Chapter 7:
The Original Work of a Scholar

Between the Signal and the Noise
by Roger Feinman

Apart from his “head surgery” on direct quotations, Mr. Lifton also demonstrates a propensity toward egregious errors on the simplest facts capable of the simplest verifications. The following examples should suffice to illustrate the point that Mr. Lifton apparently has difficulty in establishing dates, times and chronologies, an ability that is undoubtedly quintessential to the split–second timing of his reconstruction of events on the night of November 22, 1963, in Best Evidence:

  • He contends that I met the late Sylvia Meagher in the Spring of 1975, when I was 27. I first made her acquaintance in 1974, when I was 26.
  • He cannot state with any degree of certainty whether he and I met face–to–face in 1976 or 1977. It was 1977. He says I was about 28. I was 29.
  • He alleges that I attempted to interview former Warren Commissioner John J. McCloy while I was working for CBS. As I clearly stated in my Third Decade article, “The Greatest Secret I Ever Learned About The Kennedy Assassination,” which Lifton has read, this happened after I left CBS.
  • He says, “Sometime around 1977, Feinman was accepted at Yeshiva University, where he began in 1978, at age 30.” I began studying law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in late August 1977, at the age of 29.
  • He alleges that I graduated from law school in 1981. It was 1980.
  • He describes a dinner of several critics, not including Mr. Lifton, with Oliver Stone as taking place on Friday evening, April 2, 1993. It was Thursday evening, April 1.

Weisberg’s Clothes Were Too Big: The “Z–202/Willis #5 Analysis”

In Chapter Five, I introduced the subject of Lifton’s inculpation of Secret Service Agent Glen Bennett as a conspirator in the assassination. I explained why it was necessary for Lifton to do so to save his theory. How he accomplished it is a prime example of Lifton warping the fruits of his predecessors’ research to confuse the public.

Lifton carefully read and analyzed Whitewash II, and circulated an analytical memo about it to his friends. (Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, January 2, 1967)

Weisberg and Lifton were out of sorts, however, over Jim Garrison’s investigation of Lifton's friend, Kerry Thornley (also a former Marine buddy of Lee Harvey Oswald). Lifton described the effect of his rift with Weisberg upon his work:

His work manifests itself in my own effort, only to the extent that I have been able to make use of his published material.

(Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, October 13, 1969)

In Best Evidence, discussing the reasons for his conclusion that Bennett lied about witnessing a shot strike Kennedy’s back, Mr. Lifton liberally grafted and presented as his own work the detailed and original analysis of the photographic evidence that Harold Weisberg included in Chapter 17 of his second book, Whitewash II (self–published in 1965 and republished as a Dell paperback in 1966) without acknowledging or attributing Weisberg, as if the same thoughts had spontaneously popped into his head.

Weisberg found a correlation between Zapruder frame Z–202 and Willis #5, which is the fifth photograph in a series of pictures taken by bystander Phil Willis. Lifton observed that in Willis #5, Bennett is seen looking toward the right instead of at President Kennedy, and that, since the first shot presumably occurred at Z–210 and Willis took his fifth photo less than a second earlier, Bennett allegedly could not have seen the first shot hit the President.

Unlike Weisberg, however, Lifton stopped short of telling his readers that Willis testified before the Warren Commission that it was the sound of the first shot that caused him to squeeze the camera shutter and take that photograph. If so, as Professor David Wrone has pointed out, the bullet would have been fired before Z–202/Willis #5 because bullets travel faster than sound.

Weisberg set the time for the first shot to coincide with Z–190 (the House Select Committee thirteen years later put it at Z–189). This would mean that Bennett could very well have seen the first shot strike the President and then, as seen in Willis #5 taken two–thirds of a second later, immediately turned in reaction to the sound of that shot.

Regardless of the strained relations between Mr. Lifton and Mr. Weisberg, the practice of attribution does not turn on the estrangement between a writer and the originator of his source material.

Lifton’s Rape of Thomas Stamm’s Work in “The Case For Three Assassins”

Mr. Lifton was not estranged from Thomas Stamm, a New York researcher (deceased, 1980) whose letters and monographs approached the highest standards of literacy on this subject. Stamm was one of the first researchers to view the Zapruder film at the National Archives. He wrote of his observations, and Sylvia Meagher decided to quote a major portion of his essay in her manuscript, Accessories After the Fact, which she wrote during 1965–1967. Mr. Lifton had access at Ramparts’ offices to a copy of Sylvia’s then unpublished work while he was writing “The Case For Three Assassins” for the magazine.

The Ramparts article included the following quote from Stamm’s essay:

“[T]he sudden explosive violence with which President Kennedy is slammed back against the rear seat is unmistakable.” This is credited to Stamm in a footnote.

The following language appears two paragraphs later in Lifton’s article:

The violent backward and leftward thrust of Mr. Kennedy’s head begins at the instant of impact of the fatal head shot; the two events appear to be simultaneous and to have a relationship of cause and effect. That the backward thrust could have resulted from a bullet fired from behind and above would seem a manifest impossibility …

This entire paragraph was lifted practically verbatim from Stamm’s September 1965 essay, but was not credited to him. It was presented as the original written work of the article’s authors. Here is the relevant passage from Stamm’s original essay:

The violent backward thrust of President Kennedy occurs, to the eye, at the instant of impact of the fatal shot. The two events appear to be simultaneous and to have the obvious relationship of cause and effect. The service of truth requires no other explanation.

That President Kennedy could have been thrust back violently against the rear seat in consequence of a bullet fired from above and behind him seems a manifest impossibility …

I knew Tom Stamm during the last five years of his life. To the best of my knowledge, Tom shared his work generously with his colleagues throughout his study of the assassination. I never knew him to request or receive money for his incisive work. I never knew him to court the admiration and respect that he surely deserved. At the very least, people should know who, and how talented, he was.

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