The web is buzzing about that clever Errol Morris anti-conspiracy video on the NY Times’s website. WhoWhatWhy interviewed the expert featured in the video about the strange JFK assassination figure “Umbrella Man,” and found a big problem with the central assertion. In fact, our research casts doubts not only on the most recent JFK propaganda, but on the New York Times itself.
More and more, one is struck by the extent to which the New York Times is disassociated from reality. One might judge the paper’s publishing of official falsehoods as the occasional and accidental byproduct of the pressure to produce so many articles, were it not for the consistency and rigidly sclerotic way it loyally foists patently untrue material upon the public.
I say this as someone who still reads the Times, still has friends working there, and still retains some isolated pockets of fondness for it.
But it is hard to overlook these constant transgressions. As we note here at WhoWhatWhy, these range from ignoring the real reasons for the invasion of Libya to apologizing for fraud perpetrated by its favorite Afghanistan propagandist (and the author of Three Cups of Tea). It surely includes the paper’s failure to share with its readers overwhelming and constantly refreshed documentation of an organized coup that resulted in the death of President John F. Kennedy and the end of meaningful reform in America. I addressed that latter issue in the article, “NY Times’ Ostrich Act on JFK Assassination Getting Old.”
Far from proper journalistic curiosity, the paper sees its job as enforcing orthodoxy, and shutting down consideration of anything untoward. According to the New York Times’s peculiar brand of journalism, coups and plots happen with regularity abroad, but never, never, in the United States.
It is important to include the pejorative phrase “conspiracy theorist” in every article, even those articles in which the Times acknowledges its concern about the health of democracy in America. It is important to have a good laugh at the expense of those poor souls who trouble themselves inquiring into the darker precincts of this country’s history.
So it is with the 48th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Instead of assigning a single reporter to scrutinize the hundreds or thousands of meaningful, documented facts that do suggest more than “the lone nut did it,” the Times gets busy with the disinformation business.
Here are two Times “contributions” on this occasion:
On the 48th anniversary of Kennedy’s murder, the Times ran an op-ed piece and short film by documentary maker Errol Morris about another man’s research into “umbrella man.” Umbrella Man is the nickname for a fellow who famously brought an umbrella on a sunny day for the president’s visit to Dallas November 22, 1963, stood on the “grassy knoll,” and, just as the president’s car passed, he opened the umbrella and pumped it in the air. Many have speculated as to the significance, or lack of significance, of this strange behavior. Some wonder if Umbrella Man was part of the assassination scenario, perhaps signaling to shooters. There was even the September 1975 Senate intelligence committee testimony by Charles Senseney, a contract weapons designer for the CIA, that the agency had perfected an umbrella that shoots undetectable poison darts that can immobilize and kill, raising questions about whether this was in play that day. (See P. 168 in the Senate committee testimony, where Senseney explains specifically about the agency’s use of a toxin and the ability to fire it from a modified umbrella.)
The self-described Umbrella Man, Louie Steven Witt, came forward to offer his testimony in 1978, or three years after the CIA expert provided this now forgotten testimony on umbrellas as weapon. Umbrella Man came forward just as a special House Select Committee on Assassinations was focusing on the possibility of a conspiracy (which, it concluded in its final report…was likely.) (You can order a video of a report on Witt’s testimony, by then ABC News reporter Brit Hume, here)
The counsel for the Assassinations Committee, remarkably, does not mention the prior Senate testimony by the CIA weapons expert that such an umbrella device did exist, and instead quotes a more shaky claim by an “assassinations critic” regarding such a device.
Mr. GENZMAN. Mr. Witt, exhibit 406 is a copyrighted diagram
drawn by assassinations critic Robert B. Cutler which shows two
umbrellas with rocket and flechette attachments. Mr. Witt, do you
know what a flechette is?
Mr. WITT. I do now. I did not prior to our interview yesterday
Mr. GENZMAN. Did the umbrella in your possession on November
22, 1963, contain a flechette, or a rocket or a dart?
Mr. WITT, No, It did not.
Mr. GENZMAN. Has exhibit 405, the umbrella, ever contained -a
flechette, rocket. or dart?
Mr. WITT. No. Not since it’s been in my possession.
Mr. GENZMAN. Did the umbrella in your possession on November
1963; contain a gun or weapon of any sort?
Mr. WITT. No.
Mr. GENZMAN. Has exhibit 405 ever contained a gun or weapon
of any sort?
Mr. WITT. This umbrella?
Mr. GENZMAN. Yes.
Mr. WITT. No.
Mr. GENZMAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Witt.
Mr. Chairman, I have no further questions.
Is the Times at all interested in the credibility of this purported umbrella-bearer? Absolutely not.
Instead, the Morris video presents the idea that sometimes, the most ridiculous scenarios are the truth. And so it presents the ridiculous, and asks us to believe it. Cutting to the chase, the man seen opening an umbrella comes forward to explain why he did it. Reason: in 1963, he was still mad at Britain’s pre-war Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his appeasement of Hitler, and held JFK’s father to blame as US ambassador to England in that period. Chamberlain was famed for carrying an umbrella. So—get this—Umbrella Man, hoping to make a statement about what happened in the late 1930s to JFK in 1963, pumped his umbrella at the time the fatal shots were fired…only for this obscure purpose.
The Times passes the responsibility for this travesty to Morris, who passes it along to Josiah Thompson, a former Navy underwater demolitions expert turned Yale philosophy professor turned private investigator, who appears on-screen to ruminate about “Umbrella Man.” He is happy to accept the Chamberlain story as “delightful weirdness.”
Watching this, one gets the sense that Thompson believes there was no conspiracy in JFK’s death. But what the Times implies with this little piece is false. In fact, Josiah Thompson is known for documenting the exact opposite. He wrote a serious investigative book in 1967, “Six Seconds in Dallas,” full of evidence and specifics, in which he concluded there was a conspiracy to kill JFK—involving three different shooters. But the New York Times is not interested in that, only in this new, droll dismissal of another piece of the puzzle.
I called Thompson to ask him about the Morris video, and he pronounced himself delighted with it. I asked him how he knew that the man who came forward to identify himself as Umbrella Man and present the Neville Chamberlain story was actually the same man in the fuzzy photo of many years earlier. By way of explanation, he mentioned hearing a story from a well-respected JFK researcher who in turn had heard that Umbrella Man had told his dentist years earlier that he was umbrella man. Pressing Thompson, I learned that the man who came forward as Umbrella Man never provided proof that he was in fact the man with the umbrella. Even the dentist story is third, fourth, or perhaps fifth hand, not verified by Thompson or his researcher friend. All of which proves nothing, and all of which suggests that maybe, just maybe, the man’s improbable, “delightful” story of Neville Chamberlain is, indeed, fabricated.
Just because Errol Morris is a master of the documentary art does not make him any kind of authority on what should be the province of careful investigators. Just because a story is absurd does not make it real, or “delightful”, as the Times video would like us to consider—and many did, with thousands emailing the Times piece to friends. This is something well understood by the game-players of the covert operations house of mirrors: the jesuitical contortions that can be made to twist any credible scenario.
Here are some things you should know about the man who came forward to identify himself as Umbrella Man and tell this ludicrous Neville Chamberlain story:
His account of his activities that day don’t track with what Umbrella Man actually did, raising questions as to whether this man who volunteered to testify to the assassination inquiry is even the real umbrella-bearer, or someone whose purpose was to end inquiries into the matter.
The man who came forward, Louie Steven Witt, was a young man at the time of Kennedy’s death. How many young men in Dallas in 1963 even knew what Neville Chamberlain had done a quarter-century before?
In 1963, Witt was an insurance salesman for the Rio Grande National Life Insurance company, which anchored the eponymous Rio Grande Building in downtown Dallas. It’s an interesting building. Among the other outfits housed in the building was the Office of Immigration and Naturalization—a place Lee Harvey Oswald visited repeatedly upon his return from Russia, ostensibly to deal with matters concerning the immigration status of his Russian-born wife, Marina. Another occupant of the Rio Grande Building was the US Secret Service, so notably lax in its protection of Kennedy that day, breaking every rule of security on every level.
A major client of Rio Grande was the US military, to which it provided insurance.
It’s worth considering the roles of military-connected figures on the day of the assassination. These include Dallas Military Intelligence unit chief Jack Crichton operating secretly from an underground communications bunker; Crichton’s providing a translator who twisted Marina Oswald’s statement to police in a way that implicated her husband; and members of military intelligence forcing their way into the pilot car of Kennedy’s motorcade, which inexplicably ground to a halt in front of the Texas School Book Depository (where Lee Harvey Oswald’s employer, a high official with the local military-connected American Legion, managed to find a “job” for Oswald at a time when his company was otherwise seasonally laying off staff.) Oh, and it’s worth contemplating JFK’s titanic, if under-reported, struggle with top Pentagon officials over how the US should interact with Russia, Cuba, and the rest of the world. You can read more about all this in my book Family of Secrets.
Is this concatenation of facts too crazy to consider? More crazy than that Neville Chamberlain story?
THE JACK AND JACKIE LOVE STORY
Not content with having Morris, who is no Kennedy expert, put out this misleading video on Umbrella Man, the Times earlier featured Morris’s book review of Stephen King’s novel imagining Lee Harvey Oswald. So now you have a man who knows little about the real story, getting people to read the imaginings of one who also knows little of the real story. Another way to look at this is that the New York Times is really, really interested in an occult novelist’s take on the death of a president, but just totally uninterested itself in looking into that death.
You must read Errol Morris’s review of King’s book, and please explain to me what he is talking about, because I have no idea. One of the few things that registered at all from this confusing mess is a comment about Jack and Jackie:
King has said that he struggled with the idea for this book for more than 30 years. One can see why. In fiction, we can decide who did or did not kill Kennedy. Writer’s choice (and King chooses). But he pays his debts to history in other ways — by showing the machine and, at the same time, the simplest human knots, the love stories behind history: Sadie and George[characters in the novel], Jack and Jackie.
Um, “the love stories behind history…Jack and Jackie”?
This is part and parcel of the Times’s approach: to maintain a feeble, People Magazine-like focus on the JFK-Jackie Camelot love story—which never actually existed. Anyone who has read any of the books featuring interviews with close friends of the couple know that the marriage was a political match for the reticent JFK, never for a minute a fairy tale romance, and that by 1963 the duo could barely stand to be in each other’s presence. If this is news to you, come out of your New York Times cave and read….practically anything else. (One worthwhile account—including Jackie explicitly ignoring JFK’s request that, for appearances’ sake, the First Lady not take off to cruise on the yacht of the caddish Aristotle Onassis in the fall of 1963—can be found in Peter Evans’s book, Nemesis. By the way, Onassis hated—and I mean hated—the Kennedys; RFK had blocked a big Onassis business deal years earlier.)
Or read in Family of Secrets how, since childhood, Jackie had been a friend of George de Mohrenschildt, the “father figure” to Lee Harvey Oswald, or how, the night after de Mohrenschildt’s testimony to the Warren Commission, he was invited to dinner at Jackie’s mother’s house, along with the Machiavellian intriguer Allen Dulles, whom JFK had fired as CIA director and whom Johnson so shockingly appointed to the Warren Commission investigating Kennedy’s killing—a man who surely is at the top of most people’s lists of those behind the assassination.
If you appreciate these sorts of things, it is striking to learn that Onassis was a business partner in oil deals in the Caribbean prior to Castro’s revolution, with….Oswald’s best friend George de Mohrenschildt, and that Onassis’ brother-in-law was the cover employer of CIA coup plotter Al Ulmer, who just happened to be visiting the Dallas area the week of Nov 22 1963 from abroad.
So, please, can we get past this “love story” pabulum and at least do just a teensy bit of investigating these odd and flagrantly suggestive connections? Maybe they’re all odd coincidences, but at least they seem, intuitively, worth pursuing, at least as much as those “delightfully weird” Neville Chamberlain umbrella stories.
The real danger of a video like the one about the Umbrella Man is that it encourages people to stop questioning, stop [pullquote]WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on it. But can we count on you? We cannot do our work without your support. Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.[/pullquote]investigating. Just laugh it all off. There’s no trouble here in the land of the free, the home of the brave. Nothing to see here, folks, move along, move along.
It’s time to stop treating the New York Times as the slightly daffy uncle who is hard of hearing. There’s something more insidious going on, and every single person who works there and refuses to care bears some responsibility. Ditto with the rest of the media, which still takes this institution as its guide on what to cover—and what not to uncover.