedy thought that there might be something to Garrison investigation. Just as I thought when I went down there. The fact that people came out with different opinions doesn't mean that they should be arrested.


[crowd noise]

SALZMAN: Please, please, Mr. Stone do you want the last word?

STONE: He was arrested for bribery. For trying to bribe a witness to testify against Garrison.

__: That's a crime.

STONE: That's correct. And it's interesting to note that Mr. Sheridan never worked again as a journalist. It was a one-time hatchet job.

SALZMAN: Ladies and gentleman we've gone on almost as long as JFK has. We are almost at the three-hour mark. We promised-- [crowd noise]-- We promised a couple of people, we promised a couple of panelists that we would stop at ten o'clock, they must be elsewhere. We knew that we could not cover everything that needed to be dealt with, that's obvious, and so my unpleasant task is to thank all of you for coming, and say we're stopping at this point. Thank you very much.



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posted november 20, 2003

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