Saturday, December 13, 2008

Holland-aise Sauce: More Grousing From the Sidelines


There’s this term that I love, “ill-informed gadfly,” that seems as though it was coined with Internet scribe Max Holland in mind. In his latest “Gotcha!” screed, "The Underwood Hoax," Kennedy assassination buff Holland, or “Mad Max,” as I like to call him, seeks to solidify his growing reputation as a man so unable to add anything new to the assassination story that he resorts to impugning the reputations of sources he couldn’t be bothered with speaking to or critiquing while they were alive. His latest target, an advance man for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson named Marty Underwood, was a source for my new book, Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder (Bloomsbury, 2008), among others.

The essence of Underwood’s story, as told to me in 1994, is that he was instructed by LBJ to travel to Mexico City in 1968 to determine what Oswald was allegedly doing there with Cubans two months before he killed the president. Underwood said he was told by the CIA station chief in Mexico City that Oswald had met with Cuban agents, one of whom may have been Fabian Escalante, a high-ranking Cuban spy who functions today as Cuba’s Kennedy assassination propagandist. Underwood gave me photocopies of the contemporaneous notes he made of the trip.

Countless times, Underwood called the station chief, Win Scott, one of his best friends, but the all-knowing Holland (who seems to have never interviewed Underwood, Scott, or their families) somehow knows differently. “Win Scott was never ‘probably the best friend [Underwood] had,’” writes the omniscient one. Actually, I have copies of six letters between the two, and saw many more that openly display their kinship.

Using breathless prose (“pathetic,” “darker lies,” “hoodwink,” “preposterous,” “fabrication,” “fairy tales,”) and a non-stop libeling-the-dead style, Holland dredges up an Underwood alleged “drinking problem,” assuming that his single-sourced, second-hand knowledge (an affectation of most actual historians) trumps first-hand knowledge. Well, if Underwood had a drinking problem [note: he never had a drink in my four years of sharing meals with him], at least he would have an excuse for his alleged miss-statements. What’s Holland’s?

In his self-Internet-published diatribe, Mad Max repeats falsehoods such as: “he [Underwood] had written the notes . . . for [Russo] to use for [Seymour] Hersh’s book [The Dark Side of Camelot, 1997].” However, elsewhere Holland correctly (!) notes that I had met Underwood in 1993. The problem is, I didn’t meet Hersh until 1997, and Mad Max knows it, because it’s right there in my new book, which cherry picker extraordinaire Holland claims he has read. Assiduously avoided by Holland is the fact that the book clearly states (but not clear enough for the reading-challenged) that Marty had given me his notes in 1994. I guess in addition to being a con man, Marty was a clairvoyant, knowing I’d meet Hersh three years hence.

Among Holland’s “proofs” of Underwood’s duplicity is Holland’s phone interview with an Underwood colleague, who claimed, “Underwood collected information on how con men operated.” Talk about slam-dunk bombshells! Years after Holland passes on, if there is any justice, one of his surviving colleagues will recall how Mad Max “read a lot about assassinations,” in order to conclude that we should wonder about Holland’s secret life.

In his hyper dismissive, not to mention misleading, style, Holland writes: “over the course of a few lunches, [Russo] quickly became enthralled with Underwood’s supposedly inside dope about LBJ and Hoover, JFK’s liaisons with Marilyn Monroe and Judy Campbell, the alleged rigging of the 1960 West Virginia primary, and, of course, the November 1963 trip to Texas.”

Of course none of this is true. I had dozens of lunches, dinners, and apartment visits to Underwood over at least four years. And as to the Monroe allegations, Underwood was happy, when pressed, to show me indisputable evidence of his close friendship with the movie sex goddess – evidence Holland could never see of course, since he just can’t seem to find a way to interview people he has preemptively chosen to pillory.

In Mad Max’s calculus, all previous interviewers of Underwood (including myself, Richard Cohen, William Manchester, and Seymour Hersh) were unable to properly vet Underwood. Only Holland, who likely never met Underwood, has the sufficient gifts to see through his elaborate scheme. This sort of self-congratulatory tripe has become a hallmark of Holland’s. (Please see for example his ludicrous article on how Lee Oswald shot a lamppost before he hit Kennedy, "1963: 11 Seconds in Dallas." Also see Dale Myers’ and Todd Vaughn’s brilliant destruction of Holland’s “journalism” in "Cherry-Picking Evidence of the First Shot." Holland’s surgical editing of key witness testimony is a memorial to bad – at best – journalism. Although his academic style has all the veneer of weighty import, his work quickly dissolves under scrutiny, as Vaughn and Myers show.)

Although Holland states that Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) discounted Underwood’s claims to me, he chooses not to tell his vast readership that my book also quotes the former ARRB director, who told me that the board was mistaken, and that Underwood had likely told me the truth, but chose to mislead the board, as he always told me he would do. (Underwood never wanted to go public with his material, although Holland paints him as someone who “wanted to be important.” Additionally, during the years he spoke with me, I was not writing a book or a documentary; these were casual friendly conversations not intended for anything other than idle chat.)

Exemplary of Holland’s style is an email quote (he seems to have trouble traveling for in-person interviews) he obtained from LBJ aide Jack Valenti labeling Underwood “full of shit.” One has to search Holland’s footnotes to learn that Valenti had previously (1975) called Marty “affable and effective . . . a thorough-going professional.” Pick that cherry, baby! If anyone else had buried this, one could imagine how a faux-shocked Holland might gasp: “The author not only slights Valenti’s opinion when his memory was thirty-one years fresher, he buries it in a footnote!” (In typical academic style, Holland has many pretty footnotes, a tried-and-true method for giving the appearance of importance -- or is that self-importance?)

And while we’re questioning sources, it’s interesting that Holland seems to have no interest in vetting his own: Valenti, who oversaw the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for four decades, turned a blind eye to the rampant offshore tax dodges and organized crime money laundering of Hollywood producers during his tenure at MPAA. Indeed, Valenti’s MPAA was a tax loophole lobbying machine for the movie industry. If I were criticized by the likes of Valenti, it would be a badge of honor. But I digress.

In truth, one could feel sorry for Holland. His brooding bitterness jumps off the pages of his numerous “revelatory” e-journalism posts, prompting the question of where he’d be without that bastion of good scholarship known as the Internet. One also wonders if he is smarting from seeing his big discovery (Oswald’s fictional lamppost blasting, which he sold to a gullible New York Times, among others) so thoroughly eviscerated by authentic investigators like Vaughn and Myers, who actually contribute breakthrough journalism to the Kennedy story. Or could it be that he is frustrated that he can’t seem to finish his Warren Commission opus, which has been in the works at least since the days of Monica Lewinsky and OJ’s civil trial?

Aficionados of hokey journalism must be salivating over that one. [END]

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[Editor’s Note: In 1997, Max Holland drove up from Washington, D.C., to meet with Gus Russo (the guy he now terms as ‘gullible’), pick through his voluminous files, and request personal contact numbers, some very confidential, that Russo had accumulated from years of working the assassination story. Russo was more than happy to help Holland, who explained that he was working on a book on the Warren Commission. In 1998, Russo ran into Holland again at the National Archives during a ceremony marking the release of the Assassination Record Review Board’s Final Report, and innocently asked when his book would be done. “It's none of your business! It’ll be done when it’s done!” Holland snapped. Russo was stunned. Apparently, Holland had been asked that question one too many times. Later that year, Holland wrote a scathing review of Russo’s Live by the Sword for The Nation. A couple of months later, Holland showed up at a luncheon meeting of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, where Russo was speaking before a group of over 300. During a Q&A session, Holland rose from the back of the audience to give a speech about a Russo interviewee (one of over a thousand) who had also written about UFOs. He was so insistent that the audience began hissing and yelling for him to sit down. Holland apparently didn’t take kindly to that either. Holland’s war against Russo has been raging ever since. In 2006, Holland laid into a German documentary that Russo co-wrote, wherein Holland made numerous factual errors, such his restatement that Underwood wrote his notes "in 1992 for Hersh's benefit." It seems Holland never misses an opportunity to rip on Russo while avoiding (or neglecting) the obvious charlatans promoting trash in the JFK assassination genre. I found the logic in Holland’s latest Russo smear piece to be profoundly weak, especially in light of the information posted at This is no surprise, given the “evidence” Holland has produced so far to support his other pet project – convincing everyone that he has discovered that Oswald fired a shot earlier than anyone ever suspected before. Holland’s approach to evidence gathering doesn’t bode well for his forthcoming book on the Warren Commission, which we are still waiting for, or for his take on Russo’s work. I don’t profess to know the reasons behind Holland’s obvious Russo vendetta (and I don’t think Gus Russo does either), but you’ve got to wonder why Russo’s work is so personal to Holland that he is willing to go to the lengths he does to “decode” what it all means for us.]

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