Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Uvalde Connection to JFK Assassination

Back in 2015 (already seven years ago), I was following up for my own interest what I'd learned about Red Bird Airport in Dallas from Daniel Hopsicker's book, Barry and 'the Boys'. So much has happened since that time. I've gotten a lot older for one thing. 

Events keep happening that remind me of work I did that I never finished. The Uvalde Shooting was the recent event that reminded me of a project I started in 2015 and never finished. Here it is.

Dan Rather Got His Start in Uvalde

John Nance Garner

Our last post, which began with Dallas' Red Bird Airport, ended with the intimation that former U.S. Speaker of the House and Vice President John Nance "Cactus Jack" Garner had unseen political power that might be worth researching. As it turns out, the prickly politician also had a strange connection to the assassination of John Kennedy. He was the last person to talk to the President by telephone the morning of the assassination, made by the President at 10:15 a.m. from his Fort Worth hotel following an outdoor breakfast reception held in the rain. 

In 1988 People Magazine's coverage on the anniversary of the assassination included this paragraph:

An eager young television correspondent, Dan Rather, 32, is CBS News bureau chief in New Orleans. He has been assigned to set up the network's coverage of the President's visit to Texas, and after working through the night, he had been given an urgent, unrelated request. The CBS Evening News, with its anchorman, Walter Cronkite, has recently been expanded from 15 minutes to a half hour, and the editors were concerned about not having enough material to fill out the broadcast. At the last minute they called Rather and asked him to cover John Garner's birthday.
A Young Dan Rather
After flying at first light from Dallas to Garner's ranch in a small charter plane, Rather and his cameramen filmed an interview as Garner came out on his porch to greet Miss West Texas Wool and have his picture taken with her. As Rather looked on, the elder statesman, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand, reached over to pat Miss West Texas Wool on the backside with the other. Now, back in Dallas, Rather smiles as he remembers the scene.




Miss West Texas Wool for 1963-64 was Peggye Nan McNair, then a young college student at Midwestern University in Wichita Falls. Garner's 95th birthday was the reason Dan Rather gave for his being on the scene in Dallas on that same fateful day--although his autobiography referred to it as his 98th birthday. But we didn't get a chance to interview that year's Miss Wool about whether she remembered Dan Rather being at the birthday party. Her death was reported in January 2015 after she and a colleague were trampled to death by camels.

Rather's book relates that he had set up a new CBS southwestern bureau in Dallas the previous year, and had only recently been reassigned to organize the southern bureau chief in New Orleans (which eventually replaced both the Dallas and Atlanta offices). Having moved his family only that month to Louisiana, Rather would not have made a trip to Dallas, but for the request to fly out to Uvalde that morning to film Garner's birthday celebration, complete with the nineteen-year-old beauty queen. According to Rather (and Hershowitz):

Miss Texas Wool was waiting on the veranda when Garner made his appearance shortly after breakfast. He had a shot of bourbon in one hand and he tried to pat Miss Texas Wool on the fanny with the other, as only Cactus Jack could do. And that was how I happened to be in Dallas at midmorning, delivering an interview we had filmed on the occasion of a former Vice-President's ninety-eighth [sic] birthday, the morning of the day that John F. Kennedy would be murdered. [ The Camera Never Blinks (1976), p. 113]

Louis Baldwin, author of Turning Points: Pivotal Moments in the Careers of 83 Famous Figures, at page 167, repeated Rather's error, while also making a few more, in attempting to explain how Rather happened to be in Dealy Plaza and to be the first reporter to announce that JFK was indeed dead.

Baldwin made the mistaken assumption that Rather visited Garner in Dallas, where President Kennedy "was scheduled to visit during his brief stay in Dallas." [Baldwin, Turning Points, page 167.] The actual distance by interstate highway, which was not complete in 1963, is just over 360 miles. Rather stated in his book that he flew to Uvalde. He doesn't say from where, only that his planning work had been done from New Orleans--about 650 miles from Garner's ranch--and that the only reason he ended up in Dallas that day was to drop off the film from the Garner interview. He added that he was not assigned to cover the events as a reporter, but only as an editor of the film drops. Nevertheless, the weekend coverage was replete with the face of Dan Rather. David Von Pein, lone-nut advocate, can be commended, if not for his erroneous conclusions, for at least posting the KRLD radio and television coverage of that day at his You Tube channel.

According to CBS News and JFK Transcripts, Dan Rather did at least mention Garner's birthday in passing, as he reported:
Dan Rather:  The body is now now on route by plane to Washington. Also on route to Washington is the 36th President of the United States Lyndon Baines Johnson. It was quite a crowd at the Parkland Hospital about this time when the President’s body was taken away, but most of the crowd was away from that particular section of the hospital.

Earlier today down in Uvalde, Texas Former Vice President John Nance Garner celebrated his 95th birthday. Mr. Garner refused to grant any interview as such but in the course of a conversation with reporters this was some two hours before President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. Former Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt John Nance Garner said he felt that President Kennedy might become one of the great Presidents of this country. Former Vice President Garner a long time friend of Lyndon Johnson. [President Kennedy called him with birthday wishes, from Fort Worth at 10:15.]
Midlothian Mirror owner, Penn Jones, Jr., who reviewed Rather's book, stated:
Rather reports he went to Uvalde, Texas for an after-breakfast meeting with former Vice President John Nance Garner at his home there, but he doesn't mention the distances involved. He does not bother to tell his readers it was a six hundred mile round trip and that he was back in Dallas before the President's parade. That kind of timing would have required a jet, we think. Whose jet, Rather didn't say.

 But for That Uvalde Interview...

After his reporting on Hurricane Carla in 1961, Rather was hired for a six-months "trial initiation" in New York City, beginning around March 1, 1962. The result was he was that at the end of that trial he was sent to Dallas as CBS Southwest Bureau Chief. One year later he was promoted to head the Southern Bureau in New Orleans. Yet he returned from New Orleans to Dallas to report on the President's visit there in late November of 1963. Why?

We have to wonder who at CBS assigned him to go to Uvalde to interview Cactus Jack Nance. Who wanted that filmed interview delivered to Dallas? Why, if his job finished was after delivering the film, did he have a film crew available when he accidentally witnessed the assassination?
On the day of President Kennedy's funeral (Monday, November 25), Walter Cronkite, another Houston-bred newsman, allowed his younger colleague, Dan Rather, to report live in a halting fashion, referring repeatedly to notes, about his viewing of a film taken by Abraham Zapruder, though the cameraman was not named. 
Rather stated: "We have just returned from seeing a complete motion picture of the moments preceding, and the moments of, President Kennedy's assassination and the shooting of Texas Governor John Connally." He did not say who "we" was, nor did he say how he came to be invited to view the "motion picture," and by whom. At that time there clearly was, even while the nation was grieving, a bidding war going on for the rights to the pictures, both moving and still.


The Sixth Floor Museum's website once contained a timeline of events (see William Kelly post in January and February 2010) that mentioned the Zapruder film under November 25:
Life publisher C.D. Jackson, after viewing a copy of the Zapruder film in New York, instructed Stolley [Life magazine's Pacific Bureau editor, Richard Stolley] to purchase remaining television and movie rights for a price that eventually reached $150,000 plus royalties; the purchase included Zapruder's copy of the film made in Dallas the afternoon of the assassination.
The italics indicate that at that point Zapruder had only agreed to relinquish print rights, not the "motion picture" rights. Under that timeline on November 23,  we read:
Zapruder screened the film for Secret Service agents, then met with Stolley and agreed to sell only print rights of the film to Life. He expressed concern that the film not be exploited. Stolley left with the original film, which was couriered to Life's editorial office and printing center in Chicago (Zapruder kept the remaining print). Life personnel examined the film to decide which frames to publish. At some point, they accidentally damaged the original film in two places, and six frames were removed, leaving visible splice marks.
In February 1968:
Life hired a New Jersey film lab, Technical Animations, to make a 35mm film copy of the original 8mm Zapruder film. Vice President and General Manager Moses Weitzman made several copies, gave the best one to Life and kept the rejects.
The film was first shown in a public setting on February 13, 1969 during the Clay Shaw trial:
In New Orelans [sic], Zapruder testified for the prosecution in the Jim Garrison investigation into a possible Kennedy conspiracy involving Clay Shaw. During the film's first public showing, Zapruder confirmed its authenticity.
Robert Groden, who was employed by Technical Animations, "copied a Weitzman print and stored it in a bank vault. Over the next six years, using an optical printer, he made multiple copies with special effects, such as close-ups and repositioning, to remove shakiness and improve clarity."

Dan Rather's Co-Author, Mickey Herskowitz

He hired Mickey Herskowitz, a sports writer for the Houston Post, to help him write the book. Herskowitz had a column in the Houston Post in 1962 called "Letters from Lefty," ostensibly from a   baseball player writing to his girlfriend while at Houston Colt .45's spring training at Apache Junction, Arizona. By 1965 Mickey was covering the Astros playing in their new Astrodome.
Mickey, according to blogger Bill McCurdy, was a:
kid fan at Buff Stadium who became famous among members of the media for
his game time practice of updating player batting averages during games in progress at Buff Stadium in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His talents earned him an invitation to watch the games from the press box so the professionals could have the benefit of this information.
A journalism career was born.
After graduating from the University of Houston, Mickey Herskowitz continued his long career as a sports writer for the Houston Post, shifting over to the Chronicle in the 1990s, when the Post died. Herskowitz has since moved on to chaired position on the journalism-communications faculty at Sam Houston State.
In 1976 Herskowitz had then only recently finished ghosting a couple of biographies published by Playboy Press--the first, for Howard Cosell and later, for Jimmie "the Greek" Snyder. Carlton Stowers of Texas Monthly wrote in his April 1977 column:
Some of Herkowitz' projects have been delayed by pressure to finish The Camera Never Blinks, a collaboration with CBS newsman Dan Rather about his life in the arena of world events.
Why the pressure? The timing was telling. It was published just as the Zapruder film, which showed Americans how wrong Rather--who viewed it on November 23--had been in his description really was. How could he have reported the President's head being thrown violently forward? An explanation was needed, but Rather was too busy to do it himself. The publisher was William Morrow, the same as the publisher of George W. Bush's ghostwritten biography, A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House. However, after Russ Baker interviewed and quoted Herskowitz in Family of Secrets (2010), which revealed a different version of the Bush legacy, Herskowitz was avoided in future work for the Bush family.
In 1999, Herskowitz struck a deal with the campaign of George W. Bush about a ghost-written autobiography,... and he and Bush signed a contract in which the two would split the proceeds....Herskowitz was given unimpeded access to Bush, and the two met approximately 20 times so Bush could share his thoughts.
Dan Rather's second book, The Camera Never Blinks Twice, came out in 1994, the same year as In History's Shadow, which Herskowitz finished shortly after John Connally's death.

In 2003, Herskowitz wrote under his own name a sappy biography of Prescott Bush, Duty, Honor, Country: The Life and Legacy of Prescott Bush, and in the same year co-authored biographies with Joe Jamail and John Connally's widow and a book about the Houston Oiler franchise.

CBS and the Bush Family

In 1974 the Watergate scandal forced President Nixon out of office. A year later on March 6, 1975, the Zapruder film was brought to ABC network's "Good Night America" by Robert Groden, who appeared with Dick Gregory on Geraldo Rivera's late night show. At that point the film showed Dan Rather's blatant lie about a third shot throwing Kennedy's head violently forward. At that point, to explain his past actions, Dan Rather, who was much too busy to take time away from work at CBS to write an autobiography, hired Mickey Herskowitz to do it for him. Or, did another person hire Mickey to protect the interest of certain CBS officials, at whose request, we can only assume, Rather had lied?

Is it not a strange coincidence that Herskowitz, chosen to write Dan's book, The Camera Never Blinks, which was published in 1976, would later work for the Bush family? Perhaps not, considering the closeness of Prescott Bush to the CBS founder, William S. Paley. Consider this small detail from IMDb's biography of George H. W. Bush:
Prescott Bush (Yale 1917) made his fortune and name as an investment banker on Wall St., eventually becoming a partner of the white shoe brokerage Brown Bros. Harriman. He was a member of the Yale Corp., the principal governing body of Yale University, from 1944 to 1956 and was on the board of directors of the Columbia Broadcasting System (C.B.S.), after having been introduced to C.B.S. Chairman William Paley in 1932 by his friend and business partner [in investment bank, Brown Brothers Harriman] Averell Harriman, a major Democratic party power-broker.

C.D. Jackson, who headed Time, Inc., which owned Life magazine, had handled intelligence and propaganda assignments during WWII. In 1943 he was in Turkey for the State Department and Board of Economic Warfare before going to the Office of War Information with his friend William Paley. They were both assigned to Eisenhower’s command in Europe to operate the Psychological Warfare Branch of the Army.

After the 1952 election Jackson became Eisenhower’s special assistant for cold war planning and, while on leave from Fortune, a Luce publication, he handled clandestine propaganda operations in Eastern Europe within the National Committee for a Free Europe. He also participated in the report prepared by William Harding Jackson (no relation), which resulted in reorganizing Truman’s Psychological Strategy Board into a new “Operations Coordinating Board” within the National Security Council. [See Michael S. Mayer, The Eisenhower Years (2009).]

Walter Cronkite had been placed in charge of the CBS Evening News in 1962. Also a Texan, Cronkite had graduated from San Jacinto High School in Houston in 1933 before attending the University of Texas for just over two years, dropping out in 1935. 
Dan Rather finished high school in Houston Heights, managed to scrounge a football scholarship for a year before being ejected and then worked his way to graduation from Sam Houston State in Huntsville in 1953. At that point he volunteered for the US Marine Corps, which took him in early 1954 but discharged him for medical reasons. Rather revealed he got a job at a Houston television station KHOU after working at a Houston radio station five or six years, and continued:
I was making, I think, $9,200 a year, which was not good, but I was making it. The television job paid about the same, but it was guaranteed. The radio wasn't guaranteed, so I shifted to television more or less by accident. The television station in Houston that I went to work for was the third station in the market, but it was trying to build a news reputation. It was a team effort. We took the station from third to first in the ratings, which even then was a big deal. We covered the big hurricane fairly well. Somebody at CBS saw and heard it and they hired me at CBS.
Do you remember what they saw and heard?
Dan Rather: This was the largest hurricane on record, Hurricane Carla in the fall of 1961. I had taken our operation to Galveston Island, which was in the path of the hurricane, and we eventually became marooned on Galveston Island, and we broadcast around the clock from there. We were a CBS affiliate and because it was such a huge hurricane, CBS began monitoring what we were doing. That's about as much as I know about it. The hurricane was my great break. It was the break from a local affiliated station to coming to the network.
Dan Rather became news director of KTRH in 1956 and a reporter for KTRH-TV Houston in 1959. He was news director at KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston before joining CBS News in 1962 as chief of the Southwest bureau in Dallas. At an unspecified date in 1963 Rather was appointed chief of CBS' Southern bureau in New Orleans, responsible for coverage of news events in the South, Southwest, Mexico and Central America. On 22 November 1963 in Dallas, Rather broke the news of the death of President John F. Kennedy. A few weeks after the assassination, he became CBS' White House correspondent. The order of his assignments is ambiguous in every biography we have read, including the following excerpt from a 2013 report in Variety:
Rather worked at CBS News for 44 years. His downfall came as a result of a 2004 story about President George W. Bush’s military service. Under criticism, the network concluded the story couldn’t be substantiated, but Rather has stood behind it. His tenure as anchor ended six months later and he left CBS in 2006, eventually filing a $70 million lawsuit against his old employers that was thrown out in 2010 by New York’s highest court.

As a young New Orleans bureau chief for CBS in November 1963, Rather had a mundane assignment in Dallas. He had arranged locations along the presidential motorcade route for film of the visit to be picked up and transmitted to CBS’ New York headquarters. He had no on-air assignment.

He sprang into action when it became clear something had gone terribly wrong. Rather described in his 1977 book, “The Camera Never Blinks,” that CBS radio went with his report that Kennedy was dead – based not on official confirmation but his phone conversations with men who identified themselves as a doctor and priest at the hospital where Kennedy was taken, and a colleague’s conversation with the hospital’s chief of staff.

It was an extraordinary risk: if Rather was wrong, he conceded his career in journalism likely would have ended there.

Days later, Rather was among the first people to see film of the assassination taken by Abraham Zapruder, and he later described it live on CBS, reading from a spiral notebook what it captured of the president and first lady at the moment of impact. CBS failed, however, to acquire rights to the film.

“I’m proud of what CBS News did at the time,” Rather said. “When the country needed it, CBS News was the best in the business.”

Conspiracies do happen. Assassinating President Kennedy required a well-planned conspiracy to pull it off. I am just now dredging this research drafted seven years ago up from the dustbin because a person on Facebook is starting to call the shooting in Uvalde another conspiracy. 

Who really knows anything any more? Do your own research. Do it before you speculate.

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