Chapter 12, Part 1:
Come to Me with Your Problems. Bring Your Manuscript

Between the Signal and the Noise
by Roger Feinman

[M]ucking around in assassination research is a highly charged affair … If any reader … thinks he is getting obsessed, come to me. I’ll tell you my secrets. I don’t charge very much.

David Lifton (1993)

In Best Evidence, my own experiences during this extraordinary period of my life are faithfully recorded.

David Lifton (1993)

In a January 26, 1981, televised interview on NBC’s Tomorrow Show, host Tom Snyder asked Lifton whether he did not take a conclusion and set out to support it. Lifton replied, “No, I looked for evidence to support the FBI report. If I hadn’t found it, there’d be no book.” (Author’s notes) Mr. Lifton, whom Macmillan sent for tutoring in how to handle such public appearances, evaded Snyder’s question and was less than candid with his audience.

The Personal Touch

The personalization of Mr. Lifton’s book may ultimately prove to have been one major cause of its downfall. It requires scant reflection to realize that, no matter how honest one’s intentions might be at the outset, the natural desire and inclination to present oneself and one’s work on such a serious subject as the Kennedy assassination in the most favorable light can yield to a compulsion toward self–justification and compromises with fact, threatening the integrity of the whole. Moreover, a work that purports to lead its readers through the labyrinthine thoughts and associations of its author as a device used to validate both its biographical motif and its conclusions, necessarily loses a great deal of its force in argument when all or some of the “connective tissue” that both anchors and impels the train of thought turns out to be wholly missing, or significantly disrupted in continuity.

Such a book poses a dilemma to the critic and historian: When the alleged journey is interwoven with its destination, i.e., when the line of demarcation is blurred — and willfully so — for alleged commercial considerations, is anything about the author’s detours, e.g., his collateral research activities and theories, that he has failed to disclose “off limits” to scrutiny, evaluation and comparison with the final work so as to determine its precision and fidelity to the facts? Since selectivity is the prerogative — and some might argue the duty — of an author, I think not, for the reason that such undisclosed information is relevant to assessing bias, maturity of judgment, motive and method.

As Lifton himself told radio announcer Ben Baldwin, substituting for Larry King during a Mutual Radio interview on January 30, 1981, “[There’s] some point where there’s a line between the deceivers and the deceived.” (Author’s notes from radio program.) The purpose of this section is to demarcate that line.

David Lifton’s Approach to the Kennedy Assassination

There are several revealing aspects of Mr. Lifton’s experiences, insights, and theories in the course of his research that he neglected to include in Best Evidence, which considered, illuminate its direction, structure and substance so as to afford a more cohesive picture of Mr. Lifton’s systematic approach to the Kennedy assassination. Instead, he seeks to persuade his readers that he is almost apologetic for having to offer up the shocking theory of the book by portraying his early motivations as benign:

When I began my research, I found it difficult to believe the authorities would lie, and my initial interest stemmed more from being intrigued with the event as an unsolved crime, and my somewhat naïve and abstract interest in seeing that “justice” was done, than from any political or ideological motivation.

(Chapter 4)

Lifton moreover implies that it was not until late October 1966, when he appreciated the “head surgery” statement in the Sibert and O’Neill report, that he became convinced of a high–level plot. (End of Chapter 7)

A Band of Little Men in the Woods

David Lifton called Sylvia Meagher late on the night of October 30, 1965, explaining that he wanted to show her that he was “not far out and not a kook.” (Meagher, Sylvia. Memo of Telephone Conversation with Dave Lipton [sic], Saturday night, 30 October 1965) Dutifully, Sylvia recorded for posterity the early manifestations of Mr. Lifton’s propensity to explain all things in the assassination in terms of disguise.

Dave is certain that the [Moorman] photo was doctored — probably by someone high–up in the Times–Herald, on instructions from LBJ, before it was ever released, so as to conceal the betraying details on the original.

(Meagher, Sylvia. Memo of Telephone Conversation with Dave Lipton [sic], Saturday night, 30 October 1965)

Dave believes that there was a massive camouflage–and–guerrilla operation, involving perhaps 100 men, and that the assassination was a “high Texas” and “Army–military” attempted coup, and that LBJ was forced to cover it up, because if the high Texans were exposed, no one would believe that LBJ was not involved, even if he really was not.

He believes that the trees on the grassy knoll were camouflage; men were concealed in capsules; they may have remained there until dark and then made their escape. He believes there was a trench in front of the concrete structure, with phony hedges; and a trench also on the other side of Elm Street, where gray and black shadows and swatches appear on the Zapruders [sic] without any natural explanation … I asked him also if it is possible that the elaborate engineering job (which he thinks was in progress for several days before 11/22/63) and the camouflage–and–guerrillas could have escaped penetration by all of the numerous witnesses who were present. … He believes … that they all saw what was really going on the grassy knoll; and that they are maintaining silence for the same reason that no one helped Kitty Genovese when she was being murdered under the eyes of many witnesses.

(Meagher, Sylvia. Memo of Telephone Conversation with Dave Lipton [sic], Saturday night, 30 October 1965)

Apart from the possibility of their indifference, it seems that Mr. Lifton also believed that some of the witnesses were intimidated by direct threats from the assassins. For example, In the case of Zapruder’s secretary, Marilyn Sitzman, who was steadying Mr. Zapruder as he took his film, and who told the Dallas Sheriff’s office that the shots came from the Texas School Book Depository [See, Decker Exhibit 5323, page 535–RBF], Mr. Lifton was “certain that the guerrillas were right behind Sitzman and probably spoke to her, warning her to say nothing or she would be killed — otherwise, how account for her saying that the shots came from the TSBD, while all the others including Zapruder thought the shots came from the grassy knoll area?????” (Meagher, Sylvia. Memo of Telephone Conversation with Dave Lipton [sic], Saturday night, 30 October 1965)

Sylvia was so dismayed by Mr. Lifton’s call that she wrote him: “I am sorry to say that you succeeded with one phone call where the massive propaganda of the Warren Commission and the news media had failed — you made me wonder for the first time if Oswald was not the lone assassin after all.” (Meagher, Sylvia. Letter to David Lifton, November 2, 1965)

Again, this writer anticipates the charge of unfairness and ill motive in calling attention to what might at first appear the nascent follies of a young and enthusiastic assassination researcher. Some of us have momentarily toyed with theories which, in hindsight, seem appalling to us now. This, however, is emphatically not the case with Mr. Lifton, for while he downplayed his adherence to the “papier mâché trees” theory (which he self–effacingly prefers to call “the men in trees” theory), in later correspondence and conversations with Meagher, it resurfaced time and again, after his studies had far progressed and become more sophisticated:

In a 1967 memorandum synthesizing his analysis of the JFK head snap in the Zapruder film, Mr. Lifton confronted the theorists who believed in a double–head–hit based on the forward motion of Kennedy’s head during Z312–313, followed by the backward thrust. He argued that the entire motion of Kennedy’s head could be explained as the result of a forward–originating high–angle shot from the grassy knoll area. A portion of this memorandum is adapted as narrative in Best Evidence, although significant portions are omitted. For example, Mr. Lifton’s memo recalled that he had concluded in August 1965 that the hedge rows in front of the concrete wall on the knoll, as well as whole trees, were fake devices constructed to house men and equipment, and that the knoll had been excavated to install a proper foundation. Beneath the surface of the knoll were “bunker–like” structures with men and material in them. Lifton now argued, “The 312–313 [forward] motion means one of two things: either camouflage was used, or the double–head–hit theorists are correct.” (Lifton, David. Memorandum Re: Head Snap Phenomenon and Zapruder Film Frame Sequence, March 20, 1967)

Subjecting the Critics to Ridicule

As will be discussed in a later chapter of this work, Mrs. Meagher attempted to dissuade Lifton from promulgating his theory, lest it subject the critics to ridicule. Her worst fears were realized, however, when Lifton was interviewed on June 7, 1967, by an associate producer involved in the preparation of CBS News’ four–part documentary on the Warren Report. Robert Richter reported that,

Lifton has been specializing his interest in the photographic evidence. He plans to write a book over the next couple of months on this and other matters he was reluctant to discuss. But he intimated he would have proof in his book of the involvement of people “very high up” in the federal government.

He suggests that camouflage may have been used in Dealey Plaza and left there, at least for a few days. He suggests that this may have been arranged with cooperation from the Dallas Mayor, Earle Cabell, because his brother Richard Cabell was one of the leaders in the CIA Bay of Pigs operation.

The camouflage may be, according to Lifton, in the form of additions to trees on the knoll. He concedes this is a “radical approach” but he believes it could make sense for the basic reason that in frames 313 and following in the Zapruder film, Kennedy’s head snaps back and to the left, strongly suggesting a shot came from the knoll area …

Another claim for possible camouflage is a report Lifton got from Liebeler from the FBI of a big crane being moved thru [sic] Dealey Plaza late in the evening of Nov. 22. The men who had been running the crane thru the plaza had a large piece of concrete in tow, which they told police officers on the scene was for their plan to build a monument for Kennedy. When the police insisted they move on, the men got out of the crane cabin and fled. It turned out to have been a stolen crane. Lifton wildly speculates that the crane may also have been designed for use to remove the camouflage that night, and he says the peculiar incident was never checked out …

At this time, and perhaps at all times, he cannot be taken seriously.

(Richter, Robert. Memorandum re David Lifton, June 7, 1967)

Exactly two years after his last letter to her mentioning the camouflage theory, Mr. Lifton wrote Sylvia Meagher: “About trees. You know, I haven’t pushed that, but in my heart I think thats [sic] how it was done.… The concept is so outlandish and ridiculous sounding that, even if it were done, the only way it will ever be proven is through direct evidence of its installation at a previous hour.” (Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, March 21, 1969)

The Impersonations of Kellerman and Greer

Lifton’s association with Wesley Liebeler, and his penchant for secrecy strained the Lifton–Meagher relationship to a nearly complete breaking point. The breach began to heal, and relations between them improved, as Lifton demonstrated his ostensibly sincere interest in researching the Warren Commission’s unpublished documents. By the early summer of 1970, however, the relationship between Meagher and Lifton finally collapsed under the crushing weight of her efficient demolition of his newest insights.

Late April or early May 1970, Lifton revealed to Sylvia Meagher that he believed there had been a switch of Secret Service Agents in the presidential limousine at some point along the motorcade route through downtown Dallas, and that neither Secret Service Agents Kellerman or Greer were actually in the presidential limousine at the time of the assassination. (David Lifton Letters to Sylvia Meagher, May 16 and 27, 1970) In fact, he said, he had called both men to ask them if it really was them in the limousine. (Ibid., May 16, 1970) Of course, this fantasy tempts us to ask: How could David be sure that he was actually speaking to Kellerman and Greer? Conversely, were they sure it was him? Why could there not have been an agent switch at the other end of the telephone line (much easier than executing such a maneuver in full view of thousands of spectators lining the streets of Dallas) or an alter ego substituting at Lifton’s end? Or both? He could have gone to the beach, they could have watched a ball game, and the substitutes could have had an interesting conversation.

Even at this late stage in his work on the case, Mr. Lifton returned to his theory of camouflage on the knoll:

I still suspect that camouflage was employed, to some extent, on the plaza, to conceal shooters. None of this will appear in my work.… I feel it is more important to … let what one suspects play the role of directing ones [sic] investigation, as time permits.

I am well aware of the public relations blunder it would be to voice my suspicions in the absence of definitive proof, in a manuscript.

(Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, July 19, 1970)

David Lifton’s Fake Zapruder Film Theory

Mr. Lifton’s theory of the Kellerman and Greer “switch” was tied to his theory pertaining to the Zapruder film, i.e., that it had been altered to conceal a stop by the driver of the presidential limousine during the assassination sequence, as reportedly seen by a few witnesses to the crime. Mr. Lifton believed those witnesses. “[T]he film shows every indication that both men up front [Kellerman and Greer] are waiting, aware of, the next shot about to come.” (Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, June 27, 1970) Furthermore, according to this theory, the film had been spliced to conceal the car stop (ibid.), and faked to conceal the rear (Parkland) head wound after Z–313. (Lifton, David. Memorandum re: Head Snap Phenomenon and Zapruder Film Frame Sequence, March 20, 1967) But how? Lifton theorized that the film had been intercepted before reaching Life Magazine at the local F.B.I. and Secret Service level in Dallas. “Doing the alterations is merely a technical problem.” (Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, June 27, 1970) He pointed to Secret Service agent Forrest V. Sorrel’s shepherding of the Zapruder film through processing and printing, as well as the F.B.I.’s alleged complicity in its canvassing of the Dallas area for spectators’ films during the weeks following the assassination.

Of necessity, the theory required that the surviving occupants of the limousine (including Kellerman, Greer, and the Connallys) were liars and perjurers, except for Jackie Kennedy; she “was so panicked and frightened that she would not possibly be able to remember.” (Lifton, David. Letter to Sylvia Meagher, June 27, 1970) (Compare this with his reliance upon Jackie’s Warren Commission testimony to corroborate the location of Kennedy’s head wound in Best Evidence)

Arguments Against the Forgery of the Zapruder Film

Sylvia Meagher pierced this nonsense with ease. I will simply summarize here the questions that Mr. Lifton was obviously unprepared to answer:

  • First, Did anyone know on the afternoon or evening of the assassination just how the Zapruder film ought to be doctored? Who would have done it? (Lifton’s interception theory assumed that the Army, or NASA, or some Hollywood–type facilities and accomplices would have to be involved.)
  • What motive did the Secret Service have to participate in the assassination?
  • Was the F.B.I. so thorough in its investigation of the case that it could be relied upon to gather all the assassination film available? What if some bystanders were to take their film directly to the media and reveal footage irreconcilable with the doctored Zapruder film?
  • And, why go to all this trouble to distract attention from the grassy knoll, when dozens of still available witnesses thought the shots came from the knoll, and hundreds rushed there in the immediate wake of the shooting?

Meagher suggested that, if Lifton were the Captain on the sinking Titanic he would ask the ship’s carpenter to fix a broken chair.

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Roger Feinman: Between the Signal and the Noise

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