Jim Garrison's Harshest Critics
"As an investigator, Jim Garrison could not find
a pubic hair in a whorehouse at rush hour."
-- Harold Weisberg
Jim Garrison liked to promote the view that anyone who criticized him was simply opposed to the idea that a conspiracy took the life of President John F. Kennedy. But how then does one account for the fact that some of Garrison's toughest critics have always been conspiracy theorists?
Anthony Summers, author of Conspiracy, writes that the Garrison investigation "has long been recognized by virtually everyone -- including serious scholars who believe there was a conspiracy -- as a grotesque, misdirected shambles."(1)
"What angers investigators about . . . Jim Garrison," Summers writes, "is that his cockeyed caper in 1967 was more than an abuse of the justice system. It was an abuse of history, and -- more than any other single factor -- [responsible] in discrediting . . . genuine researchers for a full decade . . ."(2)
Attorney and Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC) founder James Lesar adds, "Although a dedicated group of people kept researching the case, it wasn't until 1974 that several things took place that started to again ignite public interest."(3)
Discussing Garrison's cameo appearance in Oliver Stone's JFK (portraying Chief Justice Earl Warren), longtime researcher Paul Hoch writes, "Unintentionally, this is not just an ironic touch: the actions of both men did much to discourage or co-opt other investigations." Hoch quotes David Lifton, author of the conspiracy book Best Evidence (and who worked alongside Garrison for a time), as calling Garrison "intellectually dishonest, a reckless prosecutor, and a total charlatan."(4)
"Jim Garrison was one of the biggest frauds that ever came down the pike," Lifton said in an August 6, 1995, e-mail to Gary Aguilar. "He prosecuted innocent people, did an enormous disservice to the movement, and when the jury acquitted Shaw, it was 'good riddance.'"
Hoch and Lifton express the way most conspiracy theorists felt about Garrison prior to his Oliver Stone-fueled "comeback."
"You have every right to play Mack Sennett in a Keystone Kops Pink Panther," groundbreaking researcher Harold Weisberg (author of the Whitewash series of conspiracy books, among others) wrote to Oliver Stone while JFK was in production, "but as an investigator, Jim Garrison could not find a pubic hair in a whorehouse at rush hour."(5)
Of Stone's movie, Weisberg said, "To do a mishmash like this out of love for the victim and respect for history? I think people who sell sex have more principle."(6)
In a November 20, 1992, letter to author Harrison Livingstone, Weisberg said, "What [Garrison] did not crib and enlarge upon he just made up. [There was n]o substance to anything at all from him."(7)
Weisberg points out angrily that Garrison had a chance to obtain the release of the JFK autopsy photographs and X-rays, and had assistant DA Charles Ward call Weisberg and Bernard Fensterwald at the courthouse and order them to drop the entire lawsuit, just as Judge Charles W. Halleck, Jr., was about to hear Weisberg and Fensterwald's arguments for releasing the materials. Garrison later claimed that the potential release of the materials was part of a CIA plot.(8)
In a personal letter of March 16, 1998, Harold Weisberg wrote to me, "Garrison was a great tragedy, as Stone did not want to know."
In 1967, Sylvia Meagher, author of the influential conspiracy book Accessories after the Fact, wrote that "as the Garrison investigation continued to unfold, it gave cause for increasingly serious misgivings about the validity of his evidence, the credibility of his witnesses, and the scrupulousness of his methods. The fact that many critics of the Warren Report have remained passionate advocates of the Garrison investigation, even condoning tactics which they might not condone on the part of others, is a matter of regret and disappointment."(9)
"[Garrison suspect Clay] Shaw . . . was easily acquitted after a two-month proceeding in which all the shocking evidence against him promised by Garrison failed to materialize," writes Presumed Guilty author Howard Roffman. "Garrison was in consequence widely condemned by the media, and the New Orleans fiasco caused the virtual destruction of whatever foundation for credibility had previously been established by critics of the Warren Report. . . . [H]is unethical behavior and the mockery of justice . . . left the public and the media highly suspicious of Warren Report criticism."(10)
"Garrison was wrong about Clay Shaw and Edgar Eugene Bradley [another indicted suspect]," writes Peter Noyes, author of Legacy of Doubt. "The case against them was a monumental fraud. Every time Garrison opened his mouth in the days after Ferrie's death, his appearance of credibility appeared to be giving way to one of lunacy."(11) "Perhaps the most perceptive observer of the circus in New Orleans was Hugh Aynesworth [who wrote] 'Jim Garrison is right. There has been a conspiracy in New Orleans -- but it is a plot of Garrison's own making. It is a scheme to concoct a fantastic 'solution' to the death of John F. Kennedy, and to make it stick; in this cause the district attorney and his staff have been parties to the death of one man and have humiliated, harassed and financially gutted several others.'"(12) "The trial was a sham; it was perhaps the most disgraceful legal event of the twentieth century."(13)
Noyes's statements are reprinted in Peter Dale Scott, Paul L. Hoch and Russell Stetler, eds., The Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond.(14) That book's editors call the Shaw prosecution "seemingly indefensible."(15)
Dr. Michael L. Kurtz, author of Crime of the Century, writes, "As a historian, I find the distortions of Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone appalling."(16)
David E. Scheim, author of Contract on America, writes that "as Garrison's case unfolded, his specific accusations became increasingly outlandish and the thrust of his efforts increasingly questionable."(17)
Writes Henry Hurt, author of Reasonable Doubt: "Jim Garrison's performance proved to be disappointing, particularly after months of highly publicized promises of what he would present at the trial. He produced no witnesses to suggest CIA involvement in an assassination conspiracy. He produced nothing, really, that went beyond what had been presented at the preliminary hearing two years earlier."(18) "To many observers, Jim Garrison seemed obsessed with the destruction of Clay Shaw."(19)
"The Garrison affair was sown with the seeds of its own destruction," author Harrison Livingstone (High Treason, High Treason 2, Killing the Truth) states, "by the premature charging of a suspect (Clay Shaw) with no case against him."(20) "The kindest way of discussing the sad history [of the probe] is that the glare of the public spotlight unbalanced Garrison and those who worked for him so that mistakes were made and their hand was forced."(21) "It was later well demonstrated that Shaw was on more than intimate terms with the CIA [a characterization many would contest -- DR], but so what? . . . This is very lame reliance on guilt by association."(22) "Like so much of what is said and done in the research community, the example of Garrison provides a few hard facts and a lot more loose talk, mistakes, excess, lies, and wrong statements. He is almost a model for slick and not so slick operators who get into the 'conspiracy business' looking for exposure, success, and a buck."(23) "Garrison did not have a case against anyone . . ."(24)
". . . Garrison takes liberties with the truth," Livingstone compatriot Martin Shackelford notes of Big Jim's 1988 memoirs.(25)
"[Jim Garrison] did not have a case against Clay Shaw," says Cover-Up author J. Gary Shaw.(26)
"The evidence of Shaw's participation in a conspiracy was flimsy," states House Select Committee on Assassinations Chief Counsel (and Fatal Hour author) G. Robert Blakey, "and from his indictment to eventual acquittal in 1969, the course of the investigation was downhill to disaster."(27) "The testimony of the 'star witness,' Perry Raymond Russo, had been blatantly concocted."(28)
F. Peter Model and Robert Groden's JFK: The Case for Conspiracy notes that Garrison's investigation "resembled a Barnum & Bailey circus featuring the Spanish Inquisition. Charging that the 'American Power Elite had a vested interest in creating historical mythology,' Garrison weaved his own. . . . Garrison promised he would show the world that [Clay Shaw] was at the core of a cabal involving Texas oil barons, Cuban sugar tycoons, the ex-Nazi rocket experts of NASA, and all others interested in the elevation of Lyndon Johnson. Mind-boggling as this skein was to begin with, it would grow even more absurd by the time Garrison managed to indict Clay Shaw. . . [T]he entire case would end up jerry-built on links, coils and conundrums. And as things got out of hand, and Garrison sensed it, he unhappily lapsed into demagoguery, citing chapter and verse from 'documents' he had not seen nor could he produce."(29)
Many among those who believe that Garrison may have been on the right track have had to question his methods. Gaeton Fonzi (The Last Investigation) believes firmly that some of Garrison's theories were correct, but calls the Shaw prosecution a "debacle," conceding, "As a result of his erratic conduct during that investigation, the hasty charges he filed against New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, and Shaw's quick acquittal by a jury, Garrison was thoroughly discredited in the news media and by many assassination researchers."(30)
Even one of Garrison's most ardent advocates and a personal friend of the onetime DA had to take exception to the fictionalized Garrison case portrayed by Oliver Stone in JFK. Mark Lane, author of Rush to Judgment and Plausible Denial, writes:
[Oliver] Stone chose as his hero Jim Garrison. I was delighted when I first heard that news. However, unwilling to record history and true only to the Hollywood concept of a technicolor version of black and white in which no grays are countenanced, Stone, to prove how correct Garrison had been, was determined to demonstrate how guilty Clay Shaw had been.By embracing Garrison -- even cautiously, such as with early Garrison suspects like Dave Ferrie -- conspiracy theorists have ensured their own marginalization. I speak as someone who myself was blind to how badly Garrison tainted our credibility [Note: obviously, this was written when I was still a conspiracy believer.--DR] until I looked carefully into Garrison's primary sources, and realized it wasn't just a matter of him having no case against Shaw -- it was a matter of him having nothing at all.
Garrison had prosecuted Shaw in New Orleans for conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. After a lengthy trial Shaw had been acquitted in record time . . . Stone was confronted with a problem. If the evidence Garrison had gathered had not been sufficient to establish Shaw's guilt in the minds of an objective juror, how could he, Stone, prove Shaw's guilt to the satisfaction of his audience?
Here Stone becomes inventive. He was neither bound by the cumbersome rules of evidence nor the rules of criminal procedure. He could create celluloid evidence. Shaw had died; therefore, Stone was not bound by the laws of defamation which apply, in the United States, only to the living. Apparently, the less-codified rules of common decency were not an impediment either"(31)
Was [mysterious Garrison suspect "Clay Bertrand"] really Clay Shaw, Garrison wondered. Shaw consistently denied that he had ever used that pseudonym. I never saw credible evidence which convinced me that he had ever used the alias. Stone, untroubled by evidence, fact or logic, showed Shaw apparently offering to the first police officer who inquired that he had used the name "Bertrand." If Shaw had used the false name as part of his CIA cover so that the telephone call [to Dean Andrews] could not be traced back to him, why would he have betrayed himself at the first opportunity? Stone did not dwell on the subject. Through the magic of celluloid he abandoned the scene"(32)
Where Stone labors to demean Clay Shaw and to condemn him by introducing a bizarre gay orgy scene and by inventing a meeting with David Ferrie and the district attorney's staff, he is indulging his own fantasies and misleading the audience."(33)
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1. Anthony Summers, Conspiracy (New York: Paragon House, 1989: 1992 update), "Update . . . November 1991": unnumbered front matter, first page.
2. Anthony Summers, Conspiracy (New York: Paragon House, 1989: 1992 update), "Update . . . November 1991": unnumbered front matter, fourth page.
3. Gerald Posner, Case Closed (New York, Random House, 1993) pp. 453-4.
4. Paul Hoch, Echoes of Conspiracy, Vol. 13, No. 1.
5. Robert Sam Anson, "The Shooting of JFK," Esquire, November 1991; reprinted in Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar, JFK: The Book of the Film (New York: Applause, 1992), p. 221.
6. George Lardner, Jr., "On the Set: Dallas in Wonderland," Washington Post, May 19, 1991; Stone and Sklar, p. 192.
7. Harrison Livingstone, Killing the Truth (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993), p. 377.
8. Harold Weisberg, Post Mortem (Frederick, Md.: Weisberg, 1976), pp. 135-6; Livingstone, Killing the Truth, p. 376.
9. Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact (New York: Vintage, 1992), pp. 456-7.
10. Howard Roffman, Presumed Guilty (Cranbury, New Jersey: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1976), pp. 28-9.
11. Peter Noyes, Legacy of Doubt (New York: Pinnacle, 1973), pp. 108-9.
12. Noyes, p. 111.
13. Noyes, p. 114.
14. Peter Dale Scott, Paul L. Hoch and Russell Stetler, eds., The Assassinations: Dallas and Beyond (New York: Vintage, 1976), pp. 296-300.
15. Scott, Hoch & Stetler, p. 9.
16. Michael L. Kurtz, Crime of the Century (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993), p. xiii.
17. David E. Scheim, Contract on America: The Mafia Murder of President John F. Kennedy (New York: Shapolsky, 1988), p. 48.
18. Henry Hurt, Reasonable Doubt (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1985), pp. 276-7.
19. Hurt, p. 278.
20. Harrison Livingstone, Killing the Truth (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993), p. 535.
21. Harrison Livingstone, High Treason 2 (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992), p. 509.
22. Harrison Livingstone, High Treason 2 (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992), p. 509.
23. Harrison Livingstone, High Treason 2 (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992), p. 511.
24. Harrison Livingstone, High Treason 2 (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992), p. 512.
25. Martin Shackelford, Newsgroup post, June 5, 2000.
26. Bill Marvel, "Oliver's Twist," Dallas Morning News, December 27, 1991; Stone and Sklar, p. 327.
27. G. Robert Blakey and Richard N. Billings, Fatal Hour: The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime (New York: Berkley, 1992), p. 53.
28. Blakey & Billings, p. 193.
29. F. Peter Model and Robert J. Groden, JFK: The Case for Conspiracy (New York: Manor, 1976), p. 47.)
30. Gaeton Fonzi, "The Kennedy Assassination: Stepping on Stone: Who Can You Trust?" Gold Coast, April 1992; Stone and Sklar, 500.)
31. Mark Lane, "Fact or Fiction? The Moviegoer's Guide to the Film JFK," Rush to Judgment, (New York: Thunder's Mouth, 1992), p. xxxi.
32. Lane, p. xxxii.
33. Lane, p. xxxiii.
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