Historian needs to catch up on JFK scholarship

In today’s Washington Post, Larry Sabato responds to last week’s negative review of his book “The Kennedy Half-Century” by Rutgers historian David Greenberg. Greenberg’s peevish response about “assassination buffs” reveals what really irks him:

Sabato has an open mind about the causes of JFK’s assassination and the vast majority of Americans don’t buy Greenberg’s interpretation of November 22, 1963.

Larry Sabato

University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato

Greenberg seems both threatened by and disdainful of the new evidence that has emerged since Oliver Stone’s movie, which documents what Phil Shenon rightly calls “the secret history of the Kennedy assassination.”

The majority of sane American citizens who don’t believe the official theory of a lone gunman look for a more credible explanation in the historical record that the CIA and FBI and other government agencies long suppressed and that Stone’s movie forced into public view.

Oddly for a historian, Greenberg seem uninterested, if not ignorant, of what has been revealed about this secret history in recent years. He seems unaware of continuing CIA secrecy around certain JFK files.

Greenberg needs to catch up on recent JFK scholarship. As I noted in the Atlantic.com in 2010:

“Since 2000, five tenured academic historians have published books on JFK’s assassination. Four of the five concluded that a conspiracy was behind the 35th president’s murder.

“David Kaiser, a diplomatic historian at the Naval War College, and the author of a 2008 book, ‘The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy,’ concluded that Kennedy was killed in plot involving organized crime figures. Michael Kurtz of Southeastern Louisiana University came to a similar conclusion in his 2006 book, ‘The JFK Assassination Debates: Lone Gunman Versus Conspiracy.’

“In a 2005 book,’Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why,’ Gerald McKnight of Hood College suggested that a high-level plot involving senior U.S. intelligence officials was probably responsible for the president’s death. In his 2003 book about the photographic evidence, ‘The Zapruder Film: Reframing JFK’s Assassination,’ David Wrone of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point argued that the famous amateur film footage of the assassination proves that Kennedy was hit by gunfire from two different directions. Wrone did not advocate a theory of who was responsible.

“A fifth historian, Robert Dallek of UCLA, wrote a 2003 biography of Kennedy, ‘An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963.’ While not about the assassination as such, Dallek’s book embraced the Warren Commission’s lone-gunman finding, relying on Gerald Posner’s outdated 1994 anti-conspiratorial best-seller ‘Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK.'”


  1. Photon says:

    What is so outdated about Posner’s book. The section debunking all of the “mysterious deaths” is reason alone to read it.

  2. CA says:

    From Wikpedia:

    Posner was the chief investigative reporter at the Daily Beast. Following the revelation that a number of Posner’s stories for the Beast contained portions plagiarized from articles in other publications, Posner resigned from the Beast.[24][29][30][31][32] According to Posner, the plagiarism was inadvertent and the result of the “compressed deadlines” of the Beast and confusing his assembled research with his own writing in the “master files” he assembled on each story. Allegations of plagiarism also surfaced concerning his latest book, Miami Babylon (October 2009).[33][34] Posner said the Miami Babylon plagiarism occurred because of a new system of “trailing endnotes”, because an individual he interviewed read one of the plagiarized sources and reiterated it during the interview, and because he mistook other people’s writing for his own after scanning source documents into a computer database.[35][36] The Miami New Times also found that Posner “seems to add, subtract, or misattribute quotes” and displayed a series of such “apparently altered or misattributed quotes”.[34][37] For all the examples shown, Posner cited a source article, where an examination of the source showed that the quote given in Posner’s writing was either substantially altered (e.g. words added), never said by the subject, misattributed, or used out of context.

  3. Joe w. Heyer says:

    We Were There – Dallas Doctors reply to recent survey about their
    memories of Dallas. Page xiii Dr. Ron Jones, Arlen Specter before
    his interview, “not interview any who say shots from front.”

  4. Nathaniel Heidenheimer says:

    Sabato may have an open mind about JFK’s assassination. His descriptions of JFK’s policies reveal a careerist mind that seems incapable of critically interrogating beltway narratives of the most important moments in the history of US National Security State.

    Sabato seems to have no grasp whatsoever of any of the more recent academic publications on JFK’s foreign policy. Too much of his book seems like it might have been written by David Halberstam and or Seymour Hersh around 1972, although Seymour needed to wait longer than that for more people to forget that he was a hawk on Vietnam and opposed Diem for Hawkish reasons (I mean in his first book on Vietnam, not the Best and The Brightest)

    Sabato’s book is so shallow and under-researched that he makes the perfect beltway aca-pundit for our Morning Joed Corporate World. He longs to get to discussions of style ASAP so Vietnam, nuclear first strikes, et al take a backseat in terms of his research. What a prigish,aggressively superficial Court Historian! No wonder his book got so much corporate air-wave.

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