The greatest criminal in this nation, we think, is a dishonest newsman. Newsmen have been given the highest gift a nation can give a group: a right. Newsmen have been given this right of freedom of the press and freedom of speech in the expectation they would report the truth as honestly as humanly possible. Ordinary criminals kill individuals, but dishonest newsmen are involved in killing a nation--in this case, this democracy. Which brings us to native Texan Dan Rather, a longtime Houstonian, and his new book, The Camera Never Blinks.
Rather's book is somewhat like Jim Bishop's The Day Kennedy Was Shot. At least a month's work would be required to correct the many errors Jim Bishop and Rather each foist on the readers. We limit our criticisms of the Rather book to the sections dealing with CBS coverage of President Kennedy's visit to Dallas. Rather was chief of the Dallas bureau.
The omissions, errors, distortions, and untruths in Rather's book are just too great and too numerous to be dismissed as unintentional inaccuracies or harmless forgetfulness. Back in Dallas after having been moved from there to New Orleans just a few weeks before President Kennedy's assassination, Rather played a major role that day in all the events for CBS. For a young newsman with such an important assignment on his hands, we find it strange that he would take a side trip that morning. Rather reports he went to Uvalde, Texas for an after-breakfast meeting with former Vice President John Nance Garner at his home there, but he doesn't mention the distances involved. He does not bother to tell his readers it was a six hundred mile round trip and that he was back in Dallas before the President's parade.
That kind of timing would have required a jet, we think. Whose jet, Rather didn't say.
Back in Dallas before noon, Rather says he discovered the most important film drop location on the Dallas motorcade route had been left unmanned. "...so I picked up a yellow grapefruit bag and..." went to the assignment which he says was only four blocks away. Somehow, according to Rather, on return it became five blocks. Actually it was nine blocks from the Dallas Times Herald building which was Rather's headquarters for the day.
It seems to us Rather used tangled logic in picking a spot to catch film from a moving vehicle. Not content with Dealey Plaza where the cars actually slowed to four miles per hour, he opted to be on the opposite side of the Dealey Plaza railroad underpass--just out of the kill area, where he knew the cars would be traveling much faster than in Dealey Plaza. The motorcade was to end the parade at the underpass and speed on out to the Trade Mart which was the luncheon site.
So Rather chose his position to catch this important film, but failed to tell us if he ever got the film. Failed to tell what the film showed.
Rather selected a spot which required that he catch the film from a truck which would be traveling at least forty to fifty miles per hour. He does pause to tell that the press cars were placed well back in the motorcade and that this has subsequently been changed, after the assassination, so the press buses are now close to the President. He neglects to say the vehicles in the Dallas motorcade were jumbled, somehow, from their pre-planned and pre-numbered assignments.
If Rather picked a puzzling location to catch the film, he chose an even stranger route back to the Times Herald Building for which he says he headed "at a full run." Then, "I topped the railroad grading a few yards away and paused long enough to shade my eyes and look for the camera truck. It was nowhere in sight."
The railroad dump is twenty-five feet high and there were then five sets of railroad tracks over that underpass. It seems likely the camera truck could have passed under Rather who was getting up on the tracks. But perhaps that strange detour was not really to search for the camera truck.
We feel Rather's eyewitness information dictated that he run to the railroad yards, even from the opposite side from Dealey Plaza where all the people were located. The railroad tracks behind the picket fence are where people and police ran immediately after the shots were fired. Some people were honest enough to say they found men in the railroad track area who had guns, and that some of the questionable characters flashed Secret Service credentials. The Secret Service has always insisted they had no men in the railroad area.
So Dan Rather waited to catch film just out of the kill area, saw the President's car rush past him, and ran where eyewitnesses told the Warren Commission the gunmen were located. These witnesses were untrained, without notebooks. They simply told what they saw. Rather, the professional, interviewed no one, did not take out his notebook, gave no testimony to the Warren Commission.
He says: "Perhaps I should have stopped and taken out my notebook, grabbing people and asking questions. But I needed only five seconds to make up my mind to hustle back to the station. I ran every step." Bravo.
But the biggest distortion is what he said he saw when he was one of the few persons in the world privileged to see the Abraham Zapruder film that Saturday morning, November 23. In his narration of the film as part of CBS nationwide television coverage, Rather said the President's head "went forward with considerable violence." This narration confirmed the so-called "Oswald position" for the nation, but he said nothing about the violent backward motion of the President's head which would have strongly suggested a second gunman at that early date. Rather does take care to tell us again that he took no notes.
Actually the President's head went forward for about three inches and then was slammed to the left rear--not consistent with a shot being fired from the "Oswald position" from behind President Kennedy.
His book says this about the incident: "At the risk of sounding too defensive, I challenge anyone to watch for the first time a twenty-two second film of devastating impact, run several blocks, then describe what they had seen in its entirety, without notes. Perhaps someone can do it better than I did that day. I only know that I did it as well and as honestly as I could under the conditions.
"But here is where the case gets tricky. Years later, a group of assassination buffs took an audio tape of my description of what I saw in the office of Zapruder's lawyer and laid it over the film as a narration. So the impression was given that Dan Rather was part of a conspiracy. Either that or he was a Communist dupe, or something, how else could he have seen the film, etc. etc."
No one that I know ever thought Rather was a Communist dupe. All I wanted Rather to do was admit his error to the television audience he had misinformed. Grudgingly, he admits the error in his book, but that is not the same as saying so on CBS evening news.
I paid a film company in California to have the voice of Rather synchronized to the action of the Zapruder film. I tried unsuccessfully to show the film to Rather.
My film was shown at the Democratic Convention held in Miami in 1972. Newsmen who saw the film were shocked at what they saw and immediately confronted Rather who reportedly said "No comment." On the tenth anniversary of the President's death we showed the film to Jim Mangrum head of Associated Press for Texas. The showing was in my home. Mangrum was so upset he called Rather, but was unable to reach him until the next day.
Mangrum called me to inform that Rather said he made "an honest error."
Here is how Rather slides by his incorrect description, the only possible narration depicting the actual shooting of the President that the nation had that Saturday: "...Regrettably, it was not without error, in terms of what was unsaid about the movement of the President's head. A few who had tried to sell themselves as assassination experts misused that account to build themselves a false premise.
"It is gruesome even now, and always will be, to talk about this scene, but the single most dramatic piece of the film is the part where the President's head lurches slightly forward, then explodes backward. I described the forward motion of his head. I failed to mention the violent, backward reaction. This was, as some assassination buffs now argue, a major omission. But certainly not deliberate."
All those who have seen the film (and it is now possible for everyone, with no thanks due to LIFE), know the President's head did not go as Rather said, "...forward with considerable violence." The head went backward and to the left with terrific violence. In fact, physicists say the force was so great the bullet must have weighed one pound, or more likely was a round of explosive ammunition.
The handling of the Zapruder film has been dishonest from the beginning. LIFE paid a tremendous price with the stated purpose of withholding the film from the people. This done by a group to whom the people had granted the right of freedom of the press so the people could be informed.
The public first saw the film during the famous 1968 Claw Shaw trial in New Orleans as then District Attorney Jim Garrison got a copy of the film from LIFE by court order. He showed the film at least thirteen times to the jury and to the entire courtroom audience. All were shocked. One of the two rulings made by that jury was that there was a conspiracy that killed President Kennedy. The other jury ruling was that Clay Shaw was not involved. That jury determination would be different in light of 1976 CIA documents revealing Shaw was CIA.
Years later we learned LIFE had delivered to Garrison a copy of the film deliberately made fuzzy or out of focus which hid much of the incriminating evidence. But at the time, no one was able to know LIFE had deliberately withheld this evidence in violation of the Federal courts order.
Only in 1973 when Robert Groden came forward with his clear copy of the famous film did we know of LIFE's contempt for truth, for Garrison and for the Federal courts. The Groden clear copy of the film was stolen directly from the LIFE files and is now available to the public from this writer.
The film convincingly shows the culpability of both LIFE and Dan Rather, and it also indicated the depths of despair the American people now experience because of these men and institutions who have so blatantly violated the sacred right given to them.
by Penn Jones, Jr
Dan Rather's first introduction to Lyndon Johnson was a 1955 insulting tirade by Johnson at his ranch: "...I damned well don't know who this rude pissant is..." a scene Lyndon loved to stage, followed by a soothing performance by Lady Bird. And if you bought the act, you could join the inner circle.
Rather worked to be inside. His wife was from Smithville, Texas, the home of Cliff Carter, Johnson's top aide after the Walter Jenkins ouster.
Rather was not the only Houstonian who was wooed into the Johnson fold early, with loud unreasoning bellowing and then soft touches. The successful Houston advertising agency headed by Jack Valenti went on the market just a couple of weeks before President Kennedy's ill-fated Texas visit. Valenti told friends in October that he was going to Washington.
As luck would have it then, Valenti was free to join the Presidential party at a Houston stop--then crouched on the platform in Houston while Kennedy was speaking.
Valenti, at the request of Vice President Johnson, joined the party for the Dallas trip and left Dallas as an aide to the new President.
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