At the recent JFK Lancer conference in Dallas, WhoWhatWhy Editor-in-Chief Russ Baker spoke to a group dedicated to finding out the full truth behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Though supposedly the matter was settled long ago, most Americans don’t believe the Warren Commission’s hasty, FBI-driven verdict. Nor was that verdict acceptable to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (of the 1970s) which concluded that the president had most likely been killed as a result of a conspiracy, though it failed to resolve the particulars.
Yet, all kinds of people keep trying, at their own expense, to solve the mystery.
“There is a tremendous debt owed to this amazing bunch of people who do this stuff selflessly their whole lives … This may be the greatest revelation out of the whole thing if nothing else, the fundamental goodness, decency, and tenacity” of truth-seeking investigators in the U.S. and around the world, Baker said.
The researchers are certainly tenacious, yet 50 years after the assassination, the murder remains unresolved. Baker points out that the research challenges cannot be blamed simply on a conspiratorial cover-up.
The community of researchers itself is plagued by problems such as sloppiness in its own work, too many marginal books being produced (and certainly too many for a relatively small core of enthusiasts), too many feuds, and too much ego among the “stars” — all of which diminishes the potential and the high-mindedness of the undertaking.
Baker pointed out that sometimes we interpret an anomaly as a sign of conspiracy when, in fact, it may be a symptom of systemic moral failure within our society and institutions.
“We may just be looking at the dysfunction of our entire society to some extent,” he said. “And so that may also be why the Kennedy case seems so surreal, because a lot of the stuff we’re looking at isn’t part of the assassination plot at all; it’s just a society where many institutions and processes and techniques are not functioning properly.”
“[It’s] a society where criminality and cover-your-behind and go-along-to-get-along and fear and cowardice and not willing to take risks and all these other things, following what you’re told.…To do the Kennedy assassination research, you have to sort of strip all this stuff away to see what’s left. And that’s very hard.”
The challenges of JFK research represents, in a sense, a microcosm of the problems journalists face when doing any kind of important, in-depth investigation, Baker noted. The way to move forward is to “not have a dog in the race” — that is, to have no preferred outcome.
Researchers must follow the facts wherever they lead, even when they point to sensitive or disturbing conclusions. According to Baker, the mark of good journalists is a willingness to revise theories, admit their mistakes, and still keep going.
Not coincidentally, these are principles that we here at WhoWhatWhy take seriously.
Please see the below video for Russ’s full talk.
As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, please understand that a few small ones may slip through.
Full Text Transcript:
Announcer : With no further ado, Russ Baker. Thank you Russ.
Russ Baker: It’s great to be here. I was going to talk about research challenges. The first one is when the guy before you says “It’s lunchtime,” and it’s not.
I am only half joking because as a relative newcomer to this community, I’ve only been involved with Kennedy stuff for about a decade. I know that’s like yesterday to most of you. I am still grappling with some of the problems that I see with doing Kennedy research. We’re all imperfect and that has a lot to do with it, but I did try to make a list of research challenges of some of the things that I’ve encountered. You may know that I wrote a book called Family of Secrets. I hate to keep talk about it because it’s been out for so many years now. People keep saying “When are you going to do another book?” I am working on another book and it is just on Kennedy. The Family of Secrets has five chapters on the Kennedy assassination that all came from the question of “Why could George H.W. Bush not recall where he was on November 22, 1963?” I think the fact that that issue is not deemed important by many people in this community tells you a lot about our inability to ever move forward or to grasp the larger picture of what has happened to this country. I also think – and by the way I want to congratulate all of you because these presentations are fabulous; the information about the paper bags, the information about the library card, the information about the photos, and so forth. This is all fabulous work but it goes to the point that there’s so much out there that is not resolved. Fifty years later we’re still focusing on very, very microscopic things and trying to establish what those things mean.
So I started make a list of all of the challenges, all of the research challenges that we face, and I realized that it was like trying to write an encyclopedia, or perhaps a medical diagnosis of madness. Speaking of madness, what I’m trying to do with the book that I’m working on is to see if everything, not everything but much, can be assessed and whether it is possible to, with an open mind, look at some of these factors and establish something that would, might not be in dispute. That almost any reasonable-minded person would look at it and say, “Yes, that’s in fact what that is,” and then take those things and see what you’ve got. And see if you could create a coherent story that you could tell to anybody that could be told succinctly, could be shown to people who don’t know anything about this, aren’t interested or think that this is crazy, and say, “Well here are all of these things that just seem to us to be real and credible. Of course I realize that trying to write any sort of book on this subject that makes sense to most people, and is kind of clear, and not too hard to read, on its face sounds absurd to most of us, especially with the granular stuff that we’ve got here that’s so important and still so unresolved. But it does seem to me like worth doing. I have other things to do. I work full time running a news organization I founded called WhoWhatWhy.org, a nonprofit. Some of you may know of it. We’re dedicated to trying to improve journalism and trying to, you know, whether you agree with Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or anything, everybody seems to be unhappy with journalism and we feel that journalism could be much, much better and more trusted by people across the country of all backgrounds. So that’s my day job so to speak and I do the Kennedy stuff on the side.
There are many issues. Why does this matter? What does it mean? Whatever do the pieces of it mean? Who did what? What evidence is what? And so forth, awful lot. You might say I’ve been studying all the things that have prevented forward movement and that’s what I’m going to try to talk about today. Certainly the things that prevent forward movement include the obstruction and the cover-up by the establishment. But there are many, many more impediments and I will get to those impediments, but I want to start with just giving you a sense of the problems. How many of you have been inside the National Archives of Maryland? *Pauses* Okay. I don’t consider myself an expert. Malcolm usually comes to these things. He’s not here. Malcolm Blunt probably is the expert. I know some of you here are probably pretty good experts, so what I say may be wrong. But I’ve been in there a number of times and my sense was that the national archives don’t really work. That, when you go in there, it’s confusing. I remember asking for guidance, speaking to librarians. In fact, reference librarians who are specifically assigned to the Kennedy collection and quickly discovering how little they knew. Which mortified me and then I would ask them “Well, how do I look this thing up and what does this thing mean?” They didn’t know and they referred me. Again maybe I’m out of date, it’s been a couple years since I’ve been there. They have binders, and then they have computers, some of the stuff that’s in the binders isn’t in the computers and some of the things that are in the computers aren’t in the binders. They tell me you sort of have to look at both and I ask, “How you do that?” Of course, you’re dealing with this vast number of documents. So the problem with the national archives alone is just almost insurmountable. I remember even talking to Malcolm about it and asking him and he very candidly would say he didn’t know about a lot of these things. Just to give you a sense and I’m going to try not to totally depress you here, but we are dealing with some very, very serious structural and systemic issues in trying to move forward.
As a journalist, I want to distinguish about that because we’ve also gotten to the point in this country where nobody seems to know what a journalist is. It doesn’t … it seems to mean anybody who has the ability to type something and put it up on the web now is a journalist. But actually journalism, just like being a doctor or a lawyer… anything, is a field. It’s a craft and there are certain things you are supposed to do. One of the things you’re supposed to do is you’re supposed to not have a dog in the fight. You’re not supposed to want some outcome. You’re supposed to want to know what happened. That’s really important. As I have gone about my research, I always was asking: What does anything actually mean? What does this mean? We just saw how terrible all these crazy things about the Dallas Police Department. What does that mean? What does it mean that all those people are wacky, or daft, or incompetent, or stupid, or whatever it is? What does that mean? What does it mean that they’re all carry around guns and messing with the evidence? All this crazy stuff, what does it mean? I don’t know the answer to that and I think we have to figure that out. Some of you may think you know. What does it mean when we look at FBI reports and they routinely misspell the surnames of the witnesses and the suspects? What does that mean? I don’t know. I have been asking for a decade now: What does that mean? Are these people doing that deliberately? Are they lazy? Are they stupid? Are they reckless? I don’t know because the answer is probably all of the above. What do you do with that? Because you can’t even prove a conspiracy, if they’re just a bunch of dumb clucks. We may just be looking at the dysfunction of our entire society – to some extent. So that may also be why the Kennedy case seems so surreal because a lot of the stuff we’re looking at isn’t part of the Kennedy assassination plot at all. It’s just a society where many institutions and processes and techniques are not functioning properly. A society where criminality, cover your behind, go along to get along, and fear, and cowardice, and not willing to take risks, and all these other things of following what you’re told. That these are the things and to do the Kennedy assassination research, we have to sort of strip all the stuff away to see what’s left and that is very hard.
So the FBI misspellings. To be fair, I love you all dearly but I mean a lot of the books we put out are full of errors. Talk to my best friends in here, I won’t say their names, but it makes me crazy. You’ve got three different spellings of somebody’s surname on one page. So I cannot say that the FBI is up to no good with misspelling if we’re also doing the same thing.
Trying to figure out agendas of everybody, right? Because when you look at me, you wonder what that guy’s agenda is. You know they always say, “He’s just trying to make money. He’s writing books,” which to me is a kind of funny thing to say because you go out in the street and there’s a construction worker and you say, “He’s just trying to make money by doing construction work.” Why, if you are a professional author, why would you not need to get paid to write a book? So when you hear that, when you hear critics, people who are lone nutters, and they try to use that, you should go right back at them and ask what that’s supposed to mean? Are they going to say that about the police officer and the expert witness too? So what do these things mean? What are the agendas? Is a file real? Is a file real, or is it a cover? I think Jim or Eugene were talking with this type of argument. Sorry about this, I can’t remember who. But when you look at the files and you don’t know if the file is a real file, or if the file was put in there for some other reason, right? Because somebody will say, “You have to have real files.” You can’t run something without some real files but they seem to have an awful lot of fake files. One of my favorites, you may remember this if you read Family of Secrets, I have a whole chapter on George de Mohrenschildt. George de Mohrenschildt was leaving the country after seemingly handling Lee Harvey Oswald. He suddenly was exiting stage right and going to Haiti which I think is very significant. I think they had to get him out of the picture and I believe it was because he was a lifelong friend of George H.W. Bush. I think they said that this guy cannot be around when this thing happens and he left the country. But when he left the country, we now know that he stopped in New York and in Washington and among other things, he had a meeting at I believe it was the Knickerbocker Club in New York with some CIA people and they wrote up a report. And the report says that they met with this de Mohrenschildt and so forth. They said that he had made some claims to them, why he was going to Haiti and had some information for them. I believe that that whole report was deliberately placed in the files to provide a cover for why they were really meeting with this man. Or in case anybody discovered that he had ties to the CIA, they could say, “Yeah, we met with this guy because he had some wacky idea to go into Haiti and do something with twine, sisal, and that he had some other plot, and maybe he was talking about that he wanted to overthrow Duvalier.” This whole thing gets very, very involved and even that we don’t know whether the actual documents we have are of any value except they establish that they did in fact meet with him.
Then there’s a whole issue about what happens when we make mistakes. I’ve made mistakes. I think we all make mistakes. As time passes we say, “Wait a minute. Maybe this means something else.” I put something in my book about that LBJ talking to Richard Russell explaining how he got Earl Warren to agree to be on the commission. In my original hardcover – the difference between the hardcover and the paperback – I said that I wondered, or at least wondered the way it was phrased, whether there was something that they knew about Earl Warren that they were using against him. Since then something came out which seemed to suggest that was not what it was, so in the paperback I changed it. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I was right in the first place. The whole story of Earl Warren breaking down and crying is the expression he used when they told about the little incident down in Mexico. I mean I can understand him being alarmed, but I don’t know why he would break down and cry. It sounds strange to me. So sometimes we find out… You know when you go out and buy a book, there’s different editions, hardcover, paperback. Anthony Summers changes the name of his book, a good new addition. And people say: “Oh, you’ve got to get the original. That’s where all the good stuff is.” Right? Because when you get the original, you don’t get all the corrections that came in the later additions, or the new analysis. So this is yet another problem I struggle with and probably like most of you, I’ve got a library now with hundreds and hundreds of Kennedy books. I’m always struggling with which one should be looked at, on Kindle or the hardcover, the paperback, or the revised. I don’t know. I don’t know. Then you’ve got just so many things that are all over the place like the statements of people who were considered for use by the CIA. Do you know what I’m talking about? Considered for use / not used. Who were those? George de Mohrenschildt – I think, wasn’t Clay Shaw, I think. Isn’t there a file and it says that they had some interaction with him but they never really used him?
Audience member: Well, Russ, that ended up being an exposed lie.
Russ: Sorry, what did?
Audience member: In the CIA’s historical review in 1984 in black and white: “We used Shaw as a very highly placed CIA asset for a number of years.” So that first story you’re talking about, that ended up being discredited by the agency itself.
Russ: I do know that he was a CIA asset and I do know that there are records to show that. But my point is you still got records that say the opposites. So, depending on what comes out and what you see, you’ve got these problems. Then you got Priscilla Johnson McMillan, right? I mean, I have to say for a woman who was rejected, she was sure there at all the right places, wasn’t she? Amazing. How about the Paine family? When is a communist not a communist? I’ve spent a lot of time on the Paine family. I had the great pleasure of meeting Ruth Paine and spending an hour or so with her in her home. *laughs* I’m sure she’s just a nice old lady, but I’m going to have her play an agent in my movie because she really pulls it off pretty well. But you know, this family and – somebody mentioned this the other day – all this communist stuff around them, leftist, communist, whatever, which seems to be true and yet they also seem to have been very much part of the national security structure. You have to get into that nuance. Well yeah, ‘cause the left,
Cord Meyer, blah blah blah, they were leftist, liberal, socialist, or something, but they were worried about the Soviets and in those days it was patriotic to join up and do the right thing. So that’s very complicated to figure out who these people are. Then you’ve got signs that the bad guys like the Warren Commission staff sometimes did the right thing. Didn’t that blow your mind? Suddenly out of the blue, you see Belin or one of these people doing the right thing and asking a real question and you go “Wow! What’s that about?” They seem indignant, righteous, I don’t know. Misspellings, as they said, imprecision, self-interest, permeates everything and everywhere, bias in favor of previous things that we’ve all said or done or written, and discomfiture with new things coming along that may lessen or question that. These are hard things for any of us as human beings to deal with.
Poor questioning. This is something that I’ve been trying to address as I go through and look at all of your work and try to assess it and so forth, is sometimes and I just want to be frank about this, I’ll look at some questioning somebody did of somebody else and I’ll say, “My gosh!” It’s kind of like a damaged evidence scene. They didn’t ask the right questions. They were angry. They were opinionated. They were steering. They weren’t listening to what the interviewee was saying. They weren’t paying attention. They weren’t following up. Of course we see this with the Warren Commission where we assume that was deliberate. But we also see it in the research community and it becomes very hard because I know that when I call people, and I’ve been doing this most of my adult life, I’m very, very careful when I meet with people and I drive them crazy. Is Gary here? Gary Shaw? Hey Gary. I’ve been driving Gary crazy, sitting in his house and he sees what I do. I’ll stay up all night going through some really obscure thing, just trying to figure out who the friend of a friend of somebody was. But you have to do that because you trying to get a good fix on these people and you’ve got to go outside the person to these concentric circles and then work your way back. It’s a huge amount of work. It’s very, very difficult. And so as I said, misconstruing answers, alienating sources, a lot of people tell me they won’t talk to me because so many people call them and accuse them of all kinds of nefarious things. I say, “I’m not going to accuse you and if you look me up, I’m careful and I’m fair.” And they say, “Oh I don’t know you. I’m not going to take a chance.” And all those doors are closed to anybody who’s come on the scene at all in any recent years.
How about doubling? Anybody know that concept, doubling with agents? I don’t know. I’ve never seen a handbook on this, but they’ve got two of everybody. They got two of Desmond Fitzgeralds. There were two George Bushes, remember that? George Bush of the CIA and they trotted this other guy out. Some people say that was him. This young fellow who was hired by the CIA right before the assassination and let go right after? I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Then the CIA, which never discusses their own people, suddenly comes forward and says, “Oh it’s some other guy! Here he is. We can’t find him.” Yes, unusual.
Jack Crichton! Remember Jack Crichton? The military intelligence reserve guy who was very closely tied into the Dallas Police Department intelligence people and had that weird underground bunker under Fair Park. This has never been investigated very much. I rarely hear people talk about it very much, but I find it interesting. It was an underground medication bunker operating on November 22, 1963. I’d like to know more about that Jack Crichton, interesting fellow. He was running for governor when George H.W. Bush was running for U.S. Senator. They were on the ticket effectively. They were campaigning in 1963. So he and George Bush knew themselves very well and I got all excited because I found George Bush in one of his memoirs talking about his good friend Jack Crichton! Except, guess what? It’s another Jack Crichton also from Texas. So I think, itt sounds kind of crazy, but I think he found another Jack Crichton. He thought, “I got a problem just like I did with de Mohrenschildt. I’ll just befriend the other Jack Crichton and when people say, ‘you know Jack Crichton?’ I’ll say, ‘You’re getting him mixed up.'” This is what I call it, doubling. I have no proof that it’s an official policy but I found a guy in the CIA lived in a certain place and done certain things, had a, I thought, not that common a name. Everything worked and I was like, “Wow.” Then suddenly his wife’s name was different. So I said, “Have you been married before?” He said, “Nope.” I said, “Your wife’s name is not, you know, Jennifer?” He said, “Nope.” I was like, “Oh my gosh.” It’s two guys in the CIA. Almost identical. Never heard of each other. Same name and everything else. Different wife. So it’s hard to do this work. How about two Richard Spragues? You ever get over that one? Richard Sprague, the researcher and the Richard Sprague with the committee. And so this goes on. And do you know, there are two Russ Bakers by the way? *laughter*
Audience member: Which one are you? *laughter*
Russ: I actually wrote a piece for the New York Times. I don’t know if anybody ever saw it. It was on the op-ed page. It was called, “I’m the Other Guy.” How many Oswalds? That I don’t know.
I’ve got a friend, I don’t know if he’s here or not, but he grew up in Dallas and he dated the granddaughter of D. Harold Byrd where Oswald worked. His teacher was Ruth Paine – I’m not making this up – and once he was trying to put me on the phone with Pierre Finck who was the doctor at the autopsy in Bethesda. This guy is not a conspirator. He just knows a bunch of people. That’s life. Even Gary Shaw used to go to Jack Ruby’s club, didn’t you, Gary? Alright, so look at him suspiciously. *laughs*
How about all the supernatural stuff? Talk about obstacles. The séances, you know all this stuff with Mary Bancroft and Dulles hanging out with the crowd interested in all this supernatural stuff, convening with spirits. Some people think that the Kennedy assassination had something to do with suppressing UFO research. There obviously were these MK ultra mind control experiments. Try to get your hands around that stuff and see how many people are still going to follow you. How about the defectors? Gary Mack, Posner, Ed Epstein? I don’t know. “Tink” Thompson seems to have moved around a little bit in terms of what he says. He did that video you may have seen on the New York Times making fun of umbrella man and saying that was nothing, that was just a man who was signaling his dislike for Joe Kennedy and appeasement by pumping an umbrella at the exact second when the shots are fired. This was in the New York Times. This was our beloved six seconds ousting Thompson. So it’s complicated figuring all this stuff out and how people move around and change. Tons of unlikely things. Was it Larry Hancock on the con man with the library card? There’s a lot of stuff that’s just weird, and we don’t think that conmen go to the library but maybe they do.
Disreputable people. This whole story is full of disreputable people but maybe most people are disreputable. I don’t know. Maybe the kind of people who are available to get involved in being guns for hire are not upstanding citizens. Maybe if you want to use them as a witness, you can’t because people say “Well, he’s not an upstanding citizen. When he says he shot the president you can’t believe him.” It’s a problem. Egos, grudges, books, organizations, lone nutters, The Sixth Floor Museum, how about that? Talk about an obstacle. Although I do like this new guy. I think he is actually trying to be fair. Mr. Fagin. Trolls discrediting the theories. How about all the theories about the real reason, right? Does everybody in this room agree what the real reason for this was? Some people think that the initial cover-up was designed to create a lot of red herrings and other people would say “No, they accidentally occurred or there were lots of anomalies” because things go wrong and people are not all that smart. They don’t plan that well and probably the truth is some combination of that.
How about the difficulty of discerning patterns that might mean something and those that probably don’t mean anything? And then you’ve got all the accidents, the deaths right? The list of the deaths and as much as we see all those suspicious deaths, the problem is probably some of them were not suspicious deaths. But one thing they did do – guess what that list did do? – It scared people. It scared people and made it harder to do research even though I think that was a good intent putting those lists out. It played right into their hands, whoever “they” are.
How about too much proof? Can you believe it? We have too much proof. That’s what you guys are doing. You guys are piling proof on proof on proof, and there’s a problem which is that we’re interested in this but most people aren’t. And that’s a real problem. That’s kind of where this talk is going. It is about the challenge of reaching other people. Now I know we like to do this – let’s admit it – we’re all addicted, aren’t we? This is fun. It’s a horrible topic. It’s an important topic. I don’t want to say we don’t do it for the right reasons. I think we do. I think the talks like Jim’s about the foreign policy and so forth, these are the big issues. These are the things I tend to gravitate toward and care about mostly. But – yes?
Audience member: It’s the ultimate murder mystery.
Russ: It’s the ultimate murder mystery, he says. That is correct. Absolutely, and so it has that allure and we’re hooked on it. But there’s a gap between us and the general public who is like, “Listen, I’m trying to survive, you know. I’m trying to get my mind off of work and family problems and things. I’m watching stupid cat tricks, okay?” So if you’re going to compete with that, you better be brief. There appears to be a lot of fraud in the evidence. I was alluding to that a little bit with the memos and covering memos and so on. But things have been substituted, altered, falsified, destroyed, suppressed. So you have to sort through an awful lot to find out what is the most plausible accurate evidence. Witnesses get discredited all the time and don’t we do that? We go out. We’ll go out to lunch now and will argue about “Oh, that person has no credibility.” Is Beverly here? Beverly’s not here, okay. Some people believe Beverly, some people don’t believe Beverly. I mean this is just true in general and it’s a challenge. We tend to accept labels that other people give us.”Oh, you can’t believe that person. That guy’s trying to sell books.” Okay, not listening to him, not reading his book. LA Times review of my book. He, the guy, I think, never read the book and he just made it sound like I didn’t believe that we had landed on the moon and he threw that all together and then he said “we all do ourselves a favor and not read this book.” And I was thinking, how many people read a book review and actually, literally read that line, “We all do ourselves a favor and not read this book and say: “Hey honey, I’m not going to read this book.” Don’t know.
Let’s see…I’m going to save some time for questions. Somebody sent me a note I want to share with you. A friend of mine who said, “Here’s some of the usual reasons given to explain why witnesses make particular claims. This is people who are discrediting witnesses. There is nothing wrong with what’s on this list. The problem is what’s not on the list. Here’s the list: Why somebody made a claim. They were fooled by some acoustic phenomenon or visual illusion. You’ve heard that, right? For some psychological reason, they only thought they saw it. They didn’t really see or hear it. They’re just repeating what others said, or they are exaggerating or even lying in order to get attention, or if a book is involved, money. What’s missing from this list? They said they saw it because they actually saw it. Unlikely as it may seem, that is sometimes the reason. Unless the witness is clearly lying or delusional, they should never be dismissed or even if their claims are at the bottom of your own list of possibles. And this is really, I think, profound. One of the things I’m trying to do and this is very, very hard, is do you know that if you’ve got a witness – if you’re in law enforcement, you’ll understand this – if you have a witness and you find that they told a lie ever, you can’t disqualify them as a witness. In fact we’re all told to lie all the time. Somebody said to me, “Well Russ, I like you, but you’re a polarizing figure.” You know what that means? That means I don’t lie enough. I need to lie more. You look good in that outfit. Hey, you lost weight! We lie all the time, right? To protect your family’s honor? How much trouble you get in with your spouse if you don’t lie to protect the family’s honor? Lying is normal and lying cannot disqualify a source. The problem is you have to get to know that source so well you could actually figure out what is lies and what’s truth, and then get documentation. As journalists, we say you need multiple sources. Then, there’s a whole thing about fake news, right? You heard that? Facebook and Twitter are under pressure because there’s all this fake news out there. Well, as we all know, it’s all fake in some sense. I mean, have you seen CNN The Gospel? *in gruffy voice* “Official said, sources from the Pentagon privately told us..” Yeah, right.
So we have seen an increase in false stories regarding the Kennedy assassination. Have you noticed that? There’s just stories out all the time, popping up everywhere. Is that deliberate? I mean, probably. Some of it, I would think, makes sense. Being deliberately planted by disinformation agents. It’s always a mystery to me after 50 years, who, you know – I don’t know – do you think there are people here who are disinformation agents? (points to audience member) You are a disinformation agent?
Audience member: I agree.
Russ: You agree. Okay *laughter*
Audience member: I’m from Canada. *laughter*
Russ: Oh there you go. Couldn’t be up to anything then. *laughter*
Russ: But this is a problem, right? Because here we are half a century later, as far as I know, that wasn’t Allen Dulles disguised as a bag lady. So those people are all gone. Who’s doing this, right? I mean, I don’t know if anybody has the answer. I asked former CIA people, “How does this all work?” and they don’t know. So the issue is how is this stuff being perpetuated by whom? Who are the people who read this stuff? Did you see the woman at the national archives was appointed to be in charge of all this? She’s the CIA person who is in charge of the 9/11 intelligence. They put her in charge of vetting all of this stuff. She wasn’t involved in the Kennedy assassination and she’s probably not even a bad person, but I think she understands what her job requires. She can read stuff and go, “Ooh, I think we’ll just put that back in the envelope.” We deal with all these things. Let me start wrapping up here. We do owe a great debt. I owe a great debt to all of you and I want you to know that I don’t think I’m better than you. I think many of you know more than I do about many things. I want to ask you questions and I want to read your books and I want to read them again, and then ask more questions and so on. There is a tremendous debt owed to this amazing bunch of people who do this stuff selflessly their whole lives. I mean this is phenomenal and I hope to get into that in my book. This phenomenon, which I think is so important, this may be the greatest revelation out of the whole thing if nothing else. It is just the fundamental goodness, decency, and tenacity of a segment of the American, and let’s say Canadian, let’s say English, Australian, and whatever other publics.
Russ: But anyone researching this, as I said, or more importantly anyone wishing to know what can be established as truth facing daunting odds, there are a lot of mistakes but still the work is important. Or put another way, the work is important but there are a lot of mistakes. A lot of obstacles that must be realistically addressed. There are too many documents. There are too many and yet not enough of the right ones. There’re too many books we can’t read. I know, Deborah, are you here? She got mad at me for saying there were too many books because she’s got some new books coming out.*laughter* But there are too many books. We don’t have time to read them. I know probably most of you have not read mine. I have tried to read as many of yours as I can, but the way I see it I think there is a Kennedy book coming out about every day, am I wrong about that? Maybe it’s every week. But there’s more than fifty a year, aren’t there? So, it’s probably every few days. We can’t read them. We don’t know what’s in each other’s books. Here’s a question: how many of you think that the Texas School Book Depository was a building? Raise your hand…You’re raising your hands timidly, okay. How many of you don’t think it was a building? Okay, was it a flying saucer? The Texas Schoolbook Depository was a company that was a tenant in a building. This is very important. And I have in Family of Secrets, I have a whole section. I spent a year on the Texas Schoolbook Depository because – I’m not it saying it’s not written anywhere. I don’t remember seeing it. It kept saying Oswald was hired. They said he worked in the Texas School Book Depository, remember? The name you kept hearing was Roy Truly, the Superintendent. I was like what’s a superintendent? What’s a superintendent of the School Book Depository? What’s a School Book Depository? I don’t know. Are books so valuable, that you got to put them in a depository? So I didn’t know. Is it a suppository? I don’t know. So I started to look at this stuff trying to figure it out and I didn’t know. I started digging this and I was like who’s Roy Truly? Well guess what, Roy Truly is not the superintendent of the building and he doesn’t run the School Book Depository Company either. That’s another guy. You ever heard anything about the other guy? No. But I thought it was interesting that the day after his employee Lee Harvey Oswald shot Kennedy, he put on a lavish wedding for his daughter. He did not cancel the wedding and everybody was just as happy as could be. I got a bunch of stuff in there on that, but I find that very interesting. Too many things, too many books to read. We haven’t been able to collate all of them. Too many theories, too many angles, too many suspects, too many feuds, right? Feuds, how many of us don’t speak to each other? Or snarl? Too many feuds, too many egos, too many mistakes, too much uninformed personnel working in these archives next to many confusing procedures, a small core of enthusiasts, a huge number of simultaneous projects and books. Being in a hurry. Of course we’re all in a hurry. Why are we in a hurry? Because we aren’t twenty-one anymore except for maybe one person in here. But we aren’t twenty-one anymore. Time seems shorter and shorter. Every time I ask anybody for anything, they say, “I can’t do it, I got to get another book out.” It’s really a race against time and so we offer quantity over quality. One book after another. No time to spell, no time to consult others to make sure we got it right. These are not strengths and are not virtues.
The right way to do it: rules of the road for a journalist: no preferred outcome. No preferred outcome. If it happens that Lee Harvey Oswald did do it after all, that’s the way it goes. No protection of ourselves when new facts are discovered. No protection of relationships or pet theories. A willingness to go wherever the material takes you. The determination to get it right. Use multiple sources, obviously documents. Provide historical and other context. Don’t feel that you have to write a book. You can write a book. I write books. I can’t keep telling people not to write books. But not everybody should feel that they have to write a book. Bill Simpich, here, mentioned that he is not to going to be writing anymore books. He does terrific research and I’d love to work with him. This get down to an issue that Gary brought up the other day. He said, “I really wish there was a clearinghouse. That there was some central place where all of this stuff could be coming, be assessed, vetted, matted, mapped, and plotted out.” I thought that needed to be done. I am trying to do it. It’s hard. I have certain organizational experience and so forth, and some people help me. I’m sort of trying to do it. It’s of course impossible, too mammoth and everything you start trying to verify, you go down that path and it takes too much time. But somehow we have to think that way whether it’s me or it’s anybody here, we do need to try to cooperate and bring those in. I come to these conferences, I don’t know how many years. Most of the stuff I hear, probably half of it, I never heard that before. I never heard that version before. You go on and say, ” I got to get the transcript to go through it” and then do we ever have time to do that? There’s too much stuff here that we all know individually, but we don’t know collectively. Talk to others and discuss your findings. Be ready to rethink everything. Press the institutions: National Archives, all of them pressed the institutions. At WhoWhatWhy we’re going to be pressing them on those documents and Jimmy Falls – Jimmy’s back there in the room. Raise your hands so I could see you – Talk to Jimmy if you want to help. We want to do more. You probably know WhoWhatWhy was the first website to mention all these documents where was discovered that the headers which enabled some of these presentations yesterday where we’re looking at, the cryptonyms and all that kind of stuff. So we’re doing our part. We’ve been writing a lot, working with people like Jim Lessard and so on who would try to get records to press the government and make this an issue for the public because if this becomes an issue for the public it’s going to be like Oliver Stone all over again. They’re going to feel compelled to do something.
Although overrun by the volume, do not ignore names or details. One guy, [Romney?], are you here? He found some amazing stuff in the archive of New Orleans. He was sure that he would just do it next time he came back there. The stuff from somebody’s address book and phone numbers that were quite significant. When he came back, it was gone. Gary was just telling me about something where he had taken some notes from somebody. But he didn’t take too many notes because somebody was recording it. Well, he never heard the recording again. So don’t take any chances. Take every note and do it right away. Just wrapping up here. Work with others. Focus on the ultimate goal. Keep an open mind. Listen to others. None of us have figured it out but together we might have a shot. Thank you very much.
Russ: Question from the gentleman in the back.
Audience member: inaudible question
Russ: Well, here’s what I told Vince Bugliosi when I met him at a party. He said, “Oh yeah, I’m supposed to read your book, but you know it’s all settled” and so on, and I said “Hey Vince, what about boom boom boom boom?” He said, “Well, I don’t know about any of that stuff!” I said, “Exactly.” I said, “You know almost nothing about this. Look, and you wrote a 2000-page book?
Audience member: inaudible question
Russ: Somebody said there was a rumor about the gun being a different gun, right? I mean, is that a rumor? I thought those sheriff’s deputies stated what they saw and that it was a Mauser. Either they stated it or they didn’t. The way I do my books is I go and think, “Did they state it and where? Under oath? In a document? Have they ever been quoted? Did they ever say, “No I didn’t say that,” and so forth. That’s how you do it. It’s just a lot of detail work.
Man way in the back. Yes, you.
Audience member: Does the president have power with just the stroke of his hand? *inaudible* I find it fascinating that Donald Trump does not get on with the Bushes. Might we have hope that some of this stuff – you know, Donald Trump. He could be sort of unpredictable. Do we have any hope that some of these things now might find release?
Russ: Yes, I think there’s a little window which probably already closed before he ever took the oath of office. I watched the Bill Hicks documentary about what they do. They put the President in a room right on the first day and they show the movie “Back And To The Left, Back and to the Left” and they say, “Any questions, Mr. President?”
Russ: Roger Stone has written on this particular issue quite a bit. Roger talks to Donald and I sometimes talk to Roger. A lot of Donald’s voters are really into this stuff. Now their reasons for being into it are largely because they don’t want government, they don’t want to pay any taxes, and so anything that makes a government look bad they like. But it’s a start. You could form an unusual coalition ironically between, sort of you might say, the left and the right in Congress. There might be a moment where Trump might see this as to his advantage.
Deborah Conway: I just want to thank you so much. Are there any questions for us? Okay. I really, now that I’ve heard your complete presentation and not the abbreviated one that you had to give the other day, I do want to congratulate you for bringing up some excellent points. I’ve been sitting back there. As a researcher and also a publisher considering everything that you said, I agree with most of it because I quit reading a lot of the books years ago. I just can’t read them all. Even if I know the person, I may not read their book. I admitted yesterday to Stephen Fagin that I bought his book, and he signed it, we’ve been friends for 12 years, and I didn’t read it. In there was that chapter about Mr. Briggs who was a very high up CIA member. He was brought in to help design the exhibit for the Sixth Floor Museum. That’s been in his book for years and no one read it. Now if you go back and read oral histories of him and the other two people who worked on the Sixth Floor Museum exhibit, the architects were scared to death of him. They had no choice but to work with him. He was brought in. It’s fascinating but no one read it. So what I think we need to do is talk to each other. We need to do more reviews. Do not think you have to have the perfect review or a long review. You can post: “I just read this book and this is what I saw in it, I agree or disagree or want people to know about,” in one paragraph on your Facebook page and pass it around. Send it to me because we can’t all read all books, and you’re right. Lastly I want to address the typos. Your first printings always have typos. I don’t care how many people review it, how many programs you run it through. Do you know that we had to call back a book that we had already ordered? It was printed and at my house and we noticed the name on the back was spelled wrong. Do you know how many people looked at the book cover before it was sent to the printer? At least 200 people. Easy. Family, friends, researchers. The name was misspelled. Our publicist found it after they were delivered to her office. It happens the first printing. It’s going to have a typo in it.
Russ: Yes, it’s unavoidable.
Deborah Conway: But hopefully, if you read the book and you tell me or you tell us, the authors of the publishing, “I found this on page such and such,” we will be so happy for you to point it out. Please! So we can fix it the next printing. I just want to say some more stuff. I think everything you said was awesome. I’m so glad that you came and gave this talk.
Russ: Thanks. How about Deborah and the work she has done all these years! And her whole team, the people back there videotaping, and the people at the tables back there. I don’t think they’ve got enough recognition so we should all thank them. Thanks, I guess it’s lunch time.
Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Lee Harvey Oswald (Marina Oswald / Wikimedia), Clint Hill (Justin Newman / Wikimedia) and newspaper (Ray Dumas / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).
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