Chapter 1, Part 1:
You Just Don’t Understand Me, You Never Did, I Hate You

Between the Signal and the Noise
by Roger Feinman

During the noon hour on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, Malcolm Perry, an assistant professor of surgery and attending surgeon, left the Southwestern Medical School for its teaching facility, Parkland Hospital, and his usual one o’clock rounds with the residents. (3H 366). He was eating lunch in the second–floor cafeteria with Dr. Ronald Coy Jones, the chief surgical resident (3H 367), when the hospital’s operator sounded an emergency page for Dr. Tom Shires, chief of the emergency surgical service. Perry knew that Shires was delivering a paper at a meeting in Galveston (ibid.), so after the second emergency call he asked Jones to pick up the phone. (6H 52).

The operator told Jones that President Kennedy had been shot and was being brought to the emergency room. We don’t know what thoughts passed through their minds at that moment, only that Perry and Jones immediately dashed down one flight of stairs from the cafeteria to the emergency room area, and into a little cubicle known as Trauma Room 1.

When he entered TR 1 and saw John F. Kennedy lying before him on a stretcher carriage, dying, Perry’s first thought was that the President was a larger man than he had imagined (New York Times, November 28, 1963). He saw the gaping wound in the President’s skull, and he knew that it was mortal. (ibid.) But there was no time for further reflection.

Dr. Charles Carrico had already arrived at the President’s side. (6H 2, 3H 359, 3H 367) Because of Kennedy’s inadequate respiration and an injury to his throat, Carrico inserted a breathing tube into the mouth and down the trachea past the injury. He then attached the tube to a mechanical respirator. (6H 3) It became obvious, however, that this procedure would not secure an airway. The President’s breathing was still spasmodic, and there was a leakage of air around the tracheal wound. (ibid.)

Dr. Perry, who was the senior attending physician at the time, decided to perform a tracheostomy, the insertion of a breathing tube directly into the windpipe through an incision in the throat. Since the throat wound’s location coincided with the spot normally used for a tracheostomy, Perry made his incision directly through the wound as an expedient. (3H 367)

Other emergency procedures were attempted, but the battle had been lost from the beginning. The chief of neurosurgery at Parkland, Dr. Kemp Clark, pronounced President Kennedy dead at 1:00 p.m.

The Doctors and the JFK Assassination Press Conference

A little more than an hour later, in a second–floor nurses’ classroom which had been hastily converted into a makeshift press center, Drs. Perry and Clark were confronted with a battery of klieg lights, a bewildering array of cables, whirring cameras and spinning tape decks, and a horde of newsmen hungry for a story. The world already knew that President Kennedy was dead. It needed to know how he died.

Clark, who had arrived in TR 1 as Perry was performing the tracheostomy, had not seen the throat wound in its undeformed state. (6H 20) As a neurosurgeon, he spoke mostly about the President’s head injury. Perry spoke about the emergency procedures, and about the wound in Kennedy’s throat. The reporters were unfamiliar with medical terms, such as “moribund” (near death), “endotracheal tube” (oral breathing tube), and “tracheostomy,” and they frequently interrupted to get the correct spellings.

Doctors Saw an Entrance Wound in JFK’s Throat

Following the press conference, the news media widely quoted Perry as having identified the throat wound as one of entrance.

  • A UPI report published in The New York World Telegram & Sun on the afternoon of the assassination said, “There was an entrance wound below his Adam’s apple. There was another wound in the back of his head.” (NYWT&S, November 22, 1963).
  • Tom Wicker of The New York Times: “Mr. Kennedy was hit by a bullet in the throat, just below the Adam’s apple, they said. This wound had the appearance of a bullet’s entry.” (New York Times, November 23, 1963)
  • Other newspapers and the television networks concurred. (See, e.g., Dallas Times Herald, November 24, 1963; NBC, Seventy Hours and Thirty Minutes, Random House. New York: 1966, p. 11; CBS News, The Assassination of President Kennedy as Broadcast over the CBS Television Network, unpublished transcript of coverage on November 22, 1963, pp. 51, 97).

The question whether Perry’s observation was correct or mistaken belies two basic points:

  • First, Perry was reported to have made this statement by several highly respected members of the White House press corps and local reporters.
  • Second, Perry’s identification of the throat wound as an entry was conjecture — unknowing and unintentional, to be sure, but conjecture nonetheless in the strict sense of the word.

As he later told the Warren Commission, Perry did not examine the President so thoroughly as to ascertain the trajectory of the missile(s) that struck the President, or the pathway of the bullet through the body. (6H 15, 3H 373, 3H 374) He did not know the position in which the President had been sitting when he was shot. His conjecture, however, was based upon his professional medical experience in dealing with gunshot victims and his personal experience as a hunter. (3H 366, 6H 18) From the undisturbed appearance of the wound, Perry had concluded that afternoon that, in the words of one reporter in Dallas, “A bullet struck him in the front as he faced the assailant.” (NBC, op. cit., p. 11) The reporters at the news conference did not know this, and they had no alternative but to report what Perry said and what they heard.

Of course, Perry’s observation conflicted with the official theory of the assassination, that President Kennedy was shot only from the rear as his limousine passed the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository Building in which the lone assassin lurked. Perry’s comments therefore immediately led to the question that attorney Mark Lane and others have been asking for nearly thirty years: How could accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald have shot the President in the throat from behind?

Was Dr Malcolm Perry Quoted Accurately?

The Warren Commission labored to cast doubt that the reporters at the press conference had quoted Perry accurately, an effort in which Perry himself acquiesced. For years after the assassination independent researchers searched in vain for proof of his original statement. Lane, in particular, was eager to include film footage of the Parkland news conference in his documentary on the Warren Report. In his book of the same title, Rush to Judgment, Lane reported that the three major networks and local Dallas stations no longer had television and radio tapes of the briefing. (Lane, Mark. Rush to Judgment. Dell Publishing Co., New York: 1975, p. 53) Elaborating on that claim in an interview with Playboy Magazine, Lane said that the local Dallas stations were visited after the assassination by FBI and Secret Service agents and asked to surrender all of their tapes. (Playboy, February 1967, p. 50).

CBS News and the Parkland Press Conference

Then, on June 26, 1967, in the second of four nightly CBS News programs on the Warren Report, anchorman Walter Cronkite referred to “the transcript of that news conference” without giving his audience any additional identification or indication of its source. Since that night, there has been no further word from CBS about the document.

The transcript of the Parkland Hospital news conference to which CBS referred was not of the network’s own making: it was a non–classified government document unseen by the Warren Commission.

Arlen Specter Cannot Find the Transcript

Arlen Specter, the Warren Commission staff lawyer who developed the medical evidence in the assassination, made a feeble and somewhat transparent attempt to obtain for that investigation a recording or transcript of the statements made by Dr. Perry on November 22, 1963. Although Specter told the Commission that, “[W]e have been trying diligently to get the tape records of the television interview, and we were unsuccessful,” (3H 378) there is no evidence that the Commission considered using its subpoena power at any time. Instead of inquiring on its own, the panel asked the Secret Service to undertake a search. The performance of the Secret Service was equally lackluster, for a reason I shall presently discuss. On March 25, 1964, Secret Service Director James J. Rowley wrote the Commission that no videotape recording or transcript could be found at the television networks or the Dallas stations. (CD 678)

Specter understandably did not press the issue. Perry’s statement about an entrance wound in President Kennedy’s throat was directly at odds with the official report issued by three military pathologists who conducted the Kennedy autopsy at Bethesda Naval Medical Center on the night of the assassination. They concluded that the President was shot twice from the rear.

Parkland, Bethesda and the Wounds

One of the peculiarities of this case is that, on the weekend of the assassination, neither the Parkland group nor the Bethesda group of doctors had seen all the President’s wounds. The autopsy surgeons found a wound on the upper right–hand side of his back. The Parkland doctors were unaware of this wound at the time they treated the President, since they did not turn him over on his stomach. (6H 3, 6H 5, 3H 382) On the other hand, the Parkland doctors were the only ones who had observed the throat wound in its original state. Due to the tracheostomy that had been performed through this site, the Bethesda doctors said they did not regard it as a bullet wound while the President’s body was in their hands. Only later did they infer, rather than actually trace, a path from the back wound to the throat wound. (2H 368)

Specter’s Manipulative Strategy

Specter, as middleman, played one group against the other to coax support for his single–bullet theory that one shot, fired from the rear, hit both President Kennedy and Governor John Connally, who sat in front of Kennedy in the presidential limousine during the ill–fated motorcade through Dallas. It was a theory that both the Commission’s critics and supporters agreed was the cornerstone of the case for a lone gunman. Verification of Perry’s statement about an entrance wound in the throat through the production of a transcript would only have gotten in the way of Specter’s strategy.

In Dr. Perry’s case, the strategy was two–pronged:

  1. First, without ever asking Perry to deny that he had formed an initial opinion at Parkland Hospital on November 22, to establish that the doctor’s earlier comments on the throat wound had been misquoted and misinterpreted by the press; and
  2. Second, to elicit Perry’s opinion of the possibility of the throat wound being one of exit by asking him to assume as true the autopsy findings and other information that Specter provided.

Both tactics lured Perry into embracing the autopsy findings without recanting his original statements, while still maintaining his professional pride. The second also led Perry, in his testimony before the Warren Commission, into the very sort of speculation that the press had solicited.

Perry offered little resistance. He did not stand up to the authorities as Robert Redford and Warren Beatty do in the movies. Perry knew that his “entrance wound” statement at Parkland had thrown a wrench into the works. The morning after the assassination (i.e., the morning following the autopsy), Perry told Clark that “he had been asked by Bethesda to confine his remarks to that which he knew from having examined the President.” (6H 23)

Even if Perry, four months after the assassination, felt sure of what he saw in TR 1, he would have been stepping out on a fragile and lonely limb to say so. Having a transcript of his Parkland remarks before him as he testified would have been of as little help to him as it would to Specter. Specter, the middleman, held the cards — and the autopsy report.

Specter asked Perry, not did he form an opinion at Parkland whether the throat wound was an entry or exit, not did he have a basis, but did he have a sufficient basis to form such an opinion?

“No, sir. I was unable to determine that since I did not ascertain the exact trajectory of the missile.”

(3H 373).

Were sufficient facts available then to form an opinion as to the source or direction of the cause of the wound?

No, Perry replied, “although several leading questions were directed toward me at the several conferences.” (6H 15)

“Often questions were directed as to — in such a manner as this: ‘Doctor, is it possible that if he were in such and such a position and the bullet entered here, could it have done that?’ And my reply, ‘Of course, if it were possible, yes, that is possible, but similarly, it did not have to be so, necessarily.’”


“… I could not categorically state about the nature of the neck wound …”

(6H 12)

He could not come to a conclusive opinion from the physical characteristics of the wound in and of themselves. (6H 15) In general, Perry testified that he spoke only in terms of possibilities (3H 375, 376).

Specter’s Hypothetical Questions

So, too, in his appearance before the Warren Commission: Would Perry please assume that the President was struck by a copper–jacketed bullet? Now, would he also assume that it was fired at muzzle velocity of approximately 2000 feet per second? Add that the bullet entered the President’s back (a wound Perry had never seen), that it went through the muscle tissue as described by the official autopsy report (a path that neither Perry nor the autopsy surgeons themselves traced), and that it exited the throat (a fact that the autopsy pathologists merely assumed). Would the wound he observed in the throat be consistent with an exit wound?

“Certainly would be consistent with an exit wound.”

(3H 373)

By the appearance of the neck wound alone, could it have been either an entrance or an exit wound?

“It could have been either.”


If, that is, the hypothesis posed to Perry by Specter were true?

“That is correct, sir. I have no way to authenticate either by own knowledge.”

(6H 15)

The Warren Report’s Incorrect Version

In this manner, Specter sought to dispel the confusion and to reconcile the Parkland doctors’ testimony to the autopsy report. Having thus neutralized Perry, the Commission was not above overkill. The Warren Report’s section on the wounds said:

At the news conference, Dr. Perry answered a series of hypothetical questions and stated to the press that a variety of possibilities could account for the President’s wounds. He stated that a single bullet could have caused the President’s wounds by entering through the throat, striking the spine, and being deflected upward with the point of exit being through the head.

(WR 90)

The Report presented this information as factual, without attributing these statements to Perry’s testimony. Perry issued no such reconstruction at the news conference, although at least one press account alleged that he did (UPI dispatch published in Dallas Times Herald, November 24, 1963). In his testimony, Perry simply thought he remembered (perhaps under the influence of what he had read in the press since the assassination) positing the course of a bullet. (3H 375, 376, 6H 13) The Report continued:

Dr. Perry said his answers at the press conference were intended to convey his theory about what could have happened, based on his limited knowledge at the time, rather than his professional opinion about what did happen …

(WR 90)

Perry, however, had denied holding any theory of the wounds, either at the time of the assassination or at the time he testified. (6H 12, 15) Neither did he advance any theory during the press conference.

The Press Conference Transcript

The transcript of that press conference gives the game away. It reveals that both Drs. Perry and Clark repeatedly and emphatically declined to speculate on the trajectory of the shots or their course through the President’s body. They confined themselves to what they had observed and done. They spoke of a head wound and a neck wound, without saying whether the wounds were made by one, two or more bullets.

Dr. Perry described the neck wound as an entrance wound. His opinion was definite. It left no room for doubt. He had arrived at that judgment independent of the factors that Arlen Specter would later ask him to assume, and before the best evidence, President Kennedy’s body, had been transported behind military lines.

Dr. Perry had an opinion on November 22. On the basis of the hypothesis later given to him by Specter, Perry decided that his was not “the correct opinion.” Unlike testimony, however, the Perry transcript could not be shaded through the use of hypothetical questions. Unlike the Zapruder film with its unmistakable depiction of the violent backward thrust of Kennedy’s body, it could not be ignored. Unlike scientific tests, it could not be misinterpreted. Therefore, the Perry transcript had to be buried.

Tracking Down the Press Conference Transcript

The Parkland news conference was actually a White House news conference, because it was conducted by Wayne Hawks, a member of the White House transportation staff. Hawks was acting in place of Malcolm Kilduff, the assistant White House Press Secretary who accompanied President Kennedy to Dallas, and who left Parkland Hospital with President Johnson a few minutes before the press conference began. The transcript of the news conference was on file in the White House Press office, under the nose of the White House Detail of the Secret Service, which had purportedly sought it for the Warren Commission.

Arlen Specter knew about Hawks’ role in the press conference, because Malcolm Perry told him about it on the first day of his testimony. (6H 7) That was March 25, 1964, the same day that Secret Service Chief Rowley wrote the Commission to say he had been unsuccessful in locating a videotape recording. (CD 678) Since Perry did not testify again until five days later (March 30, 1964), Specter could have obtained the transcript for that session. He did not.

The Warren Commission’s Predetermined Conclusions

Several authors have devoted lengthy books to cataloging the Warren Commission’s penchant for willfully disregarding eyewitness accounts of the shooting, ignoring physical evidence that was inconvenient to its predetermined conclusions, as well as its misrepresentation, obfuscation and prevarication relating to evidence that it did receive. I have recounted the tale of Malcolm Perry and the transcript of his news conference only because it is one with which David Lifton, the author of Best Evidence is all too familiar. He tells us in his book that he cashed a tax refund check to buy a set of the Commission’s 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits. He read all the newspaper and magazine accounts that he could find. He read many books about the assassination that were published before his. Still, there is substantial cause for restless doubt that he pursued his readings and investigations with the same purpose, intent and understandings that the overwhelming majority of other writers, researchers and critics shared.

The Best Evidence Theory

For the benefit of those few who may never have heard about Best Evidence, let alone undertaken the wearying task of reading the book through to its end, Lifton theorizes that while Jacqueline Kennedy went to the front of Air Force One for the swearing–in of Lyndon Johnson, shortly before the plane took off from Love Field in Dallas to return to Washington, somebody transferred JFK’s remains from a coffin to a body bag, which was secreted away — somewhere. He further theorizes that, when the plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, the body bag was secretly off loaded from the right side of the plane as some 3000 spectators and millions of television viewers watched an empty bronze ceremonial casket being unloaded and placed in an ambulance on the left side, the area being illuminated by klieg lights. While the ambulance drove to Bethesda, the body was flown by helicopter to Walter Reed Army Hospital for alteration (e.g., the addition or modification of wounds, and the removal of bullets), then taken to Bethesda in a gray metal shipping casket before the arrival of the empty “original” coffin. Somehow, someone managed to re–casket the body in its original coffin without anyone else noticing. According to Lifton, the body in the gray metal casket was sheathed in a body bag, with the head wrapped in a sheet. The President’s throat wound was sutured and his skull had no brain.

The Doctors Were Deceived

The autopsy pathologists at Bethesda, according to Lifton, were deceived by the “medical forgery” into believing that the President had been shot from behind, rather than from in front of the limousine in which he rode through downtown Dallas. Specifically, Lifton alleges a plot that enlarged JFK’s head wound and added two rear wounds, one in the head and one in the upper back. He alleges that neither of those rear wounds were seen by the nurses and doctors who handled the President’s body at Parkland.

Lifton pretends to posit only a small, high-level plot involving a clique of officials. (“America’s Unsolved Mystery,” Palm Beach Post, November 22, 1991, p. 1D) With the briefest reflection, however, the Best Evidence thesis clearly requires not only a group of assassins, but legions who could plant a phony bullet at Parkland Hospital, plant phony bullet fragments in the President’s limousine, steal and then alter the President’s corpse, alter the Zapruder film, and alter the autopsy X–rays and photographs. It would have required utilization of the type of sophisticated project management computer software that did not even exist in 1963 to coordinate and move the President’s body, hordes of unidentified conspirators, coffins, coffin guard teams, doctors, Secret Service Agents, F.B.I. agents, and Kennedy staffers, as well as to conduct the complex array of operations that he envisions. Still, he insists that it was a small plot.

Ebook and PDF Download

Roger Feinman: Between the Signal and the Noise

Available for download in EPUB and PDF formats, completely free of charge:

EPUB is the standard, open ebook format, and should function with all modern ebook-reading software.