Odd couple: ReelzChannel and Malcolm Gladwell hype a bogus JFK ‘theory’

The bogus “Secret Service Man Did It” conspiracy meme (it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory) has persisted since the publication of the foolish book Mortal Error in the 1980s.

The meme was revived for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination by ReelzChannel and an Australian cop who should know better.

And Malcolm Gladwell should definitely know better. I’m not getting snarky on the guy. I think Gladwell is a great writer and original thinker, but in this case I think he’s made a mistake.


  1. Jonathan says:

    I’m not promoting Hickey-did-it. But I try to keep an open mind because so little is known for sure about the assassination.

    I recall reading: (a) One or more witnesses reported seeing S.S. agents with guns drawn, even a sub-machine gun, in the motorcade. (b) One or more witnesses reported that at least one of the shots sounded “different.”

    Such reports are consistent, to some degree at least, with Gladwell’s thesis or whatever.

    I’m not sure therefore why you dismiss the Hickey-did-it idea out of hand.

    I’m all for dismissing B.S. and not wasting time on B.S. ideas. But I’ve grown wary of joining in pooh-poohing ideas.

    • Marcus Hanson says:

      Jeff does seem to have an especial antipathy towards Donahue’s book, doesn’t he? It’s probably not entirely unreasonable-because it’s very likely wrong ! Yet,at the time it was published,it did give plenty of people pause for thought – never a bad thing in the JFK case.

      According to Meninger,the book would not have gone ahead,if Mr.Hickey had responded to his requests(by registered mail)for an interview in which he could refute the theory,by giving his version of events.

      Personally,I gave the theory more credence than it deserved after I spoke to Hamilton Brown(he ran the former SS agents association).
      I asked him why George Hickey had not (at that time) sued.
      He told me it was because he “could not find a lawyer worth a damn”.
      That struck me as odd,given that Mr.Hickey lived in Washington.

      I am not sure at what point that Meninger saw the Bronson film , which has been cited as proof that no agent had an AR-15 in his hand at the time of the head shot.
      Colin McLaren’s “Smoking Gun” documentary avoided – as predicted – all mention of the Bronson film.
      McLaren,it seemed,made a villain of SA Roy Kellerman , leaving viewers to infer that Kellerman quickly realised what had happened,then covered it up.

      If so,why did Kellerman insist in his WC testimony that there had to be more than three shots ?
      Sure,Donahue’s theory does not need more than three shots , but if Kellerman had some terrible knowledge , why would he rock the boat by claiming more than three shots ?
      Circumspection would demand that he would not raise any doubts as the official version was taking shape.

      McLaren is an Australian ex-policeman. He makes no mention of the two Sydney police ballisticans,whose report endorsed Donahue’s conclusions. But he MUST have known of their work,even if he had never met them personally in their lab in Goulburn Street,Sydney (which I , a civilian , did).
      As Donahue told me on the telephone: “If I had wanted to kiss my own a– , I could not have done it better than that report!”

      Unless some “new” evidence is forthcoming,I agree that the theory is incorrect. If this Gadwell fellow is pushing it still , Jeff is right to criticise him. I do not,however,agree with Jeff’s terming of the book as “foolish” – I prefer “de-bunked”.

  2. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Well I guess this subject does get hits for the site.
    The agent pulled the gun up as the shots were ending or over. He saw nothing to shoot at but remained on alert as they passed under the triple overpass per his statement. JFK was already dead.
    His one supposed accidental shot does not account for even the Warren omission 3 shots. As Jeff says it’s not even worth calling a theory.

  3. anonymous says:

    If Gladwell made a “mistake” , why has this site promoted this “bogus” JFK theory so often:
    1) July 31, 2013 Ignorance goes viral: Discredited JFK hoax spreads around the world
    2) Nov 2, 2013 Gladwell’s JFK theory revisited
    3) Feb 5, 2014 Gladwell’s folly: Did a Secret Service man shoot JFK?
    4) May 28, 2014 Odd couple: ReelzChannel and Malcolm Gladwell hype a bogus JFK ‘theory’

    Yes , Gladwell is a great writer – among other things , he’s an influential corporate writer and “third party” media asset:
    “In journalistic terms, “third-party advocate” refers to a PR technique in which a corporation’s marketing message is delivered to the public through seemingly independent journalists, academics, think tanks, medical authorities, political leaders, academics, fire and police officials, environmentalists, regulators.”

    Over the years the National Journalism Center has produced hundreds of “third party” media assets:

    Most of the other Secret Service agents in the motorcade had drawn their sidearms,when JFK was shot- George Hickey rose to his feet with machine gun but did not fire it. How many Secret Service agents were working for the CIA? Special assistant to CIA Director Helms, Victor Marchetti suggested that JFK had been assassinated by people working for the CIA.

  4. Mariano says:

    I am surprised the Hickey contention receives so little attention in the U.S.
    There is so much compelling ballistic evidence that places the fatal shot as emanating from the follow-up vehicle (the trajectory; the type of bullet; the wound characteristics; the smell of gunpowder at ground level; the accounts of Hickey and the AR-15; and the suspicious contamination of evidence by S.S to the vehicles/JFK forensics/other passenger attire et al).
    There is much significant evidence in this area of investigation that was ignored by the Warren Commission, and stifled by clearly uncooperative intelligence agencies.
    The evidence provides a compelling case for “smoking gun” Americans find unpalatable to digest.

    • Richard McColman says:

      I think that it’s worthwhile to look at this from a standpoint of probability. The “Hickey did it (by accident)” hypothesis asks that we believe that Hickey — highly trained with weapons, and there to protect the President — whipped out his weapon and, purely by accident, shot the President in the head, killing him — succeeding in doing what the actual attempted assassin failed to accomplish through deliberate, malicious action.

      Even if you accept that a trained SS agent accidentally discharged his weapon during that specific few seconds, it’s important to ask what would be the probability that the weapon would have been randomly aimed precisely at the President’s head when it went off accidentally?

      Very low, I contend.

      If Hickey was much closer — riding on the rear of the Presidential limousine, for example — the President would have taken up a considerably larger span within Hickey’s weapon’s “potential accidental aim field,” and one might be able to argue the case a bit more strongly for the Hickey hypothesis. Indeed, there are lots of cases of people getting shot — even killed — when standing in close proximity to an accidentally-discharging firearm. But Hickey was in the follow-up car (20 or so feet away?). Therefore the President would have occupied a very small span of potential gun aim at that distance. The likelihood of a random hit from that distance would have been very small.

      Does that mean that the weapon absolutely couldn’t have been aimed at the President’s head if/when it accidentally discharged? No. But the likelihood of a random-discharge bullet hit such as that is exceedingly low. You can try and make the case that this or that piece of evidence supports the “Hickey did it” hypothesis, but in the end, it would be very short-sighted to ignore the odds against such a random event occurring. I think there are much more plausible scenarios.

      • JC says:

        YOU SAID……” Hickey — highly trained with weapons, and there to protect the President — whipped out his weapon and, purely by accident, shot the President in the head, killing him — ”

        That’s not accurate…Hickey had only been a SS agent for 4 months and he was only in charge of maintaining the vehicle. getting it ready back at the garage…oil changes, air pressure, etc…he was also supposed to be driving the follow vehicle that day…they changed spots and put him on the rifle in the rear(1st time for Hickey)
        He had never been on that type of detail/in the past because he was a rookie..The reason for the switch was because several of the agents had been out drinking the night before and Hickey had not been out drinking the night before.

        • Joseph Hammond says:

          As we have seen recently with the Secret Service agents being involved with drugs and prostitutes in Columbia that the entire agency is prone to protect itself and its reputation. The first reports were slammed immediately. Only repeated prodding by news media and independent reporters made it possible for the truth to finally come forward. And that is not the only recent incidence of cover-up.

  5. anonymous says:

    ” I think Gladwell is a great writer and original thinker”

    A better writer and thinker , George Carlin , compares 911 to JFK:

    Q: would you support a new investigation on 911
    A: you know , they don’t they don’t investigate themselves in this country…It would be like the kennedy thing… people who were in charge do what they want and they will always do what they want to..

  6. Mariano says:

    The trajectory of the fatal bullet was from behind-low-left-to right (matching the position of the Hickey in the follow up vehicle), and there are witness accounts (including another secret service person) that have Hickey with the AR-15 raised at the time of the shot – even though Hickey denied having raised the firearm at this moment.
    There are quite a number of accounts of gun powder smelt at ground level by passengers in vehicles that were behind the follow up car.
    Another SS agent said the AR-15 was loaded, cocked and ready to go at the time of the fatal shot (though Hickey denied this). Friendly fire is far more prevalent than most people appreciate, seldom reported and in some cases fatal. It is possible.
    Hickey wasn’t highly experienced with the assault rifle and acted as a stand in for others that day.
    What of the AR-15 after that day? It was immediately removed from service; and never specifically acknowledged by the SS chief in interview about the firearm at the Warren Commission.
    Why was the Presidential vehicle so hastily cleaned; and the front windscreen so hastily replaced after that day (possible crucial evidence was destroyed).
    The frangible bullet did not come from the LHO rifle, and did not arrive from a high trajectory.
    It is strange that Hickey did not respond to overtures allowing him to refute the contentions of Donohue’s investigation. He was offered every opportunity to view the details of investigation and respond, yet did not reply at all to earlier communications.
    This contention has never gained any widespread resonance in the U.S. psyche, nor the seriousness it deserves.

    • JP says:

      This is the most plausible explanation I’ve heard so far. Given that this is definitely a logical possibility, it’s interesting how this site seems so quick to dismiss it. Given the gross negligence in the execution of the entire investigation, no logical possibility should be rejected out of hand. But then again, this is not as exciting as an open investigation, an unsolved mystery, which could ultimately make this website less exciting…I’m sure that has no influence on the author’s dismissive attitude.

    • Roy W Kornbluth says:

      Mariano, JP:
      You two have a good idea about the first of probably three head shots, though I believe Hickey’s shot was a glancing blow on the right side of JFK’s head. That shot, or one from a similar trajectory from the Dal-Tex Building, explains the resulting flap of scalp.
      The big ding in the chrome windshield trim and the cobweb cracks in the windshield itself are key. At least one reporter said it was a through-and-through hole that a pencil could fit through, but he was in a distinct minority. That dent in the chrome had to have come from a low trajectory; a high trajectory would have caused a larger ridge on the bottom of the dent.
      Kenny O’Donnell and Dave Powers were in that SS followup car, in the middle seat, right behind the President’s limo. George Hickey was in the back seat on the left side. KO or DP said they heard automatic gunfire, as did Senator Ralph Yarborough. Someone dubious about Hickey letting off a round may point out that two of JFK’s best friends would have heard or seen it, and would have been able to ID Hickey as the source of that shot. But if they were huddled down on the floorboard, and Hickey leaned forward far enough, they wouldn’t have seen it and the sound-cone would have been past their hearing. There were a lot of loud noises going on in those few seconds.

      • Photon says:

        Exactly where or what is your source for claiming that O’Donnell or Powers heard automatic gunfire? Both of them clearly state in their testimony that they thought that the shots came from behind the limo. O’Donnell even remarked in his Warren testimony that he saw SS agents looking backward.
        If you have to make stuff up to support your story-

  7. “The bogus “Secret Service Man Did It” conspiracy meme (it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory) has persisted since the publication of the foolish book Mortal Error in the 1980s.”~jeffmorley

    I agree with Jeff Morley on this. It defies the findings of modern ballistics. In fact it defies ballistics as far back as 1963.

    The fable is utterly preposterous…(in my view)

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