[MUSIC] The debate over the Kennedy assassination is one of the longest-running sagas in American history, involving hundreds of sub-plots. Facts and quasi-facts have dribbled out over five decades. Quite a few of these facts are unverifiable or only partially verifiable, which does not necessarily mean they are incorrect. Stories are told by respectable and dubious witnesses alike. That are based on murky memories of long ago events. Some legitimate evidence is contradictory. The cast of characters in this historical enterprise, many of them colorful and quirky, could fill a bookshelf of Shakespearean plays. The search for the truth of JFK's assassination. Is like the quest for El Dorado, the mythical city of gold, that tantalized European explorers in the 16th century. Inspired by vague clues and Amer-Indian legends, these explorers spent years in the wilderness, hoping to strike it rich. But often died of disease and starvation instead. This class could never cover all the details in the short time we have together. For those who are interested, my book, The Kennedy Half Century, is a synthesis of what we know after 50 years. It's not a misguided attempt to solve the insoluble or to figure out every detail of the assassination. Four days after JFK was laid to rest at Arlington cemetery, President Lyndon Johnson asked the Chief Justice of the United States to head a federal probe into the assassination. LBJ signed an executive order later that day that created a commission to ascertain, evaluate, and report upon the facts relating to the assassination of the late president John F Kennedy and the subsequent violent death of the man charged with the assassination. The Earl Warren Commission, Warren Commission for short, was doomed from the start. Because Washington's power brokers, led by the new President himself, were far more interested in preserving domestic tranquility than in finding the full truth. They wanted a report that would first calm citizens' jangled nerves by reassuring them that a lone nut named Lee Hardy Oswald had acted completely on his own. Conspiratorial chatter, so the reasoning went, would only undermine public trust in government, and perhaps even lead to war, if fingers were pointed at Fidel Castro or the Soviets. Just 13 months earlier, the United States had narowly avoided a nuclear confligration with Russia. And the Cold War was still freezing. The public was suspicious of Russia, Cuba, and more. In the immediate aftermath of the assassination, 62% of the American people believed that their President had been killed in a conspiracy. Official Washington felt the need to respond. The Warren Commission launched its investigation of the JFK assassination in February, 1964. Acting on President Johnson's instructions, Earl Warren urged the commission to complete its work before July, when the presidential campaign would likely heat up. So in effect there was a political calendar for a murder investigation. Over the next six months, the commission recorded the testimony of 552 people, examined thousands of documents, and held 51 sessions. Commission members, however, skipped many of the meetings. The hard work was assigned to assistants like Arlen Specter. Who invented the single bullet theory to reconcile, apparently indisputable facts that emerged in the course of the Warren investigation, including the reality that Oswald or any marksman needed a certain number of seconds to fire a rifle repeatedly. Within the elapsed time of the shooting. Specter and his colleagues had screened the publicly unseen amateur home movie shot by businessman Abraham Zapruder in Dealey Plaza. Which cast grave doubts on the validity of the FBI report. It showed Governor Connelly groaning in agony less than two seconds after Kennedy was shot in the back. The commission realized that no marksman, however skilled, could fire two shots within two seconds from a bolt action rifle. Specter's single bullet theory, which asserted that the bullet striking JFK's back continued on, cleanly, through Kennedy's throat to cause all of Connolly's many wounds neatly solved the dilemma. Other Warren Commission staffers investigated the Jack Ruby case, and concluded that Ruby had impulsively killed Oswald in a fit of peak. Other pieces of the assassination puzzle were similarly assembled into the overall pattern. Some easily, others with difficulty. The time pressures guaranteed that all of the evidence could not be gathered and sifted. Many key witnesses were not even interviewed. A future U.S. president, Gerald Ford, was so anxious to close the case, that he changed the description of the Presidnet's back wound so that it would simply comply with Specter's single bullet theory. Ford would later insist that he was trying to make the report more precise. On September 24, 1964, The Warren Commission presented it's final report to the President of the United States. >> To the White House in Washington comes the final verdict on the fateful tragedy which engulfed the nation ten months ago. US Chief Justice Earl Warren is the bearer of the sad epilogue. The report on the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, compiled by the commission created by President Johnson. Which was headed by the Chief Justice himself. >> Johnson released a letter of appreciation later that day. He said, the commission,, I know has been guided throughout by a determination to find and tell the whole truth of these terrible events. This is our obligation to the good name of the United States of America. And to all men everywhere who respect our nation, and above all to the memory of President Kennedy. The Warren Commission concluded that Oswald and Ruby had committed their crimes without help or encouragement from anyone else. While some prominent journalists, such as CBS's Walter Cronkite were privately skeptical. News organizations generally did not question the Warren Commission's findings. This was an era very different from today. When columnists and publishers were often the government's lapdogs instead of their watchdogs. In editorials, the nation's newspapers were overwhelmingly deferential to the Warren Commission. Initially, most Americans accepted the conclusions of the Warren report. After it was released, only 31% of the public still believed that JFK had been a victim of conspiracy, exactly half what the percentage had been in the immediate aftermath of the assassination. Ironically, in its rush to tamp down the rumors surrounding the assassination, the Warren Commission guaranteed the perpetuation of conspiracy theories for years to come. In the early 1960s, the public was thought incapable of handling the truth. Rather, it had to be spoon-fed a convenient, calming version of events. The Warren Commission gave people a sanitized abbreviated version of the assassination. The public was condesendingly told to accept the official account without subversive, unpatriotic questioning. The commission laid the ground work for the cynicism that became deeply rooted in the late 1960s and the 1970s. That, that is a profound distrust of the official government story about anything. Instead of being viewed as authoritative, government pronouncements became mocked as deceitful propaganda from the ministry of truth. Chief among the failings of the Warren commission was the fact that it did not interview significant numbers of eye witnesses. There isn't time to detail the long list here, but you can find many of their stories within the pages of The Kennedy Half Century, including those of Bill and Gayle Newman, who were in Dealey Plaza with their children when the shots rang out. H.B. McLain, a Dallas motorcycle cop who was part of the presidential motorcade. Merilyn Sitzman, who assisted her boss Abraham Zapruder in steadying himself while filming the President passing through Dealey Plaza. Elsie Dorman and Robert Croft, two amateur photographers who captured images of the President's motorcade as it drove through Dealey plaza. Jim and Patricia Towner and their daughter Tina, who also were taking film and photos in Dealey plaza seconds before the assassination. Mary Woodward, Maggie Brown, Aurelia Lorenzo, and Anne Donaldson all worked for the Dallas Morning News in 1963. And all of them were standing on the north curb of Elm Street during the assassination, Elm Street being the street where the assassination occured. A.J. Millican, who had been standing near Woodward, and her colleagues, when he heard what he said, were a total of eight shots coming from various directions. Mary Moorman, who took the most famous still photograph of the moment the fatal bullet struck John Kennedy, that you see here. A photo that may or may not show a man in a uniform behind the picket fence. And an apparent puff of white smoke, that may or may not have been the aftermath of a gun shot. And also Victoria Adams, a young woman who watched the President die from the fourth floor of the Texas school book depository. And said, after the shots were fired, she fled down the Depository's back stairwell, supposedly the same stairwell that Oswald had to use to make his escape from the 6th floor. Adams testified that she did not see or hear Oswald in that stairwell immediately after the assassination. The staff of the Warren Commission seemed to view Adams, not as a vital witness, but as a threat to their preferred timeline of events, and they alternately ignored and defamed her. Had the Warren Commission enlisted Dallas Police and citizens to identify more of those present in the plaza depository, while their memories were fresh, they might have secured many more reliable accounts, from every perspective in the plaza, that could have enabled the commission and the public to weigh the preponderance of the evidence. And it might have been able to diminish the number of individuals who turned up years later with dramatic, but questionable, narratives about the assassination. As one person we interviewed said, if everybody who claimed to have been in Dealy Plaza was actually there, you could fill the rose bowl. The glaring inadequacies of the Warren Commission do not automatically mean that the commission erred in fingering Oswald as the lone gunman. Much testimony supports the commission viewpoint. One thing is certain. Today it is difficult to separate fact from fiction when dealing with eyewitness accounts on November 22nd. Human beings notice different things during a crises, and they see only a small part of the whole. They also tend to confuse media reports and the stories of other eye witnesses with what they actually saw or heard. The result is a hodge podge of truths, half truths, blatant falsehoods and sensational embellishments. A fair investigation can only reach a truthful conculsion once all the relevant testimony has been considered and compared. That the Warren Commission failed to do so is obvious to any unbiased investigator in the days, weeks and months that followed, November 22nd. The trail at that time was hot, memories were at their sharpest. The Commission had the strong backing of Congress and the country. Whatever money and staff were needed to produce a thorough report would have been forthcoming had they asked. While impatient, the public would have been willing to give the investigators the time they required to produce complete answers. Instead, many critical witnesses were overlooked. Many paths were not taken. Many tips not pursued. And a political schedule, not an investigator's timetable, determined the release date of the commission report. Those responsible for these decisions would say the nation needed to move on. Yet the irony of the commision's rushed and pre-digested report is that the nation was caught in a time warp for years. So instead of shutting the door on cynical and destructive assassination speculation, the Warren commission actually maximized the opportunities for it.