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Tue Dec 10, 2013, 12:48 PM

JFK Remembered: Dan Rather and James Swanson talk at The Henry Ford [View all]

On Monday, Nov. 18, I visited The Henry Ford – official short form for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village – to hear newsman Dan Rather and author James L. Swanson discuss their memories of President John F. Kennedy. Historian Doug Brinkley was to be the moderator, but he fell ill and had to cancel. One of the kind people from the museum served in his stead. It was a most interesting evening, not just for what they said, but also for what they failed to bring to the public’s attention.

[font size="1"]The image is a detail from a photo by Ann Zaniewski of The Detroit Free Press.[/font size]

Dan Rather's Side of Things

Entitled “JFK Remembered,” the program opened with a few minutes of vintage news clips taking us back to Dallas and that awful day. Walter Cronkite in shirtsleeves popped up on the big screen:

“Here’s a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting. More details as they arrive.

Dan Rather narrated some video footage in “rough cut form” from Parkland Hospital. There was a great deal of disbelief that President had been shot – even more disbelief that he was dead, he recalled. Rather closed with an eyewitness quote of what Jacqueline Kennedy was overheard saying there: “Jack... Jack... No. No.’”

Dan Rather opened his remarks by thanking “legendary” Secret Service Agent Clint Hill, a “bona fide, certified American hero” who was in the audience. Hill got a long standing ovation, deserved, as he was about the one agent that day who actually tried to protect President and Mrs. Kennedy.

Among its historic collection, The Henry Ford houses the bus in which Rosa Parks rode and refused to give up her seat to a white man on Dec. 1, 1955. It also houses the Lincoln Continental limousine in which President Kennedy rode to his death on November 22, 1963. That car was about 90-feet away from Dan Rather.

“I don’t think that the word is ‘eerie,’” Mr. Rather said. “But, there is a different feeling over here– James and I were discussing – being only a few yards from the limousine that carried President Kennedy, as it turned out, to his death.”

The marquee star of the show, Mr. Rather discussed his own history as a cub reporter in Houston, where he cut his teeth covering Texas politics, in particular, following the career of Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson. Mr. Rather detailed how few in the mid-1950s had heard mention about John Kennedy. After the Democratic convention in 1956, the “first nominating convention,” Sen. Kennedy rose in public awareness. Rather said JFK made “very strong eye contact” and he immediately made every person with whom he came in contact feel as if they were the center of his attention.

After that, the newsman’s memories included how the good-looking, witty, self-deprecating Roman Catholic, little-known Senator from a small state would rise to stardom, “the first movie star President.” JFK was a man of the sea and viewed outer space as the new ocean to be explored. JFK had only 1,000 days as president, Mr. Rather said, without adding how much the guy got accomplished. If he’d had another term, he might’ve been a “transformative” president, he did say.

“I didn’t believe that the assassination of the President, was not only, it never entered my mind. Yes, he thought there might be difficulty in Dallas. Our journalistic assessment, if there was going to be difficulty in Dallas, in Texas on this trip, it’s likely to be in Dallas. Nobody thought about assassination… Yes, there had been talk that there might be difficulty in Texas and that Dallas would be. But no one thought about assassination.”

He left out almost all of the controversial parts of the assassination story, including one really important part: His own role at Dealey Plaza. Mr. Rather failed to mention, let alone explain, why he was standing past the triple-underpass, where he was expected to catch a film bag tossed from the passing press bus.

Instead, as he had earlier recollected in print, Mr. Rather managed to get back to the CBS studio in Dallas, where he later managed to view the Zapruder film, which he said “clearly” showed President Kennedy’s head snapping forward, showing a shot from the rear. That bothered me when I first read it; that bothers me today upon writing it, as that is the opposite of what the film show. For those interested, here’s what Penn Jones found Dan was doing.

(Here's the article in PDF form. Like film, it lasts longer: http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/po-jones/id/1917 )

Next to speak was an attorney, author and scholar.

James L. Swanson, His Memory

Author James Swanson was a lad of four living in northwest Chicago when the horrible news came. He said he recollected that a neighbor child, whose home had no television, came over to watch television.

Mr. Swanson discussed writing his latest book, “End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” a record of the last days of “Camelot,” as viewed through the eyes and the rationally imagined thoughts of President Kennedy and “his assassin,” Lee Harvey Oswald. A non-thorough GOOGLE revealed critics in the mainstream press generally have given the book a thumbs-up. See here for one example.

The book is published by Harper Collins. While the publisher often is mentioned in the press coverage of the tome, what never seems to get mentioned is the fact Harper Collins also is the publishing division of Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp. Small world.

Mr. Swanson, in his address at The Henry Ford, mentioned that Jacqueline Kennedy wanted, as her ideal job, to be “art director for the 20th century.” Following William Manchester, he said the First Lady was the reason the period has become known as Camelot. Mr. Swanson made clear that President Kennedy was at fault for the Bay of Pigs, but accepted blame for it. He did not mention the roles of Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Pentagon in the disaster.

Mr. Swanson also detailed in the investigation following Dallas, Oswald’s by-then widow Marina had said Oswald had confessed to shooting at Lt. Gen. Edwin Walker, a staunch anti-communist and right-wing zealot who had been cashiered from the Army by President Kennedy. Unfortunately, for some reason, Mr. Swanson did not mention that no tapes were made of what Marina Oswald actually told to FBI and Secret Service interviewers – just their “translations” were recorded. And, perhaps because the book centers around those “end of days,” no mention was made about what Marina Oswald now says.

Also unmentioned is Mr. Swanson’s sinecure with the Cato Institute, a think tank started with funding from the brothers Koch. Again, unmentioned is Mr. Swanson’s recent work to “claim” JFK actually was a conservative in no way liberal. See his article here.

Odd perspective, in my opinion. Knowing JFK was a Democrat in the tradition of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, I recalled he, as a U.S. Representative and as a U.S. Senator, had publicly stood on the side of the nationalist movements rising in opposition to the old colonialist powers throughout the developing world. Domestically, I thought JFK’s positions on equal rights, civil rights, economic justice putting people over profits, funding the arts, developing science and technology for the public good, and peace before going to war were liberal attributes.

Mr. Swanson also said President Kennedy told Mrs. Kennedy that morning in their hotel room in Fort Worth: “’What would stop a man with a rifle in a tall building from assassinating me? Nothing. So, why worry about it?’ Little did he know that when he spoke those words a man was already waiting for him in a tall building in Dallas.”

Mr. Swanson stated he believes the Warren Commission report is correct: Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone shot and killed President Kennedy. Swanson elaborated on Oswald’s record as an outstanding marksman in the U.S. Marine Corps and added what an easy shot it was for him from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, seeing how the hill down which the car drove somehow helped line up a straight shot for the assassin’s third and final bullet.

Excerpt from Mr. Swanon's remarks:

...I’ll say something about conspiracies, not to get into the detail about why we should stop thinking about them. Of course, it was Oswald. Of course, he fired the three shots from the Texas School Book Depository. Of course, the three fellow workers on the floor below him heard the gun shots above their heads and the brass cartridge cases bounce on the floor above them.

I’m not going to argue that now. I’m not going to get into: Was it the FBI? Was it the Secret Service? Was it Naval Intelligence? Was it the Cubans? Was it the Russians? Was it, ah, Lyndon Johnson? Was it the Texas oil men? Of course it wasn’t them. But, here’s what will save us some time: They have distracted us from the true importance of that day. On a bright, sunny fall day in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, a wonderful woman and wife lost her husband. Two little children lost their father. And America lost its president.

And I find it almost obscene to continue these fantasies of grassy knolls and government coming out of manhole covers, of double Oswalds sent back from the Soviet Union. Some of these defamatory so-called conspiracy theories have even said the Secret Service shot the President that day. It’s an outrage. It’s a defamatory outrage. Every one of those men would sacrifice his life to save the President or Jackie. Of course they would do that.

I think it’s time on the fiftieth anniversary and in the future to realize that none of those conspiracies has ever been proven. It was Oswald. Dozens of pieces of evidence show that. The motives are interesting, I think some of you will remember them.

Lee Harvey Oswald would be thrilled today – say the name – would be thrilled today, to know that he is one of the most famous men in the world. And that’s why we should use the occasion of this anniversary to remember the true hero of that day, John Kennedy. John Kennedy was a great man. He was a great American patriot. He believed in American exceptionalism, optimism, and promise. With every fiber of his being, he believed America was the greatest country in the world. And he would have helped it, I’m certain. And that’s how we should think of him. Don’t think of this Friday as Oswald’s day. Think of this as the day to remember the real John Kennedy...

I noticed Swanson, nor Dan Rather, nor anyone in the audience whose questions got asked at the presentation, mentioned the Central Intelligence Agency nor its long-time director, Allen Dulles. Too bad, as the CIA's actions (and non-actions, see the Jefferson Morley) need to be addressed, for the documentary record shows the CIA and its partner in assassination, the Mafia, have never been held to public account for lying to President Kennedy, lying to the Warren Commission, and lying to Congress and the American people -- specifically about its assassination programs.

One thing I am glad Mr. Swanson mentioned. He made clear he was proud to be associated with Ronald Reagan, for whom he had worked in the White House. It's not clear from the biographies of the guy I've found online, but he also seems to have worked for the two Bush presidencies.

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