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A Lie in Stone's "JFK"


Tim Gratz
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One interesting thing I learned from Professor Mellen's book, a defense of Garrison, of course, demonstates a rather substantial falsehood in Oliver Stone's "JFK". Perhaps it is too strong a statement to call it a lie but it certainly involves a misrepresentation of a material and important fact.

Everyone is of course familiar with the story of Charles Spiesel, the New York accountant who testified for Garrison but under cross-examination revealed so many idiosyncrocies that his testimony alone may have cost Garrison the case. In "JFK" we see Garrison visibly disturbed hearing the cross-examination and then staring angrily at one of his assistants who protests that he did not know.

In Professor Mellen's book it is revealed that Garrison was fully aware of the problems with Spiesel and there was an internal debate in Garrison's camp whether to put him on the stand. Mark Lane argued strongly against it.

The decision to use Spiesel despite his problems may have cost Garrison dearly but it was his own decision. One can debate the merits of the strategic decision to call Spiesel but it is clear Garrison committed a fundamental trial error. Every trial lawyer knows that if you must present a witness who has "issues" the lawyer must minimize the impact of those issues by bringing them out on direct examination. Doing so significantly decreases the adverse effect; essentially it "takes the wind" out of the defense's "sails".

Once Garrison decided to call Spiesel, he should have gone over all of Spiesel's problem on direct examination. Of course, with the benefit of hind-sight, Mark Lane was correct: Garrison should never have called him.

I find it hard to believe that Stone was not aware of Garrison's knowledge of the problems with Spiesel.

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While I am on the subject of "JFK", Ian Griggs' "No Case To Answer" does a wonderful job of debunking the myth that there was anything sinister about the coverage in the Christchurch, New Zealand newspaper of the assassination (the famouse scene with "X"). Mr. Griggs is quite critical of Mr. Stone in this regard. This may be more important because it is one of the linchpin's the movie uses to prove a conspiracy.

Edited by Tim Gratz
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**************

While I am on the subject of "JFK", Ian Griggs' "No Case To Answer" does a wonderful job of debunking the myth that there was anything sinister about the coverage in the Christchurch, New Zealand newspaper of the assassination (the famouse scene with "X"). Mr. Griggs is quite critical of Mr. Stone in this regard. This may be more important because it is one of the linchpin's the movie uses to prove a conspiracy.

Tim Gratz

That Donald SUtherland's character (really F. Prouty) could not have seen this in the New Zealand paper when he claimed? Is that your point? If so it's hardly a "linchpin" in an over 3 hour film. Yor're nitpicking again. The press "problem" in general that told me from the start that this was conspiracy is that they "knew" too much about LHO way too soon. Real life and real homicides don't work that way. But setting up a patsy does. And of course what the press "knew" turned out to be false: him being a Marxist and all; his "defection" to Russia was phony. That the trip home was paid for the the state department proves that this was no standard "defection". And "not debriefed"? Permitted to enter with his Russian bride? All indications that he was over there as part of an intelligence operation.

Back to the film, "X" has MUCH to say in this scene. It was one of the most powerful scenes in this excellent film.

Dawn

Edited by Dawn Meredith
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One interesting thing I learned from Professor Mellen's book, a defense of Garrison, of course, demonstates a rather substantial falsehood in Oliver Stone's "JFK". Perhaps it is too strong a statement to call it a lie but it certainly involves a misrepresentation of a material and important fact.

Everyone is of course familiar with the story of Charles Spiesel, the New York accountant who testified for Garrison but under cross-examination revealed so many idiosyncrocies that his testimony alone may have cost Garrison the case. In "JFK" we see Garrison visibly disturbed hearing the cross-examination and then staring angrily at one of his assistants who protests that he did not know.

In Professor Mellen's book it is revealed that Garrison was fully aware of the problems with Spiesel and there was an internal debate in Garrison's camp whether to put him on the stand. Mark Lane argued strongly against it.

The decision to use Spiesel despite his problems may have cost Garrison dearly but it was his own decision. One can debate the merits of the strategic decision to call Spiesel but it is clear Garrison committed a fundamental trial error. Every trial lawyer knows that if you must present a witness who has "issues" the lawyer must minimize the impact of those issues by bringing them out on direct examination. Doing so significantly decreases the adverse effect; essentially it "takes the wind" out of the defense's "sails".

Once Garrison decided to call Spiesel, he should have gone over all of Spiesel's problem on direct examination. Of course, with the benefit of hind-sight, Mark Lane was correct: Garrison should never have called him.

I find it hard to believe that Stone was not aware of Garrison's knowledge of the problems with Spiesel.

**************

While I am on the subject of "JFK", Ian Griggs' "No Case To Answer" does a wonderful job of debunking the myth that there was anything sinister about the coverage in the Christchurch, New Zealand newspaper of the assassination (the famouse scene with "X"). Mr. Griggs is quite critical of Mr. Stone in this regard. This may be more important because it is one of the linchpin's the movie uses to prove a conspiracy.

Tim,

I think Dawn's right about the nitpicking. Garrison might have blundered in regard to Spiesel but it didn't really blunt the main purpose of the trial, which was to bring the assassination to the world's attention. Garrison probably realised he was a longshot so he gambled on calling Spiesel. But if what you say about Spiesal is right, then you're right about it being a blunder.

Re Stone, that stuff about the Christchurch newspaper is a minor point, really. You can't argue that this undermines the movie's theme that there was a conspiracy, with so many other incriminating circumstances surrounding the case. You're not Clarence Darrow, you know.

I'm picking up the Mellen book today. I'm keen to see what all the fuss is about.

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Stone made a movie, he wasn't writing a history book. If he misrepresented the Spiesel blunder in the film, it was for dramatic effect. Garrison, remember, is the hero of the film. You can't have your hero stupidly blundering. Somebody else has to blunder.

If we're going to critique Stone's film, how about the totally unnecessary sequence in which Garrison goes to a prison camp to talk to a con, treating us to a graphic description of anal intercourse. I can only assume that Stone put that crap into the film to prevent family viewing.

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I got the impression from Mellen's book that while Garrison knew about Spiesel's other oddities, he was unaware of his claims of having being repeatedly hypnotized.

The Spiesel scene must be in the director's cut, as I don't remember this at all.

Edit: Just checked the IMDB page on JFK and it would appear that the Spiesel scene is indeed on the director's cut.

Also, I am not sure if Ian Griggs brings anything new to the table, but Prouty offers a pretty detailed rebuttal of other attacks against the significance of the Christchurch Star story. It should be taken into account, at the very least.

Edited by Owen Parsons
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