Chapter 4, Part 1:
What’s Wrong With All of You? Why Can’t You See How Scholarly I Am?

Between the Signal and the Noise
by Roger Feinman

(When is a scholar a scholar?)

I have a great respect for, and love of scholarship and debate.

David Lifton (1993)

Jean Hill and the Warren Report

Jean Hill was one of the eyewitnesses who was standing closest to the presidential limousine during the fatal wounding sequence of the assassination. In Chapter One of Best Evidence, David Lifton very quickly glosses over his interview with Jean Hill on November 20, 1965. He says “she stuck by her story that shots came from across the street from where she was standing.” But in his own contemporary memo of that interview, Mr. Lifton reports that Mrs. Hill specifically denied seeing anyone shoot the President. Mr. Lifton’s book ascribes to her the statement, “She … characterized the Warren Report as a fraud and a hoax.” In fact, it was Mr. Lifton who used those words, while Mrs. Hill offered him nothing more than epigrammatic statements to deflect his questioning. (Lifton, David. Phone Call Notes — Conversation with Jean Hill, November 20, 1965)

A Meeting with Wesley Liebeler

In reconstructing his November 30, 1965, meeting with former Warren Commission Assistant Counsel Wesley Liebeler, Mr. Lifton indulges in some regrettable dramatization that departs from his contemporary memoir of the discussion both in substance and nuance. He thereby not only alters meaning but also appears to revise the chronology of what he represents as a true account of his experiences. For example, the possible causes of the backward snap of the President's head during the assassination were discussed during the meeting. In his book, Lifton reports:

Liebeler argued a bit about whether a neuromuscular reaction could have caused this, but he did not press the point.

In his contemporaneous memo of the interview, however, Mr. Lifton reports the exchange this way:

I briefly discussed the possibility of the head [backward] reaction coming from a muscular reaction, and carefully explained why the neurosurgeon I spoke to ruled that out.

(Lifton, David. “Interview with W.J.L.,” November 30, 1965)

This is more than a mere error in attribution. In his book, Mr. Lifton does not refer to any consultation he had with medical experts on the head snap until the time of his preparation for writing “The Case For Three Assassins” (his Ramparts article) and a meeting with Liebeler that occurred on October 10, 1966, nearly one year later. Apparently, in his book, Mr. Lifton has finessed some early medical research he performed, but that he cares not to disclose, or else has juxtaposed it with later events. His disturbing revision of this conversation implies, however, that he received a professional opinion either noncommittal or unfavorable to his viewpoint.

Returning to the meeting of November 30, Mr. Liebeler was accompanied by a reportedly attractive young woman named “Willie.” Mr. Lifton writes in his book: “Willie seemed quite impressed with the physics of the argument.” But the self–congratulatory tone of this statement is strikingly at variance with his contemporary memo, which does not quote her as reacting to anything that Lifton said, but instead implies that the woman, who was of foreign extraction and spoke with a thick accent, had difficulty following the back–and–forth between Lifton and Liebeler.

During the discussion, Mr. Lifton’s book has Liebeler lighting his pipe, a gesture seemingly reported as though by a novelist to impart quality to his character, but Lifton’s contemporary account reads: “Liebeler is now lighting his pipe or cigar (I was too preoccupied with the girl to notice which).”

Was Mr. Lifton's memory of his conversation with Liebeler and the woman any better thirteen–to–fifteen years after the event? Mr. Lifton, after reviewing his files much sooner, seemed to say no in a letter to Sylvia Meagher dated June 24, 1969: “I’d forgotten many of those quotes he said to me, even the incidents themselves.”

Research Interviews

Mr. Lifton’s Best Evidence contains hundreds of citations to a public record that was and remains available to other researchers. In large measure, he also cites to his personal telephone or in–person interviews with witnesses, almost all of which in the years after 1965 he recorded on tape. These remain his personal property and he has not released them. There seems nothing wrong or unusual about that. Without meaning to offer any direct comparison, William Manchester did hundreds of hours of interviews in preparing his book, The Death of a President. These remain sequestered and subject to his exclusive control. Other authors and journalists also prefer to exercise dominion over their research materials, even long after their finished product has seen the public light.

Since the essential theories and conclusions of Best Evidence rest heavily upon Mr. Lifton’s own interviews, however, he requires his readers to implicitly trust in the accuracy and selectivity with which he reproduces quotations from them, this notwithstanding his lack of formal journalistic credentials or any previous reputation as a nonfiction author. Like other readers of Best Evidence, I do not have access to his tapes. As if the Jean Hill and Wesley Liebeler examples were not reason enough, it accordingly seems fair and appropriate that we examine the degree of care and fidelity to the facts exercised by Mr. Lifton in the use of quotations that are otherwise verifiable, as such examination may bear upon the reliability and trustworthiness of his book.

The Chicago Symposium

Mr. Lifton reports in his Compuserve essays that, before we appeared together in Chicago, he “didn’t really care whether Feinman agreed with my body–tampering theory or not,” but that he was merely curious about my beliefs. He has me stating a theory of the wounds that he implies was in accord with the official (i.e., Warren Commission) version. Then, according to him, Lifton just happened to call the Midwest Symposium organizer, and just happened to mention my alleged statements. He says that the organizer wanted to “yank” me from the debate, but that, “I defended Feinman’s presence on the panel.” In other words, Lifton asks his readers to accept that I was on the medical panel only at his sufferance.

As will presently become obvious, Mr. Lifton, knowing that he was about to appear on a platform with a serious individual — not the kind of stage performer and media–hyped celebrity that he has become, but a trial lawyer who knows the evidence as well as or better than he does — was afraid of finally being exposed as a quack. So, he called and he taped, and when I told him what I thought about Best Evidence, he shivered and he shook. Then he went to the Symposium coordinator to insinuate that I ought to be removed from the panel.

David Lifton Telephones Roger Feinman

To successfully hunt prey, one must first learn its habits. Just as important, one must learn to wait. The prey may temporarily vacate its habitual feeding ground; it may hibernate; it may resort to camouflage; it may even decide to mount a preemptive attack. The hunter must prepare for either eventuality. Modern technology has neither improved upon nor vitiated these ancient truisms; it is merely harnessed to their service.

Despite the winter, Sunday night, March 21, 1993, was the kind of night for which God and Howard Johnson invented the rich flavor of chocolate ice cream. That night, David Lifton, having exhausted my patience fourteen years earlier, and having given me a two–year respite since his last call, telephoned me to chat about our forthcoming appearance on April 3 at a panel debate in Chicago with representatives of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) over the medical evidence in the assassination of President Kennedy. I expected him to call, only I did not know when.

This is the story of how David Lifton stuck his head in the noose I prepared for him.

Dr Pierre Finck’s Memo to General William Blumberg

We had last seen each other at the ASK Symposium in Dallas in October 1992, and as a follow-up to our encounter I had sent him a recently released document and an analysis that I had written in September. The document was a February 1965 report by former Lt. Col. Pierre A. Finck, one of the three pathologists who performed the Kennedy autopsy, to his Commanding Officer at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Maj. Gen. William A. Blumberg. My analysis began by pointing to the suspicious circumstances surrounding the sequestration of this long-sought memorandum. More than one researcher, including this writer, had filed FOIA requests for the document with the AFIP shortly after its existence was revealed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. The AFIP did not then have the Finck Memo because, it now seems, it was never part of any official AFIP file. Finck wrote his memo and sealed it in a manila envelope bearing the inscription, “To be opened only by General Blumberg.” After Blumberg died in 1985, his widow transferred the private papers he kept at home to the AFIP. Sometime later, an archivist discovered the sealed envelope among Blumberg’s other possessions.

Feinman’s Observations about Pierre Finck’s Memo

Here are some excerpts from my analysis of the Finck memo:

2. According to Finck, they didn’t wait for him to begin the autopsy, so the real story could be what took place before his arrival. Finck’s statement that by his arrival at 8:30 p.m. the chest cavity had been opened and the heart and lungs removed is in direct conflict with other witness statements that the Y–incision was done much later. Recall Lifton’s interview with Ebersole in 1972 as mentioned in his book, and Art Smith’s interview with Ebersole in 1978, as well as other witness statements interspersed in Best Evidence and High Treason 2 (notably Captain Karnei in the latter reference). Note his statement that X–rays of the chest had been taken, as well as the head. Given their alleged initial understanding of the wounds, they would have no reason to X–ray and open the chest cavity unless the back wound had already been noted or they were considering the possibility, advanced by the Parkland doctors, that a bullet coursed downward into the chest of Kennedy after entering his throat.

It may be this [head] photo was posed to mislead or just one segment in a series of photos that, if viewed in the entirety, would have conveyed a fuller appreciation of the situation. Likewise, the X–ray showing frontal bone removed….

12. Photo of internal aspect of occipital wound. Where is it? It’s my belief that this is what has become known as Fox #8, which … is habitually reprinted in books in portrait rather than landscape orientation, and I am willing to concede this point to Finck and the Warren Commission apologists.

14. Note the clear contradiction: At first he said that when he came in the chest had been opened. Here he says: ‘The President’s family insisted to have only the head examined. Later the permission was extended to the chest.’ This is the real story, which lost its context in the HSCA excerpts. Either he’s making this up as he goes along, or he’s relating instructions conveyed to him that allegedly were given earlier than his arrival time. If this were so, the incident reported by Sibert and O’Neill in their investigative insert (which makes no mention of Finck) happened before Finck’s arrival and they knew about the back wound before Finck was there, and Roy Kellerman lied to the Warren Commission….

17. Harold Weisberg correctly points to a conflict between Finck’s report and his Shaw testimony regarding the limitation of scope. He testified he was ordered not to dissect the neck. Harold would also agree, I gather, that Finck’s testimony referred only to X–rays of the head that had been taken before his arrival, not to X–rays of the chest as well. The key here is that Finck’s request to mark the protocol incomplete was entirely appropriate, and if the allegation that the Kennedys had restricted the scope of the autopsy were true, Galloway and Humes should have had no objection. Harold established previously that the authorization form contained no limitation. Absent any confirmatory statement from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, now the only living witness, I conclude that this whole business of assigning responsibility to the family is a lie, and my feeling is that J. Edgar Hoover was of the same opinion.

24. Turning to Finck’s single–spaced summary, which is dated seven days earlier than his transmittal memo to Blumberg. Note the following with respect to the upper back wound: ‘It was stated that this was an entrance.‘ This is in the single–spaced version, but in the double–spaced version, ‘I stated that this was an entrance.’

25. Further in neither the double–spaced draft (?) summary nor the report itself, does he remark upon any examination of the adrenals. ‘I was told that the Kennedy family first authorized the autopsy of the head only and then extended the permission to the chest.’ This clarifies and confirms my earlier impression. As Harold notes, he has no personal knowledge of the alleged restrictions.

Feinman’s Conclusions about the JFK Autopsy

Among my conclusions were these:

4. There exists in the public record of this autopsy a serious anomaly between Sibert and O’Neill’s main report and their investigative insert pertaining to Burkley’s attempt to limit the autopsy, in that their main report alludes to Dr. Humes’ locating the back wound only ‘during the latter stages,’ a point with which the testimony of Kellerman is in agreement. The gravity of this anomaly is accentuated by Finck’s allegation in his report that the chest had already been opened by the time of his arrival at Bethesda. The story just doesn’t gel. Upon reflection, some of the most striking inconsistencies among interviewed witnesses to this event focus upon the examination of the chest cavity.

[Note: The “investigative insert” to which I referred was a field office memorandum filed separately but concurrently with their main narrative report on the autopsy by FBI agents Sibert and O’Neill in the Baltimore Field Office (FBI #62–117290–878X, November 26, 1963). The memo summarized a conversation that occurred in the morgue before the start of the autopsy. In that memo, the agents reported that Admiral Burkley, the White House physician, “questioned any feasibility to do a complete autopsy to obtain the bullet which had entered the President’s back.” Secret Service agents Kellerman and Greer had testified to the Warren Commission that the back wound was not discovered until late in the autopsy, and the FBI agents’ main narrative seemed on its face to corroborate that testimony. Here, for example, is what Kellerman told the Warren Commission:

Mr. Kellerman.
Just for the record, I wish to have this down. While the President is in the morgue, he is lying flat. And with the part of the skull removed, and the hole in the throat, nobody was aware until they lifted him up that there was a hole in his shoulder. That was the first concrete evidence that they knew that the man was hit in the back first.
Mr. Specter.
When did they lift him up and first observe the hole in the shoulder?
Mr. Kellerman.
They had been working on him for quite some time, Mr. Specter — through the photos and other things they do through an autopsy. And I believe it was this Colonel Finck who raised him and there was a clean hole.

(2H 103)

5. In further comparison with Sibert and O’Neill, Finck’s report reveals nothing on the formulation of any conclusions, no matter how tentative, as to trajectories at the time of autopsy. Finck doesn't say at any point that a path leading to the throat wound was considered, or that any explanation — even a tentative one — was advanced for what happened to the bullet that entered the President’s back. He doesn’t say what they made at the time of the autopsy of a bruise at the top of the lung or the hemorrhaging he noticed in or about the pleural space, although Humes and Boswell told Specter in their preparatory interview before testifying that they attributed this at the time to the tracheotomy. He makes no mention of bruising in the strap muscles (or the alleged lack of contusions at the sites of the chest drainage tubes and intravenous incisions). This report would have us believe that the question of what happened to the bullet was simply left hanging. Even in the face of their assumed inability to find either a missile or a path for the missile that entered the back, their senior officers refused to permit a complete autopsy, including dissection of the neck, while Lee Harvey Oswald was living to stand trial. This is very damning. Even more disturbing. Col. Finck does not seek any dispensation for signing a false report despite his clear and unequivocal knowledge that the autopsy was incomplete, and despite the denial of his request to see the clothes. Aside from the tepid resistance he claims to have offered, he does not imply that anyone twisted his arm, threatened him, or so much as merely ordered him to sign the report against his will.

11. What Finck’s various omissions tell us, and what I think he is perhaps relating here, is that he will not personally vouch or be held responsible for whatever he wants us to think may have transpired before his arrival. His alleged understanding is that X–rays and photos had been taken; the brain had been removed; the chest cavity had been opened, and the heart and lungs also removed. Allegedly, they haven’t found a bullet, and they require his assistance in assessing the situation, but they won’t permit him to perform a full examination to that end. It would be interesting to gauge his response to the question why he believes his presence was required at all, and what his role actually consisted of?…

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