About a week ago, I published the article “Oliver Stone’s JFK Made Me A Creepy Kid, And Now A Disappointed Adult.” In it, I wrote about my teen years as a “JFK assassination buff,” a nascent fascination that Stone’s 1991 film stoked into a slightly morbid obsession. It was a piece about how my adolescent hours of pondering CIA-mob ties and autopsy photos had, inevitably, lead to an anticlimactic letdown when the government finally declassified thousands of assassination records, whose revelations and telltale clues I was already largely familiar with. And it was about my dismay to discover that, all these years later, my antiauthoritarian paranoia had put me in the company of Donald Trump, Alex Jones, and Roger Stone, et al., who’d championed the files’ release by way of sowing the confusion and suspicion of the U.S. intelligence community they depend on to operate. It was about me, in other words, and my relationship to this movie I loved, and the weird strain of fandom it inspired in a kid who could have been playing video games like everyone else.
But of course, that’s the official story. So naturally, Oliver Stone disagrees with it. The director read my piece and—upholding a tradition that’s continued since the film’s release—he then sent me a three-page letter to counter its many specious claims about my life, which he’s asked me to publish in full. Here it is.
For approximately the last two weeks, the public has been inundated with nothing but misinformation, disinformation and just plan nonsense about the assassination of President Kennedy. Much of this has been due to the fact that the MSM has relied upon a set of so-called experts who, in fact, are not experts at all. The occasion was the attempted final release of the postponed documents that were delayed for release by the Assassination Records Review Board. That body closed its doors in 1998. It was at work for four years and declassified 2 million pages of documents either in part or full. It also created a welter of new evidence since it was allowed to perform limited investigations where a controversy existed in the record.
In Mr. O’Neal’s six pages of snide dismissal it would have been nice had he acknowledged any of the Review Board’s discoveries. Since many strike at the heart of the Warren Report’s conclusions. But he does not. Instead he refers to an article from, of all places, The Washington Post. That article was in part based on the work of Edward Epstein, a longtime friend of the late James Angleton. As John Newman and more recently Jeff Morley have shown, Angleton was the man in control of the Oswald file at CIA from 1959-63. (For an informed look at Epstein click here.)
I also do not consider a reference to Richard Linklater’s film Slacker to be an informed comment on either the murder of President Kennedy, the cover up that ensued, or my 1991 film JFK.
That movie was based upon the memoir of Jim Garrison, On the Trail Of The Assassins—along with Jim Marrs’ Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. Garrison had been the DA of New Orleans while Lee Harvey Oswald was living there in the summer of 1963. During that time period, Garrison was one of the two or three most powerful politicians in the state. He decided to gamble all that in order to reopen the Kennedy case. During his inquiry, he received no help at all from any law enforcement body. On top of that, his subpoenas for witnesses and evidence were turned down, with help, we now know from CIA counsels who visited judges in the Virginia area. (See Memo from Agency counsel Dennis O’Keefe dated May 15, 1967)
In fact, both the FBI and CIA illegally spied on him and his office. The scene in my film where an assistant uncovers a listening device in Garrison’s office was based upon fact. In reality this was done to Garrison not once but twice. A man who worked for the FBI revealed this to Garrison’s chief investigator after the inquiry ended. (See memo to Jim Garrison by Lou Ivon 5/11/73) His office was also wired by Gordon Novel, who was on assignment for NBC at the time. Novel admitted this in a legal deposition while under oath. (See Probe Magazine, Vol. 4 No. 5, p. 26)
On top of this Garrison was ridiculed and caricatured in the press by both CBS and NBC, and by some major magazines like Newsweek and Saturday Evening Post. When the Assassination Records Review Board was in session from 1994-98, they declassified many documents showing that the authors of those magazine articles, like the late Jim Phelan, had been intelligence informants on Garrison, something Phelan always denied while he was alive. (April 3, 1967 FBI memo from R. E. Wick to Cartha DeLoach)
Considering all the above, and much more, it is surprising that Garrison accomplished what he did. We will never know exactly what Garrison had in his files because when the Review Board visited New Orleans, it was revealed that his discovered that his successor, Harry Connick, had much of what Garrison left behind incinerated. This was revealed during a local TV segment by correspondent Richard Angelico broadcast via WDSU TV back on July 11, 1995.
But what Garrison did unveil about New Orleans and the JFK case was greatly expanded upon by the original work of the Review Board. Much important information was declassified by that body about David Ferrie, Guy Banister and Clay Shaw. For that new information one only has to look at the pages of William Davy’s fine book, Let Justice Be Done. There one will see that, contrary to his denials, Clay Shaw did work for the CIA and held a covert security clearance. (See page 195) Further declassified files have shown that Shaw was considered a highly valued and compensated CIA contract agent. (Joan Mellen, Our Man In Haiti, pgs. 54-55) And that an INS agent followed Ferrie to Guy Banister’s office in the summer of 1963 and discovered that Oswald was working there. (Click here for that information.) These are things that I would have included in my film if they had been declassified at the time. But it took the controversy provoked by that film to get the Washington to finally cough these materials up. I certainly hope Mr. O’Neal understands the significance of it all. Just because information about the JFK case does not appear in the pages of The Washington Post or Mr. Linklater’s film does not mean it does not exist. It does exist if you take the time to look for it in declassified files.
If I could remake my film today, it would be that much stronger because of these documents. Also because the material that has surfaced from the ARRB on the autopsy evidence, and through other sources on the ballistics, has further impeached the verdict of the Warren Commission. For instance, during a deposition before the Review Board, official autopsy photographer John Stringer denied he took the pictures of President Kennedy’s brain that are now in the National Archives. This was not based on memory. It was based on the fact that he never used the film that those pictures were taken with, nor did he use the process utilized to take them. (Douglas Horne, “Inside the ARR,” p. 806.)
Secondly, the alleged ballistics test that the House Select Committee on Assassinations used as their so-called “lynchpin” to tie together the bullet evidence to the rifle allegedly used in the assassination has now been discredited. This was done, not once, but twice by two different teams of scientists. Both teams included a metallurgist and a statistician. This was done many years ago, as one can see by reading this article.
I could go on and on with this subject. Because that is how much has been achieved on the JFK case by the declassified file of the Review from the nineties. But let me add, Mr. O’Neal is also wrong in describing what happened this past October 26th. On that Thursday there were only 52 documents that were formerly withheld in full that were declassified. And some of those still were in redacted form. There were many, many more than just 300 that were deferred once more until April. There will be a long and detailed article on this subject coming out at Bob Parry’s valuable web site Consortium News soon from Jim DiEugenio, who wrote the essential Reclaiming Parkland (2013, Skyhorse Publishing). Mr. O’Neal should read that rather than the Washington Post for his information. Then he can actually spread facts and not just snarky opinion on your readers.
As to Mr. O’Neal’s dismissal of my Putin Interviews, I have the same kind of response. Mr. O’Neal should leave behind his fashionable sense of cynicism and look again with an open mind (assuming he looked at all) at Mr. Putin’s detailed responses in the 4 hours we presented (available on Showtime Anytime). It’s also available in a transcript form from Skyhorse Publishing, which covers the 20-plus hours Mr. Putin and I spoke.
Anyway, provided you’re not already down your own rabbit hole of supplementary research, just a few things to add:
- My snide dismissal and snarky opinions were largely directed at me and what a weird kid I was by taking this on as a “hobby.” In case it wasn’t clear from all the carefree, teenaged daylight I burned poring over it, I’m a pretty fervent believer in this stuff myself.
- Nevertheless, come on, man. I love it, but there’s a lot about JFK that’s kind of full of shit, and that’s by Stone’s self-admitted design. The idea that it has several fabrications and glossy fudges of the truth isn’t the invention of The Washington Post, spun out of some vast conspiracy of friendship. “I’ve taken dramatic license. It is not a true story per se,” Stone himself said. After all, it’s a movie, not a book report. So look, he replaced some troublesome witnesses with some “composite characters,” and he took Jim Garrison—a guy with a reputation for cynical publicity-seeking, and whom Stone himself saw as a “Southern buffoon, a Huey Long type”—and he made him a morally irreproachable, Kevin Costner type. He bent it a little here and there, because it’s a movie, and it’s a better story this way. And however dubious JFK might be as a work of journalism—which, again, it never claimed to be—it is an artfully made, powerful work of political theater, whose value as a means of starting a larger national conversation cannot be overstated. And, again, I really like it! Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones are all great. John Candy is also fantastic. I wish that scene with John Larroquette hadn’t been cut, but really, good stuff all around. It also prompted Congress to take actual legal action in releasing the files! That’s incredible in and of itself.
- Although they were admittedly perhaps not as detailed as The A.V. Club reader deserved, I did touch on several of the Review Board’s discoveries in my concluding paragraphs, as part of the litany of stuff I’ve long known—largely thanks to Stone! But I confess that, in my bid to write about myself, I did fail to mention those now-debunked ballistics reports. I did also compare my own JFK obsessiveness to a guy in Slacker, which I now realize was not particularly contributive to serious JFK assassination research. I hope these omissions and distortions do not dissuade anyone from investigating the files further.
- Finally, you can indeed watch Stone’s Putin Interviews on Showtime, where you can see him fawn over Putin’s big mansions, horse stables, and hockey skills while giving him all the latitude he wishes to spew his own propaganda more or less unchallenged. They also watch Dr. Strangelove together. At the risk of upsetting Mr. Stone further, I think that’s a great movie, too.