The Men Who Killed Kennedy
The Men Who Killed Kennedy is a United Kingdom ITV video documentary series that discusses the John F. Kennedy assassination.
It has drawn more attention than many documentaries on the subject, but has contributed surprisingly little of value for its length and has promoted allegations ranging from the dubious to the false.
Originally broadcast in 1988 in two parts (with a subsequent studio discussion), it was rebroadcast in 1991 re-edited to three parts with additional material, and a fourth episode added in 1995. The addition of three further episodes in 2003 caused great controversy, particularly in the final episode implicating Lyndon B. Johnson and the withdrawal of these additional episodes.
Broadcast history and critical response
1988 to 2003
The Men Who Killed Kennedy began with two 50-minute segments originally aired on 25 October 1988 in the United Kingdom, entitled simply Part One and Part Two. The programs were produced by Central Television for the ITV network, and was followed three weeks later with a studio discussion on the issues titled The Story Continues, chaired by broadcaster Peter Sissons.
The original broadcast was controversial in Britain. The episodes identified three men as the assassins of Kennedy: deceased drug trafficker Lucien Sarti and two living men. All three were later revealed to have strong alibis: Sarti was undergoing medical treatment in France, another was in prison at the time, and the third had been in the French Navy. One of the two living men threatened to sue, and Central Television's own subsequent investigation into the allegations revealed they were "total nonsense". Turner justified his failure to interview one of the accused on the grounds that the individual was "too dangerous". Turner was censured by the British Parliament. An unsuccessful attempt was made to revoke the franchise of Central Television under British laws against broadcasting inaccuracies, but the Independent Broadcasting Authority did force Central Television to produce a third episode dedicated to the false allegations, aired November 16, 1988, which was later referred to as a "studio crucifixion" of Turner and his inaccuracies. This was the first time the IBA had taken such an action.
The United States corporation, Arts & Entertainment Company, purchased the rights to the original two segments. In 1989, the series was nominated for a Flaherty Documentary Award. In November 1991, the series was re-edited with additional material and divided into three 50-minute programs, which were also shown by ITV on consecutive nights. An additional episode appeared in 1995. The series typically aired in November every year and from time to time during the year.
In November 2003, three additional segments ("The Final Chapter") were added by the History Channel, entitled, respectively, "The Smoking Guns", "The Love Affair" and "The Guilty Men".
"The Love Affair" focussed on the claims of Judyth Vary Baker to have been Lee Harvey Oswald's lover in 1963, and to have worked with Oswald and others to develop a cancer-causing biological weapon as part of a CIA plan to assassinate Fidel Castro.
The third of these additional segments - "The Guilty Men" - was based substantially on the book Blood, Money & Power: How L.B.J. Killed J.F.K by Barr McClellan. The book and the episode directly implicates former U. S. President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) and its airing in 2003 created an outcry among Johnson's surviving associates, including Johnson's widow, Lady Bird Johnson, former LBJ aides Bill Moyers and Jack Valenti]] (longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America), U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford, and the last-living (at the time of the outcry) Warren Commission member. These Johnson supporters lodged complaints of libel with the History Channel, and subsequently threatened legal action against Arts & Entertainment Company, owner of the History Channel. The History Channel responded by assembling a panel of three historians, Robert Dallek, Stanley Kutler, and Thomas Sugrue. On a program aired April 7, 2004, titled "The Guilty Man: A Historical Review," the panel agreed that the documentary was not credible and should not have aired. The History Channel issued a statement saying, in part, "The History Channel recognizes that 'The Guilty Men' failed to offer viewers context and perspective, and fell short of the high standards that the network sets for itself. The History Channel apologized to its viewers and to Mrs. Johnson and her family for airing the show." The channel said it would not show the episode again. Author Barr McClellan, on whose work the episode was largely based, complained that he had tried to cooperate with the reviewing historians to discuss his evidence with them, and had been ignored.
Malcolm Liggett, a retired economics professor, sued A&E regarding the episode "The Smoking Guns," which claimed Liggett was involved in a conspiracy to kill Kennedy. Liggett and A&E reached a settlement, which required that a letter by Liggett be read on the show History Center.
David Browne of Entertainment Weekly described the documentary as "well-researched, but still farfetched". Addressing "The Guilty Men" episode, Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal called it a "primitive piece of conspiracy-mongering" and wrote that "...the documentary's ever deepening mess of charges and motives is never less than clear about its main point -- that Lyndon Johnson personally arranged the murder not only of the president, but also seven other people, including his own sister."
In a letter to the chief executives of the three parent companies of A & E Networks, — Victor F. Ganzi of the Hearst Corporation, Michael D. Eisner of Disney, and Robert C. Wright of NBC — former United States President Gerald Ford described the allegations as "the most damaging accusations ever made against a former vice president and president in American history."
The first two episodes were followed by "The Story Continues" (16 November 1988), a critical studio discussion about them. The final episode was followed by a critical review, "The Guilty Men: A Historical Review." (7 April 2004).
- "The Coup D'Etat" (25 October 1988)
- "The Forces Of Darkness" (25 October 1988)
- "The Cover-Up" (20 November 1991)
- "The Patsy" (21 November 1991)
- "The Witnesses" (21 November 1991)
- "The Truth Shall Set You Free" (1995)
- "The Smoking Guns" (2003)
- "The Love Affair" (2003)
- "The Guilty Men" (2003)
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- John C. McAdams, Should We Believe Judyth Baker?, Marquette University
- Judyth Vary Baker, "Judyth Baker Responds to Critics", archived at John C. McAdams' website at http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/sboard.htm
- Reuters, 12 April 2004, "History Channel Pulls JFK Conspiracy Show"
- Bruce Weber, "History Channel Apologizes", New York Times, April 7, 2004
- Grace Murphy, "History Channel, Vero man reach settlement in JFK allegations", Fort Pierce Tribune, March 19, 2005
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