Features: The Warren Commission, The Truth, and Arlen Specter: Part 1

CRITICS OF THE WARREN COMMISSION were active even before its Report was made public on September 28th, 1964. Numerous books and articles purporting to reveal the "real" facts of the Kennedy assassination were rushed into print soon, perchance even hours, after the event. All were based on dark speculation. Any evidence that was touched upon was usually trammeled to lit a wild rationale. (Thomas Buchanan in Who Killed Kennedy? revealed that the "Dallas oligarchy" was behind the assassination.)

The issuance of the Report muffled a good many of the extremist-plot theorists. It appeared painstakingly thorough and, along with its 26 volumes of corresponding hearing notes and exhibits, chock full of corroborating facts. There were some dissenters (Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote: "Behind a smoke screen of often irrelevant material it has accepted impermissible axioms, constructed invalid arguments and failed to ask elementary and essential questions"), but the American public and press seemed satisfied to accept the Commission’s explanation of what happened.

Only now are questions beginning to be asked. Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane, a New York lawyer retained for a time by Oswald’s mother, is scheduled for publication this month and will undoubtedly receive much attention. But the book that seems to have sparked a new interest in a re-evaluation of the Warren Commission Report was Inquest by Edward Jay Epstein, published late in June by Viking Press. Based on a scholarly review of the evidence (it evolved
from Epstein’s master’s thesis at Cornell), it was the first such assessment of the Commission’s findings to receive national publicity.

Yet a strange thing happened. Where Epstein raised significant questions based on detailed points of evidence, the reviews and news reports of his book heavily favored the generally evasive answers and vague dismissals elicited from former members of the Commission. Newsweek closed its lengthy evaluation of the book by quoting an unnamed Commission staffer as saying "There is not one shred of evidence, not a single hard fact, in the 26 volumes or the record or in the additional material at the Archives, that demonstrates there was more than one assassin." But in checking the evidence, it is difficult to believe that is the truth. Look, also, after paying Epstein a large sum of money for an exclusive interview, tore the book apart and accused Epstein of not checking with original sources, but it did not seek answers or explanations of the points raised in the book. It quoted Commission member Allen Dulles’ indignant stand: "If they’ve found another assassin, let them name names …"

There have been other manifestations of this strange refusal to look clearly and coldly at the evidence and demand specific answers from those in a position to provide them. A UPI wire service report, carried here by the Inquirer, discussed Epstein’s contentions thoroughly before nitpicking a few details to oblivion and generally dismissing the book. The Bulletin’s respected political columnist John McCullough contended criticism of the Warren Report was just a "hopeless effort to seek rational explanations for irrational events." Having been in Texas at the time of the assassination, McCullough wrote, "To accept all that was unreal as real one had to perhaps see all of this …. The new books and those not so new, written as they are from a distance, cannot erase the impression that during those days in Dallas only the unbelievable could be believed. The questions being raised now were answered then in Dallas as well as by the Warren Commission."

The questions were not answered by the Warren Commission. In fact, its Report left so many questions unanswered — questions readily apparent in a probe of its own investigatory testimony and evidence — that its final conclusions seem highly incredible.