Chapter 4, Part 2:
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

A Co–Ordinated Strategy for Chicago

In early January 1993, I learned that I would be a member of a panel representing the government’s critics in the Chicago debate, and that David Lifton would also appear. I immediately suggested to all my co–panelists that we confer on a coordinated strategy. The only one to respond affirmatively to this idea was Dr. Cyril Wecht. The discussions in which I participated among and between the co–panelists did not begin until March. Privately, I had some misgivings about Lifton’s participation. I discussed these with other interested parties, who appeared to have independently arrived at the same opinion, i.e., that Lifton’s Best Evidence theory would offer a vulnerable target against which the JAMA participants could focus their attack on the critics. (As it turned out, none of us had much to worry about; the JAMA panel seemed to have a limited grasp of the facts.) I did not disclose my views to the organizer of the Midwest Symposium, Douglas Carlson, since it was clear to me that he had already extended a commitment to Lifton.

In early March, I called my colleague and co–panelist, Wallace Milam (also a longtime friend and associate of Lifton and a closet–adherent of the Best Evidence theory), to ask about his presentation. Wallace was in the process of putting the finishing touches on a marvelous video he planned to present in rebuttal to one that was being sold by Dr. Michael West, a JAMA panelist. He indicated that Lifton wanted to play a tape of his 1966 interview with Dr. James Humes. He told me that he wished to speak first on our panel, and that David Lifton wanted to follow him. Wallace said, “Everyone is wondering what Roger Feinman is going to talk about.” I feigned indifference to the order of speakers, though I was secretly pleased — amused that few people alive knew my views (therefore making it difficult for the other side to prepare to debate me, as Dr. John K. Lattimer graciously confirmed in the moments before the debate got underway), and pleased that David wanted to go before me. All that I was willing to say for the record was that, in general, I planned to speak about the credibility of the autopsy pathologists. I did not want any additional details to get back to Lifton until I heard from him directly, as I was sure I would. Besides, whatever Lifton planned to present at the Symposium, I would be able to instantly adjust my remarks to avoid any repetition of his points.

JAMA and the Bethesda Pathologists

In view of our impending joint appearance, some personal contact between Lifton and me was clearly necessary. In May and October 1992, JAMA had published interviews with the Kennedy autopsy pathologists that seriously damaged the thesis of Lifton’s book, Best Evidence, to wit, that they told the truth about what they saw and did that night, either acquiescing in or oblivious to the fact that they had been deceived by the clandestine infliction and surgical alteration of Kennedy’s wounds between the time the body left Parkland and the time it arrived at Bethesda, and by the extraction of bullets from his body before autopsy. The pathologists not only repudiated the theory, but also made statements seriously contradicting their own previous public and private pronouncements about the autopsy. I half–expected Lifton to tell me that he was prepared to abandon the central theories of Best Evidence and to admit that the conduct of the pathologists themselves — not some unknown plotters of a conspiracy external to the morgue — merited the closest scrutiny. I was interested in knowing how Lifton proposed to reconcile his theories with the obvious import of these interviews. I was fairly confident that he could not.

Although I had not given any thought to David Lifton or his book for many years, based on previous personal contacts and the oral reminiscences of other critics, I had the impression that Lifton, for whatever reason, tended to solicit ideas from others before stating his own. I also knew that he tapes at least some of his phone calls. Finally, I knew that Lifton practiced what I call “the doctrine of preemption,” one of whose corollaries is to tell the other guy’s story and knock it down before the other guy can even open his mouth to speak (I shall presently explore another corollary of the same doctrine). He also jealously guards his flank. With events threatening to overtake Lifton and his book, I knew that his call would come, so I waited while attending to my own affairs.

Roger Feinman and David Lifton Compare Notes

Despite my confidence, when Mr. Lifton did call on March 21, I was slightly taken aback by the change I sensed in him. I recalled that, years earlier, he had seemed better able to express himself fluently; now he seemed to have difficulty speaking in whole sentences and forming coherent questions, certainly more distracted. He stumbled over words, and frequently seemed to lose his train of thought. We began by comparing notes on JAMA’s most recent article on the Kennedy assassination, and our understanding of the format of the debate. I found myself having to repeat myself to him several times to get a point across.

Then Lifton changed the subject to our substantive remarks at the debate: “Okay, well, look, um, one of the things I thought I wanted to open up for discussion, which — uh, I was kinda — I’m trying to construct my talk, and I was wondering, um, I was wondering if we could just s–swap notes a little bit. I — I know what Wallace is doing, and I have no idea what you’re doing, and I have no idea what Cyril’s doing, and I know that I definitely want to come after Wallace’s video, and I was curious what, y’know what your take on all this — ”

The Personal Credibility of the Autopsy Pathologists

I got the idea. “What I want to focus on is the personal credibility of the autopsy pathologists, and just that aspect,” I said.

“Wha — what do you mean by personal credibility of the autopsy pathologists?”

I explained, “The contradictions in the statements they’ve made over the years and their testimony. There are a number of different issues. Why? Does that conflict with what you want to do?”

“Oh, no. Not necessarily … I — uh — ah — I asked because, um — who told me? Uh, Wallace said to me or who is it? Aguilar said to me that you were surfacing something brand new, um, that you had from years ago, and, I was, you know, curious what area you were gonna bring in, and then I was going to tell you what I was going to do.”

I said, “Yeah.”

“Are you surfacing anything brand new that — ?”

“It depends …”

The Sibert and O’Neill Report of JFK’s Autopsy

As I expected, Mr. Lifton told me that he wished to focus on what was said in the conversation at the outset of the autopsy that had been reported by Sibert and O’Neill in that brief field memo they filed separately from their main narrative report. But there was more, as I already had learned from Wallace Milam. “I’m going to deal with a conversation that I had with Humes in 1966,” he said, “which was a better cross–examination than Andy Purdy ever did.”

As I listened to the same voice that had become naggingly familiar during the late–1970’s, I thought, “Does David have anything left upstairs? Andy Purdy never examined or cross–examined Humes!”

Although Mr. Lifton has since implied that I “sandbagged” him at the debate, I made it crystal clear to him that I disagreed with his book. I said, “Of course, we can disagree on conclusions, and it’s just as well that we’re going to have some diverse viewpoints. You’ve made a case in Best Evidence that I don’t think anybody can either prove or disprove. I mean, it’s a hypothesis … I don't subscribe to it …”

“Well, I’m curious,” Lifton said, “What do you subscribe to?”

I told him, “I think that the autopsy is crooked …”

“What I’m getting at is, you think the autopsy was crooked; as the body lied there [sic] before them, what do you think the body had on it? Did it show the President as he was seen in Parkland, or does it show the President — I mean, now, which database does it reflect?”

The Photographs of President Kennedy’s Autopsy

Objection! Leading the witness. Nevertheless, I overruled my own objection and replied, “It may very well have reflected the database that we see in the photographs, but that's an incomplete database, and it’s an inconclusive database. I — ”

“No, no,” Lifton interrupted, “When you mean the photographs, do mean that you believe that when the body was lying there that the back of the head was as pretty and as intact as the rear photograph of the back of the head?“

I had never heard anyone besides Lifton describe the bloodied head of the murdered President as “pretty.” But I was too deeply into the conversation to back out gracefully. “No, I think what they probably did was to take the piece of skull with hair on it that Clint Hill described as laying on the back seat of the limousine, and they recuperated that wound for the purpose of that photograph.” [Note: Clint Hill’s written report on this point is found at 18H 742, and his testimony is found at 2H 141.]

“Well, that’s reconstruction of it prior to autopsy photography — ”

Lifton was reaching to find a common ground, so I had to cut him off: “Wait a minute! We don’t know when that photograph was taken.” He made no response to this.

“But I mean — so, um — I guess I was curious what you thought the body looked like when it was lying there, and I was going to ask you wound–by–wound — ”

The X–Rays and the Photographs

I had no patience for this. “Well, let me explain. I’ve got a problem with the X–rays. My problem is from the standpoint of technical authentication, I don’t think that the House Committee succeeded in authenticating these materials. The photographs are a different matter. I’m willing to accept the photographs as genuine only because as a lawyer — and I know this is going to grate on you based upon what you wrote about in the book — but I can take the evidence they give us and still argue a case against them. In other words, I don’t have to rely upon a theory that these photographs are fake. If they are, that would be a phenomenal find, and certainly it would blow the case wide open, but I can take the evidence that they give me and still argue a case against the autopsy.”

I sensed some confusion on Lifton’s part. “I don’t know which case is ‘a case’, in other words, if you take the photographs that they give you — just in a nutshell, because I don’t mean to split hairs with you here, but in a nutshell, take the photographs — what do you think those photographs show about which way he was hit in the head?”

“They don’t! I mean, not conclusively. For example, they show us a photograph of the anterior–posterior view of the skull, with that semi–circular notch above the forehead, but they don’t show us a view from the posterior–anterior. What’s inside that semi–circular notch? Is there coning or beveling inside? What does that notch mean? Also, we don’t know how much skull was removed at autopsy before that photograph was taken. The massive damage to the head, combined with the extensive fragmentation of the bullet, could indicate that, even if the shot came from behind, it was not the kind of ammunition that Oswald was using, so there’s an argument right there.”

How President Kennedy Was Shot in the Head

“You can give me that argument, but what do you think happened to Kennedy in Dealey Plaza, based on — “

Finally! A direct question. “Oh, my own personal belief is that he was shot from both directions, from both behind and in front, and I think it was exactly as some of the witnesses said: He was shot in the temple; I think that he was shot first from behind, and then another bullet hit him tangentially from the right front and shot the top of his head off.”

“You think he was shot twice in the head?”


“And from the rear, where was that entry wound?”

“Exactly where Humes placed it.”

“Oh, in other words, you buy it that Humes — you believe in the Humes entry wound in his testimony, his original testimony?”


“And how come that Humes entry wound wasn’t seen in Dallas?”

For an instant, I considered rebutting this oft–repeated inaccuracy, but I didn’t want to prolong the conversation. “There could be a number of reasons for that. It could have been covered with hair or with blood — any number of reasons for that.”

“And where was the exit for that?”

Another leading question, which I decided to deflect: “It may not have exited. According to Sibert and O’Neill, their original theory was that the extensive fragmentation of the head was caused by the impact of the bullet from behind, and that there was no exit, and that makes very good sense to me based upon the fragmentation of the bullet. How could any bullet [fragment] have created that massive damage to the right of the skull?”

Evidence or Theories

We continued fencing, but it was clear that I was not going to convince him and he was not going to convince me of anything. As the conversation dragged on, Lifton repeated his view that the back wound was artificial. I could not agree. We also spoke about the photograph of the rear of the President’s head. I argued that they were posed rather than faked. I was surprised to hear Mr. Lifton agree with me, since he has argued in public that these photographs are forgeries.

Then, Lifton told me how he planned to revitalize the Best Evidence theory in a sequel. In his next book on the medical evidence, he explained, he plans to augment his theory with a new angle that two of the Parkland Hospital doctors were involved in the plot to alter Kennedy’s wounds, and that some of the alteration occurred at Parkland. Although he named the doctors, I will not repeat his assertions; to do so would only dignify the ludicrous. Another “clandestine interval?” As our conversation ended, I tried to persuade Mr. Lifton to stick to the evidentiary issues during our debate and avoid the discussion of theories. To emphasize the point, I followed up our conversation with an electronic mail message. Nevertheless, I had the distinct feeling of déjà vu.

Warren Hinckle of Ramparts had no better luck with Lifton twenty–six years ago: Hinckle tried to explain to him that, “it is necessary to break the ice before you can go swimming in winter.” (Hinckle, Warren. If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade, G.P. Putnam’s Sons; New York: 1974, p. 227) It made no difference.

Mr. Lifton states in his Compuserve essays that I hid my beliefs from him, and that I somehow implied that I wanted to win a position on some future JFK investigation. The reader can judge whether or not Lifton has been truthful. Comparing me to Arlen Specter, however, is the unkindest cut of all.

David Lifton Telephones Douglas Carlson

After our conversation, Lifton called the convener of the Midwest Symposium, Douglas Carlson, in an apparent attempt to have me removed from the panel. Lifton complained to Carlson that, “I don’t really know where Feinman stands.” Carlson says that Lifton’s written account of their conversation lost the flavor of the original: “He expressed some concerns. He indicated he thought you might take issue with some of his findings, and that your views might be contrary to his and there wouldn’t be uniformity. I never expected that anyway.” Mr. Carlson did not recall Mr. Lifton defending my presence on the panel. (Author’s interview with Douglas Carlson, May 13, 1993)

As those who were present remember, and the taped record of the event will reveal, Mr. Lifton was prepared with copies of our electronic mail exchanges to protect his work in the only manner he knows how: the false personal attack.

Brackets and Elipses

Avoiding a substantive response to the questions and criticisms that I have directed toward his book and its theory of the assassination, Mr. Lifton in his essays persistently seeks to construct an argument that I hit him below the belt in Chicago, and that I have a personal vendetta against him, assumedly based upon some element of jealousy that he has published a book. This ad hominem approach should have a familiar ring to students both of rhetoric and the history of Germany in the Twentieth Century alike. Mr. Lifton bases his allegation that I hate him and have attacked him personally on his versions of certain quotations from the Compuserve Politics Forum’s message board. For example, he quotes me as saying:

It is correct to say that I do not like David Lifton … I do not like his methods. I do not trust his motives. I do not believe he is objective. I do not believe he is sincere. I do not trust him.… And, although it might have turned out otherwise, I do not believe that Best Evidence can be taken seriously as a work of scholarship, history, journalism, criticism, or other form of non–fiction.

Mr. Lifton’s use of ellipses significantly changed the meaning, color and tone of the full quote, which was as follows:

It is correct to say that I do not like David Lifton. However, since I only know him through his work on the case or through my personal dealings with him in connection with the case, and not socially, it is the functional equivalent of saying that I do not like his work. I do not like his methods. I do not trust his motives. I do not believe he is objective. I do not believe he is sincere. I do not trust him. I do not believe he has helped us (quite the contrary, I believe he has hurt us). And, although, it might have turned out otherwise, I do not believe that BEST EVIDENCE can be taken seriously as a work of scholarship, history, journalism, criticism, or other form of non–fiction. (Emphases supplied to accentuate Mr. Lifton’s deletions)

The clear thrust of this passage was this writer’s opinion of Mr. Lifton’s book and his role in the assassination controversy.

In another example of Mr. Lifton’s mangled use of brackets and ellipses to slice and dice a quotation, he completely eviscerated the central point of another of my statements:

I sincerely believe that Best Evidence is one of the greatest publishing hoaxes since Clifford Irving’s book on Howard Hughes. The theory of body snatching and body alteration has no merit whatsoever. I do not believe that [Best Evidence] … could have [been] written … in good faith.

The unexpurgated passage, however, read as follows:

I sincerely believe that BEST EVIDENCE is one of the greatest publishing hoaxes since Clifford Irving’s book on Howard Hughes. The theory of body snatching and body alteration has no merit whatsoever. I do not believe that the same man who co–authored “The Case for Three Assassins” in Ramparts could have written BEST EVIDENCE in good faith. I do not believe that Macmillan exercised responsible judgment in publishing this book without critical analysis and fact̵checking venturing beyond its exposure to a libel suit. (Emphasis supplied to accentuate Mr. Lifton’s deletions)

Part of the basis for my belief that Mr. Lifton has been pulling our legs, i.e., the dramatic variance between his theory in “Three Assassins” and the one he presents in Best Evidence was completely omitted by Mr. Lifton in his misuse of the quote, and he has failed to satisfactorily reconcile his earlier work with the semi–autobiographical account of his research in Best Evidence.

In this chapter, I have confined my examination to only those quotations or facts alleged by Mr. Lifton in connection with conversations or events that actually occurred, but were completely misreported by a writer who presents himself and his book to the public under the rubric of scholarship. Regrettably, Mr. Lifton also sees fit to engage in the invention of quotations that were never uttered and events that never occurred. These will be mentioned in passing during the ensuing portions of this study.

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