The Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy . . . was instantly implausible because the authors hid the secrets they knew (and ignored the ones they didn't). -David Ignatius, Washington Post Book World
That recent appraisal reflects a growing consensus that the Warren Commission largely failed in its duty to our nation. Echoing that sentiment, the Gallup organisation has reported that 75 percent of Americans polled do not believe the Commission's major conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the "lone assassin." Gerald McKnight now gives profound substance to that view in the most meticulous and devastating dissection of the Commission's work to date.
The Warren Commission produced 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits, more than 17,000 pages of testimony, and a 912-page report. Surely a definitive effort. Not at all, McKnight argues. The Warren Report itself, he contends, was little more than the capstone to a deceptive and shoddily improvised exercise in public relations designed to "prove" that Oswald had acted alone.
McKnight argues that the Commission's own documents and collected testimony-as well as thousands of other items it never saw, refused to see, or actively suppressed-reveal two conspiracies: the still very murky one surrounding the assassination itself and the official one that covered it up. The cover-up actually began, he reveals, within days of Kennedy's death, when President Johnson, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and acting Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach all agreed that any official investigation must reach only one conclusion: Oswald was the assassin.
While McKnight does not uncover any "smoking gun" that identifies the real conspirators, he nevertheless provides the strongest case yet that the Commission was wrong-and knew it. Oswald might have knowingly or unwittingly been involved, but the Commission's own evidence proves he could not have acted alone.
Based on more than a quarter-million pages of government documents and, for the first time ever, the 50,000 file cards in the Dallas FBI's "Special Index," McKnight's book must now be the starting point for future debate on the assassination. It should also inspire readers to echo the Journal of American History's praise for his previous book: "McKnight's insistence upon remaining within the bounds of the evidence inspires confidence in his judgment."
Gerald D. Mcknight is professor emeritus of history at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, USA and the author of The Last Crusade: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI, and the Poor People's Campaign.