Thursday, June 12, 2008

Book Review: Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi, Jr.

Reclaiming History is ultimately a flawed masterpiece. It’s a huge, heavy book of 1600+ pages (not to mention another 1,000 pages of end notes on disc). Bugliosi, the famous prosecutor of Charles Manson, attempts in grand style to deal with every detail ever written about in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A “book of the ages” as the author boasts in interviews. However, like the Warren Commission that he so doggedly defends, this is not an objective search for the truth. Bugliosi states right up front that Oswald is “guilty as sin” and it spirals down from there in a long, detailed, prosecutorial brief in defense of the Warren Commission.

At first, Bugliosi's logic is quite impressive. His powers of deduction are unimpeachable, as if he were a flesh and blood version of Sherlock Holmes. He slices his way through conspiracy theories (and their authors) one after the other with skill and precision that he honed for years as a prosecutor. No rank amateur he. Off with their heads! But ultimately, the author’s arguments are straw men, easily burned when exposed to the flame.

Here is an example: In regards to the mysterious deaths of Kennedy assassination witnesses, Bugliosi states that in his experience as a prosecutor, a criminal suspect would most likely rather kill a witness before they speak. In this case, the witnesses have all talked repeatedly for many years. Makes sense. However, Bugliosi leaves out the other side of the argument. If this were true, then there would be no need for Federal witness protection programs. And what are they for? For material witnesses who gave their testimony and are under threat of death from the bad guys—after they talked. Here, Bugliosi simply ignores the other side of the argument to preserve his own.

And it’s like this over and over again.

For someone writing a book for the ages, many details are surprisingly flawed, even simple ones. On one page Bugliosi states there are 13 warehouse workers in the schoolbook depository building. On the same page, next paragraph, he states there are 16. He asserts that Huntley and Brinkley reported from ABC when they were on NBC. In the book he correctly refers to Dr. Ebersol as the acting chief of Radiology at Bethesda Naval. Then in the endnotes on disc he refers to him again but this time as an x-ray technician. Quite a demotion there! Sorry to be so picky but after all, this is the Book of Ages, meant to end all discussion, right? Hardly.

In some sections Bugliosi seems to have no grasp of the subject matter. For example, he agrees with HSCA pathology panel’s positioning of Kennedy’s back wound, with it being lower than the neck wound. He then goes on to say there are autopsy photographs which show the opposite—higher back and lower throat—which he then precedes to agree with. A Google search brings up the very same photo in question and shows this not true at all. Go see for yourself. In fact, he is being quite sloppy here. Why? Is somebody else doing the writing? At times Bugliosi acts as if we, the reading public, don’t have access to the Internet that allow us to double check what he is talking about.

More alarming are the blatant misrepresentation of facts (too numerous to go into here). Here is one of my favorite examples: Bugliosi claims that the Secret Service did not wash off the presidential limousine at the Parkland Hospital (before the FBI could examine it) and there were no witnesses to this event. Again, a simple Google search proves otherwise. Not only are there pictures of this washing taking place (a NY Times photographer was there) but there were three journalists who witnessed the event that have reported this event (the most famous—Tom Wicker of the NY Times who described the incident taking place in 1963). Needless to say, it is quite a goof on Bugliosi's part as it is easily disproved. Ironic, as he spends so many pages looking down his nose at conspiracy theorists, treating them as rank amateurs, while he does his fair share amateurish deeds as well.

Perhaps, in his zeal to set the record straight and assure the public that the Warren Commission got it right, any errors by them have to be overlooked or ignored. Such as when it was discovered by independent researchers that somebody had altered the transcript of Mrs. Kennedy’s interview—some thirty times and involving some crucial information on the number of shots and the Presidents fatal head wound. Bugliosi gives the Commissioners a pass, declaring that it was proof that their “heart’s were not made of stone.” Please! This is falsification of sworn witness testimony.

Bugliosi’s vain, boastful, personality almost overrides the narrative. He is a maze of contradictions. He is openly disdainful of conspiracy theorists calling them nuts, and kooky, and so on. He chastises them for making rooky mistakes, all the while making plenty of his own. After reading hundreds of pages of the continual vitriol on almost every page, it gets old. It’s as if he is not reclaiming history but settling scores. Oddly, Bugliosi is on the record for supporting a conspiracy in the death of the president’s brother, Robert Kennedy, which of course, makes him a conspiracy theorist too. Interesting that he gets one and not the other.

Despite it’s faults, Reclaiming History remains an excellent source book for students of the JKF assassination. The first section has a very good play-by-play score of events leading up to and past the crime. But one has to take it for what it is. Ultimately, one must do one’s own research into this issue, as cloudy and confusing at it can get. Bugliosi makes some valid arguments in defense of the official version of events, but often has to resort to ignoring contradictory evidence, cherry picking witness testimony, and at times, downright deception in order to arrive at his conclusions. At other junctures he flat out misrepresents evidence or presents assumptions as facts. Finally, Bugliosi makes too much of his right to be the author of the definitive truth on the Kennedy assassination. This, from a man who was sued for slander in the early 1970s and had to settle out for court for $15,000.