By W. Tracy Parnell Ó 2001
Since it was first published in 1993, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK by Gerald Posner has been public enemy number one on the hit list of critics of the Warren Commission. In reality, the bestseller was a much needed "wake up call" for Conspiracy Theorists (hereafter CT's) after the heady days following the release of Oliver Stone's propagandist film JFK. However, CT's were not amused and almost immediately a full-scale campaign began to discredit the book and Posner, a former Wall Street attorney. This campaign reached its zenith (at least in terms of sheer volume) when David Starks published "THE POSNER REPORT: A Study in Propaganda: One Hundred Errors in Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK" on the Internet in 1997. The effects of this article have taken their toll since then and the "100 errors" have somehow grown to be "hundreds of mistakes" according to an Internet exchange I had with one noted researcher. In this article I will look at Starks' work as well as some other articles critical of Posner and try to answer some relevant questions:
I will draw heavily on the work of three men here whom I want to thank at the outset. First, is a piece written by Michael Russ (Defending Posner) that rebuts most of the "100 errors" in detail. Also important is a series of newsgroup posts by John McAdams (Starks vs. Posner) that showed the many flaws in Starks' logic. Finally special thanks to Gary Mack for his help in preparing this article. This article will make it clear to the reader when the work of John McAdams, Michael Russ, or Gary Mack is being referenced. All other statements in this article are the work of myself alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of those researchers.
In 1991 with the release of Stone's movie, CT's were on top of the world. Suddenly assassination research, which had all but died, was "in" again as a topic of discussion among ordinary Americans and in the media. The film led to the JFK Records Act, which would ultimately release thousands of previously classified documents concerning the assassination. But a pall fell over the research community with the 1993 release of Case Closed and its "Oswald did it" thesis. Posner stole much of the media thunder surrounding the 30th anniversary of the killing and lit a fire under the supporters of the Warren Commission. There is no question about the fact that CT's moved quickly to douse the flames. The November 1993 issue of the conspiracy journal The Fourth Decade featured no less than five articles attacking various aspects of the book. Some of these articles are still considered among the best of the anti-Posner work and can be found on the Internet including "Gerald Posner Closes the Case" by James Folliard and "The Deadly Smirk and Other Inventions" by Jerry Rose. The authors of these articles certainly make some good points and Case Closed is far from perfect. But consider the following alternate explanations for their rage:
Now that we know a little more about the mindset of some CT's, let's look at Starks' infamous article. The Posner Report was presented as part of the first issue of the "Electronic Assassinations Newsletter" available on the "Assassination-web" Internet site (www.assassinationweb.com). The article is actually a compilation of work by critics such as Martin Shackelford, Gary Aguilar, and Jerry Rose among others. After listing some of the quotes praising Case Closed, Starks begins by explaining that he is writing because, "I believe it can be conclusively demonstrated that Case Closed is not what these seemingly impressive pronouncements proclaim it to be." However, some of his later statements seem to reveal other motivations. He writes, "The importance in challenging Posner, in my opinion, has long-term benefits. One benefit is that, in the creation of this list, I believe that a convincing and well documented record is established that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the case is not "closed." Secondly, this effort should serve as a caution that all future work by this author must be viewed with suspicion."
So it seems that one obvious motivation is to keep the case open. This comes as no shock when you consider the years of work put in by many critics. The second factor stated by Starks can be seen for what it is-discredit Posner and so attempt to diminish any future work he might produce. Starks also complains that, "Mr. Posner has not been very cooperative when it comes to addressing the problems with his questionable assertions concerning the case." In the revised edition of Case Closed, Posner describes the "months of harassing telephone calls and letters" as well as personal attacks he endured after the publication of the first edition. Is it really any wonder that he would want to distance himself from these attacks on himself and his work?
Starks almost makes it to page three before bringing out the trump card always played by the more radical CT's and one that I have been subjected to over and over again myself. He writes, "Harold Weisberg pointed out something interesting in his book-length response to Posner's work entitled Case Open. At the end of Case Closed, Posner acknowledges help from Peter Earnest (who is listed as "the chief of the CIA's Office of Public and Agency Information"). Mr. Earnest was described by Posner as being "very generous in his assistance." Harold noticed the fact that Posner does not credit a single reference in the endnotes (out of over 2200) to Mr. Earnest or the CIA. He does cite confidential intelligence sources a couple of times in his endnotes. Is keeping the identity of these people secret done because they are active intelligence agents (and must remain anonymous for legitimate security reasons) or is it to prevent any challenge to the truthfulness of the information?"
So there it is, the inference that because someone believes Oswald acted alone they surely must be in the pocket of the CIA. This of course is a ridiculous and completely unfounded accusation. Posner has been candid about has contacts in the intelligence community and could hardly be expected to do so if he actually were a paid agent of some type. Of course, he is restricted by his sources as to how much information he may print and to who it can be attributed. Indeed, Posner makes several references to his sources throughout the book. Instead of seeing his contacts as a conduit to special information, Starks follows the mold of the more radical CT's and imagines something sinister around every corner.
Starks finishes his 37-page article with a tally of the "errors". He predictably finds 78 out of the 100 "errors" favor the lone assassin position, while none favored the CT view. He asks, "Is this an indication of a fair, unbiased and honest study of the assassination of John F. Kennedy?" The idea that Posner has some obligation to write a "fair, unbiased and honest study" is one of the more enduring fables used in an attempt to discredit him. Starks and other CT's fail to mention that the first "fair, unbiased and honest study" of the assassination by any author has yet to be written. Indeed, such a notion ignores the actual process by which an author obtains a book contract.
First, a perspective author must submit a query letter and if that is accepted, a book proposal outlining the thesis. If the proposal is accepted the author may receive an advance to work on his selected idea. If he should then present a manuscript that spends an equal amount of time presenting his thesis and tearing it apart, it would be unlikely that the manuscript would be published! In Posner's case as a previously published author of some ability he was apparently given the freedom to examine the evidence and see where it would lead him. However, in no way was he expected to write a "fair, unbiased and honest study". He looked at the evidence, developed a thesis and did an excellent job of proving that thesis. And that was what he was paid to do.
A quick look at a few of the more popular conspiracy works should be enough to finally put the idea of a "fair, unbiased and honest study" to bed. One has to go no further than the dust jacket of the much-praised Accessories After the Fact by Sylvia Meagher to see that it is not such a study. Senator Richard Schweiker called it, "…the most meticulous and compelling indictment of the Warren Commission Report ever made." The London Daily Times said it was the, "…most damning of any attacks on the Warren Report yet." Stop the presses right there! The words "indictment" and "attack" tell the whole story. Case closed… so to speak.
Let's take a more recent book-Cover-up by Stewart Galanor. According to the jacket, "Cover-up exposes the efforts of the Warren Commission to hide the facts about JFK's assassination". Another quote, this time from Stone co-writer Zachary Sklar, "His systematic, persuasive analysis… will lead any reasonable reader to a chilling but inescapable conclusion: there was a conspiracy and a cover-up." Sounds like a good book all right. But the quotes suggest an existing bias against the Warren Commission. Indeed, Ken Rahn writes about Mr. Galanor's bias in an article at his fine web site (http://karws.gso.uri.edu/JFK/JFK.html ). The jacket also seems to say that Cover-up will present and support one specific thesis. It could very well be an interesting and informative book (and it is in fact), but a "fair, unbiased and honest study"? Not hardly.
In some cases, a quick read of the author's biography is all that is necessary to determine if the book will be completely objective. For example, on the jacket of The Search For Lee Harvey Oswald we find the bio of the author, "Robert Groden has been researching the assassination of John F. Kennedy since 1964 and has been a leading critic of the Warren Commission Report since 1969." Could an author with credentials such as these really be expected to write an objective view of the JFK assassination? Not in your lifetime (apologies to Anthony Summers). Yet it seems that for some reason CT's want Posner to be held to a much higher standard then they are. Apparently in their mind, Posner should have written 300 pages explaining his thesis and 300 explaining theirs while they remain free to write anything they want in any way they want. I hope this brief discussion will do much to kill the notion that any assassination author has written or should be expected to write a "fair, unbiased and honest study". This has been one of my personal "pet peeves" for years and I thank the reader for this indulgence. Now, it's on to the "errors".
In my pursuit of the truth regarding Posner's "errors" I have felt no desire to "reinvent the wheel" (in the interest of using a more accurate term I will refer to the "errors" as "items" whenever possible for the remainder of this article). Michael Russ has done an excellent job in studying the items and categorizing them. In a newsgroup post from June of 2001 (Posner's Perfection, available by searching Google Groups) he identifies 57 items that are in fact not errors but fall into three categories:
I have looked at Russ's work and I agree on these 57 points. As previously noted, Russ explains why he has dismissed these items in an article called "Defending Posner" found at http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/russ/defend.htm. Therefore, more than half of Starks' vaunted list is laid to waste immediately and may be disregarded for the purposes of this article. That leaves 43 items to evaluate. Russ uses the following categories to define these:
For the purposes of my analysis, I have decided to use the 1994 revised edition of Case Closed. I believe it is only fair to an author to use the most recent version of a book for any critique. What the CT's won't tell you is that this revised version has in fact corrected some of the errors. Indeed, I found that after comparing the remaining 43 items to the revised edition that the list could be further reduced to 30 items. I then created several categories for the remaining items as follows. The numbers refer to the numbering used by Starks in the "Posner Report" and the reader will need a copy of that article for reference.
By my count, Starks found 12 errors that were typographical in nature. Of these, eight have been corrected in the revised edition (11, 50, 51, 72, 77, 89, 90, 96). I am placing #95 concerning the "Mystery Death List" in this category because Starks concedes it is probably a typo and it remains uncorrected. The remaining uncorrected typos are:
Numbers 21, 85, 86, and 95.
For the purposes of this discussion "Minor Mistakes" are considered to be those that while they are technically mistakes, they do not strengthen Posner's argument or have no real relevance to the case.
14, 35, 40, 43, 69, 70, 74, 98, 100.
By the way, item 100 is one (though not the only) of the more "nitpicking" things listed by Starks and refers to the fact that both WC member Richard Russell and author Dick Russell are listed in the index under Russell, Richard. This totally ignores the reality that Posner probably had nothing to do with preparing the index. In "Defending Posner" Russ writes:
"This is a great way to end this list because it shows to what lengths Posner's critics had to go to reach the magic 100 number. Every person I know who went by the name Dick, was actually named Richard. So it is not surprising that an editor might confuse Dick Russell with Richard Russell. (I wouldn't be surprised if Dick Russell's given name is actually Richard Russell)"
The Actual Errors
Here are the actual errors in Case Closed.
Number's 23, 24, 46, 48, 49, 60, 91, 93.
I felt the following items had "debunking" potential and I set them aside for consideration. They are:
1, 2, 3, 4, 22, 26, 34, 39, 94.
Now that we have filtered out the non-errors and identified and categorized the remaining items it's time to see how many of the remaining items I could debunk (with a little help).
All of these (except numbers 1-4 for which I have prepared a separate "defense") begin with the quote from Starks' "Posner Report" followed by a rebuttal. The quotes are in a different font with the number in boldface.
The Opening of Case Closed-a New Perspective (1-4)
Starks and other critical writers have strongly objected to the first two pages or so (pp. 3-5 in the revised edition) of Case Closed. Their objections are centered on the much debated "smirk" that Posner accuses Oswald of displaying as well as his use of dialogue that is slightly different than the cited passage. But the critics are missing the boat here.
Posner has chosen to use a "literary license" for a little more than two pages in order to create a powerful opening and draw the reader into his work. He does this by using what I will call the "historical narrative" writing style for lack of a better term. In other words, this section is written in a style not dissimilar from what a novelist might use, with the exception that it is based in fact. Examples of this style in assassination literature include The Day Kennedy was Shot, by Jim Bishop, and The Death of a President, by William Manchester. In both books, the authors have completely omitted endnotes (and I think Posner would have been wise to do the same for this brief section of his book) using only a list of sources for documentation. I am sure you could find many "errors" in either of these books written in this style if you were so inclined. To his credit, Posner uses this literary ruse skillfully without changing the central facts of the events mentioned. In any case, regarding the first two Starks items concerning Bob Carroll, his name has been completely removed from the revised version.
What about the smirk? Are there sources for its existence in Case Closed? Posner quotes Detective Jim Leavelle as saying, "…He had a smile a lot of the time, kind of a smirk, really, sort of like he knew something you didn't." (CC revised edition, p. 345) In an interview with Posner, assistant district attorney William Alexander recalled Oswald was, "almost arrogant and cocky" (CC revised edition, p. 345). Obviously, when someone with such an attitude smiles, he could be perceived as smirking. In a similar vein, Michael Paine remembered that when he saw Lee on TV after the assassination, "…He looked like the Cheshire cat that had just swallowed the canary. He had the smug satisfaction of knowing that he had struck a bold stroke for his cause." (CC revised edition, p. 345) Again, if an individual has a generally "smug" attitude, "smirking" would be entirely consistent with this. These three examples show that the evidence is there for "smirking" when placed in the context of the historical narrative style which is clearly what Posner is using in the opening section of his book, not a word for word recitation of testimony.
I would like to make one final point on this much discussed section of the book before moving on to the item-by-item rebuttal. Starks accuses Posner of "constructing dialog" after he changes "You find out" to "You figure it out". This obviously minuscule change in wording has no effect on the facts of the assassination. However, I managed to find another author who uses the "You figure it out" quote, and surprisingly it comes from a conspiracy writer. William Weston, in an article entitled The Interrogation of Oswald, uses the quote and adds, "You're the cop" to "You figure it out" ostensibly to show Oswald's mastery of interrogation techniques that indicate, according to the premise of the article, a conspiracy. I have never heard critics accuse Mr. Weston of "constructing dialogue". Apparently committing such a literary crime is contingent on which side of the debate one falls and what point one is trying to make.
Item-by-Item Starks Rebuttal
22) 186n. Posner excuses the mix-up by the CIA in incorrectly identifying a photo of a man at a communist embassy in Mexico City as being Oswald. He claims that "the CIA file did not contain any photos" of Oswald at the time of the error. Peter Dale Scott points out that this is not true. (65) The CIA had at least four photos of Oswald in its pre-assassination file on him. Two were photos of Oswald taken by American tourists in Minsk when Oswald was living there as a defector and the other two were in newspaper clippings.(66) (L)
(65) Peter Dale Scott, "A Review of Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee
Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK," Deep Politics II:
Essays on Oswald, Skokie, Illinois, Green Archives Publications,
(66) Anthony Summers, Conspiracy, NY, McGraw-Hill, 1980, pp. 380-1.
This turns out to be another case of Starks misrepresenting issues. Starks states, "He (Posner) claims that "the CIA file did not contain any photos" of Oswald at the time of the error. Peter Dale Scott points out that this is not true. (65)"
First, Starks has misrepresented what Posner wrote. According to my revised version of Case Closed, Posner says, "Oswald's CIA file did not contain any photos." Strictly speaking, this is true. The file only contained newspaper clippings two of which included photos. Tourists took the only actual photos found of Oswald in Minsk. But these were in the CIA's "Minsk file, not Oswald's 201.
Second, when one checks the reference to Scott's article you find the following statement, "Anthony Summers pointed out thirteen years ago, the CIA pre-assassination file on Oswald contained four newspaper clippings of his defection to the Soviet Union in 1959, and two of these contained photographs of him." So it seems, at least according to the version of Scott's article at the Assassination Web, that Scott did not write anything about the Minsk tourist photos. Researcher Gary Mack put it this way in an email message:
"Therefore, it would appear that Posner is correct and Scott is not. To say a file had clippings but not photos is correct, even if the clippings were of a story with a photo. A photo is a separate entity."
26) Page 225n. Posner claimed the paper sack that allegedly held the rifle "contained microscopic fibers from the blanket with which Oswald kept the rifle wrapped." FBI agent Stombaugh, an expert from their hair and fiber unit testified only that "the possibility exists that these fibers could have come from this blanket." (82) This is not a very conclusive statement and shows he was far from certain about this. (83) Then, incredibly, we find Posner contradicting his previous statement by saying (on page 272 of Case Closed) that the FBI didn't have a match. Posner makes a categorical statement and then completely contradicts himself 47 pages later. (84) (L)
(82) WC Vol. 4, p. 81.
(83) James R. Folliard, "Gerald Posner Closes the Case,"The
Fourth Decade, Nov., 1993.
(84) Case Closed, p.272.
Response by John McAdams from a newsgroup post:
"No, he doesn't contradict himself. It's one thing to say that the fibers came from the blanket with which Oswald kept the rifle wrapped, and quite another to say that forensic "testing" proved this.
The former is a reasonable -- indeed virtually unavoidable -- historical inference. And the FBI did find that the fibers were perfectly "consistent" with the blanket. Starks misstates Stombaugh's testimony, making it seem more tentative than it was. Stombaugh was certain that the fibers "could" have come from Oswald's blanket. He simply could not rule out their having come from some other source. But Posner correctly informs his readers that the fibers could not be linked to the blanket to the exclusion of all other blankets. Starks calls this Posner "contradicting himself." In fact, Posner is simply informing his readers about the limitations of the evidence."
34) Page 231n. In a footnote Posner claims that the Bronson film was "enhanced by the Itek Corporation for CBS." The Bronson film didn't surface until 1978 at which time the HSCA had another firm, Aerospace Corporation study the film. CBS hired Itek to study other known films of the assassination in 1975. The Aerospace Corporation analysis of the Bronson film was inconclusive in its findings concerning possible movement in the TSBD windows and recommended further study. (111) (N)
(111) Martin Shackelford, "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the
Assassination of JFK, by Gerald Posner: A Preliminary Critique,"
The Investigator, August-September, 1993.
Gary Mack provides new information that completely debunks this assertion, "The Bronson film was analyzed by Itek for CBS in October 1983 and the results appeared in a 3-part series on the CBS Evening News early in November. I helped arrange for the film's availability and appeared on camera - uncredited - showing a copy of the film in my living room."
39) Page 245. Posner says that photographer Ron Reiland (who photographed the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas Theater) took film of the incident but, because of mistakes in using lenses, "nothing developed." Reiland's film did develop. (122) The film did turn out to be improperly exposed but nonetheless exists and is available to be seen. (123) (N)
(122) Martin Shackelford, "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the
Assassination of JFK, by Gerald Posner: A Preliminary Critique,"
The Investigator, August-September, 1993.
(123) See the video, "Films From the Sixth Floor."
Gary Mack states, "Posner's wording pertaining to the Reiland film at the Texas Theater was poor, but he was still correct. Reiland filmed part of the scuffle and arrest inside the theater, but poor camera settings resulted in a drastically underexposed image in which nothing can be seen. That's what I think Posner was referring to. There are a few barely recognizable frames of Oswald as he was led through the lobby, followed by a poorly composed view of the crowd in which he cannot be seen at all. Then, while Oswald was being put in the car, Reiland ran around to the other side and filmed the car as it pulled away. You can briefly see the back of Oswald's head if you know where he was sitting."
94) Page 479. On Posner's John Connally section of his illustration of his version of the single-bullet theory we see a notation for an entry wound in Connally's back being 1 3/4 inches long. Testimony by Connally's attending thoracic surgeon, Dr. Robert Shaw, puts the size of the wound at "a centimeter and a half at its greatest diameter." (280) Perhaps Posner thinks Shaw is incompetent, since Shaw failed to notice the magic bullet jumping out of Connally's leg and making its own way underneath the mat of the stretcher (that was never proven to be Connally's stretcher by the Warren Commission). For those unable to convert metric measurements into inches, one and one half centimeters is just slightly more than half of an inch and nowhere near the size shown in Posner's illustration. (281) (L)
(280) WC Vol. 4, p. 104.
(281) Martin Shackelford, "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the
Assassination of JFK, by Gerald Posner: A Preliminary Critique,"
The Investigator, August-September, 1993.
Gary Mack points out, "No, the book says 1 1/4 inches, not 1 3/4." On Starks' comment that Posner thinks Shaw is incompetent Mack says, "No, Posner made no such suggestion or implication." As for the issue of the stretcher bullet Mack states, "According to his 1993 autobiography, Connally remembered a bullet fall from his pants onto the emergency room floor where a nurse scooped it up and put it in her pocket. It is fair to wonder if the nurse is the one who later put the bullet on that stretcher, thinking it was Connally's." Regarding Starks' final comment on converting measurements Mack says, "Fair enough; apparently the artist, John Grimwade, thought, "1 1/4" referred to inches, not centimeters. Looks like a proofreading mistake to me, not something deliberate."
The real errors in Case Closed categorized by type are:
Typos- Numbers 21, 85, 86, and 95.
Minor Mistakes (basically meaningless)- 14, 35, 40, 43, 69, 70, 74, 98, 100.
And now (drum roll please) after all the nitpicking and pontificating by critics, I present the real errors in Case Closed:
Number's 23, 24, 46, 48, 49, 60, 91, 93.
Lone assassin theorists and others who appreciate the work Posner has done in Case Closed are often likened to some sort of cult that follows a literary god. Nothing could be further from the truth and the book's supporters fully realize that Case Closed is not a perfect work. Indeed, when writing about a vast topic such as the assassination it is probably impossible to tie up every loose end and answer every question without committing a few missteps. But through this article and the work of others, it can be demonstrated that Case Closed is not the error riddled propaganda piece that it is made out to be by some critics. It is simply a book that presents and supports a thesis that is unpopular and unaccepted by many critics often for reasons related to their own belief system.