Thursday, July 5, 2007

Lifton's Ghost


Twenty-seven years ago, Macmillan Publishing Company published what easily qualifies as one of the most famous and absurd Kennedy assassination theories in the form of conspiracy thinker David S. Lifton's Best Evidence. Lifton, a native New Yorker transplanted to Los Angeles, managed to spin a sentence fragment from an FBI report into a plot to murder Kennedy, swipe his body, and alter his corpse to hide evidence that multiple shooters were involved. Even more bizare than Lifton's thesis is the fact that his resulting 747-page tome landed on the New York Times Best Seller List where it remained for several months. It is still in print today.

Vincent Bugliosi devoted thirteen pages to Lifton's theory in his new book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, calling Lifton's theory "so unhinged that it really doesn't deserve one word in any serious treatment of the assassination." However, because the book "was treated seriously by many people who should know better" and because of its New York Times best-seller list status, Bugliosi wrote, "I am forced to devote some time talking about nonsense of the most exquisite nature." Bugliosi proceeds to hammer the rationale behind Lifton's theory. As for Lifton's body-alteration theory, Bugliosi writes: "One could safely say that David Lifton took folly to an unprecedented level. And considering the monumental foolishness of his colleagues in the conspiracy community, that's saying something." Ouch!

On May 24, 2007, Lifton came out swinging, appearing on Black Op Radio, an Internet "radio station" run by Len Osanic, a conspiracy theorist who uses the weekly program to expose alleged government shenanigans, and charged that Vincent Bugliosi's book was actually ghostwritten by a committee of unnamed writers.

"I’m not talking about research done by other people," Lifton said, "I’m talking about whole chapters written by other people and as an author, I know the style of different people – I can see immediately who wrote what..."

Really? Lifton went on to tell listeners that he had the inside scoop on who really wrote Bugliosi's book. One contributor, according to Lifton's unnamed source (a reported plant at W.W. Norton, Bugliosi's publisher), was Fred Haines who was hired by Bugliosi early on to work on the book. This is no secret, of course, since Bugliosi acknowledged Haines' contribution to the work as well as that of this writer in the acknowledgements section of Reclaiming History. But Lifton goes on to claim, without any foundation whatsoever, that after Haines left the project Bugliosi put out "911 calls to different people to help out and to write different sections of the book."

Apparently, Lifton sees "disguise and deception" (geez, where have we heard that before?) in the creation of Bugliosi's book, explaining on Black Op Radio:

" of the things that real irritates me about this book is that it’s not the product of one man. It’s like he functions like a managing editor over a stable – a small stable of ghostwriters who had contracts with him. And part of the contract was to keep the relationship secret, so that they could write – and then he depended upon their contributions to assemble his manuscript...let me assure you, Bugliosi did not act alone. There are other authors. And I hope the New York Times or the New Yorker or – somebody does a really serious article – and lays it all out, because the book cover should read ‘Vincent Bugliosi with – colon – and then the number of the key contributors,’ all of whom wrote different sections of this book...That’s why the book has so much detail in it because it’s a group effort just like the Warren Report..."

So, who were these mystery writers? Lifton names only one - Patricia Lambert, author of False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison's Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film "JFK".

It seems that Lifton knew and worked with Ms. Lambert for twenty-five years - "she was my best friend for quite a period of time," Lifton says. But then, something happened. In 1994, she cut her ties with Lifton, changed her views on the case, and wrote False Witness.

So, what does David Lifton have to say about Ms. Lambert's alleged involvement with Bugliosi's book?

"I’ve read the sections on [Jim] Garrison, this morning, and there’s absolutely no question in my mind that the hundred page section on Garrison was written by Patricia Lambert. Now, whether Bugliosi entered with his blue pencil and changed some paragraphs or did some editing – no question about it – it was written by her...I’m telling you that I know writing styles – it’s like a fingerprint when you do this stuff and I recognize the writing style and I certainly recognize the writing style of somebody I’ve known for twenty-five years and who did editorial work with me and for me..."

Patricia Lambert was shell-shocked when she heard of Lifton's allegation. Earlier this week she released this statement:

"July 2, 2007

"I have received several accounts of remarks David Lifton made about me on the Black Op Radio program of May 24th concerning Vince Bugliosi's book "Reclaiming History."

"For the record: I did not write one single word of Vince Bugliosi's book, not even a footnote. I never saw Vince Bugliosi's manuscript. I never saw any portion of Vince Bugliosi's manuscript. I didn't even get a peek at the galleys. No comma, colon, semi-colon, parenthesis, hyphen, apostrophe or period is my doing, to say nothing of sentences, paragraphs and a whole chapter. Because I have been traveling, I have not even seen the published book and have only sketchy, second hand reports of what it says.

"I have indeed been in touch with Bugliosi; we have talked on the telephone and I provided him with some documents. That is the full extent of my involvement in his book.

"I cannot imagine what prompted Lifton to make such a stunningly false allegation about me. But false it is. I am not a ghostwriter. I have never been a ghostwriter. I have no intention of being a ghostwriter. Since I know unequivocally that Lifton is wrong about the role he assigned to me, I see no reason to believe he is correct about the other unidentified writers on whom he has bestowed the credit for having written Vince Bugliosi's book.

"David Lifton owes me an apology.

"David Lifton owes Vince Bugliosi an apology.

"Patricia Lambert"

Oh well, I guess Lifton's self-proclaimed ability to spot Ms. Lambert's writing-style isn't quite as sharp as he imagined. Do you think he might be better at recognizing the writing-style of authors he hadn't worked with for twenty-five years? I think not.

And as if Lambert's response wasn't enough, here's what Bugliosi's secretary Rosemary Newton had to say yesterday:

"This is in response to David Lifton's outrageous, malicious and contemptible lie regarding Vincent Bugliosi's book, Reclaiming History, The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, where he claims ghost writers wrote this great book (which will be read by generations to come, long after Mr. Lifton and the rest of us are gone, including all the die-hard conspiracy theorists), where I say, unequivocally, that NO section of Mr. Bugliosi's book was ghostwritten. How do I know? Simple. I was the one (as Mr. Bugliosi's secretary for many years in the writing of this book) who transcribed a great number of tapes of his dictation and, much more, and with no exaggeration, thousands of yellow pad sheets of his handwriting as well as his handwritten faxes on every single section of the book. I can vouch for the fact that Vincent Bugliosi is a man of integrity, principle, and I might add, a perfectionist with a capital "P." He is someone who has spent years researching this subject, as evidenced by the over 10,000 citations in his book (perhaps the most heavily sourced non-fiction book of any kind ever), which included not only his countless telephone calls and letters, but personal interviews as well. Indeed, if anyone looks at the 170 pages of citations (source notes) in the CD endnote, you will see that at least 99% of the interviews upon which Mr. Bugliosi's book was, in considerable part, written, were interviews of witnesses he personally conducted. That, Mr. Lifton, if you are reading this, is what an author of Vincent Bugliosi's caliber does.

"What could possibly cause you, Mr. Lifton, to tell such an unmitigated falsehood? Mr. Bugliosi told me he heard you had been working on an Oswald biography for many years and couldn't complete it. Mr. Bugliosi not only completed his biography of Oswald (I typed up every single word of this section of Reclaiming History from Mr.
Bugliosi's dictation and handwriting), but it's an excellent biography, and, I might add, was one of my favorites to transcribe. Mr. Lifton, is the reason behind your blatant falsehood that you find it hard to believe Mr. Bugliosi could do something you couldn't? (Don't feel bad. Hundreds of people before you, including me, have absolutely marveled at Mr. Bugliosi's incredible capacity for productive work and achievement. For example, after the televised docutrial of Oswald in London, Gerry Spence, his legal adversary, said, "No other lawyer in America could have done what Vince did in this case." What makes what Mr. Bugliosi does all the more unbelievable is that he does everything with just a yellow pad and pencil.) Or are you simply furious at Mr. Bugliosi for preempting your work on the Oswald biography? This appears to me to be the real reason for the preposterous story you are now peddling.

"The pure and simple fact is that David Lifton, along with many, many other conspiracy theorists who are mentioned in Reclaiming History, are depicted and debunked as being illogical and not having one iota of common sense dealing with this subject—albeit, some more than others. So be it! Get on with your fantasies and stop criticizing logic. Everyone knows that a conspiracy in anything is more intriguing and captivating than the old, boring, straight facts. But that happens
to be the case in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Again, Mr. Lifton, if you are reading this, sometimes things are just that (very boring, but excruciatingly true). I might add that I took notice of the fact that you did not dwell on the content of Mr. Bugliosi's dealing with specific issues (e.g., autopsy, acoustic, Zapruder film, etc.). Instead, you have made an allegation that not only is totally false, but completely irrelevant to the merits of the book. By the way, Mr. Lifton (if you're still reading this), you called Vincent Bugliosi a "street bully" in his writing style. But I thought you said ghostwriters wrote his book?

"If you're still with me, Mr. Lifton, there can be little question that what you have written is libelous. When I asked Mr. Bugliosi if he intended to sue you, he said, "I've been told by someone who knows him that he's judgment proof. However, if he continues this slander and libel of his, it's possible I may end up suing him anyway, and have him working for me the rest of his life paying off the automatic judgment against him. The same is true of Joan Mellen, someone named Ric Landers, and anyone else who peddles this phony story and whose name comes to my attention.

"One final point, Mr. Lifton. I have figured out a way to shut you up. You can come to my home and I will show you the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of words I typed up from Mr. Bugliosi's handwriting for his book as well as from a great number of tapes of his dictation on the book. If I can't do this, I'll give you $100,000. If I can, you give me $100,000. Is that a deal? If you're afraid to do this, then please shut your mouth and remove your trash from the Internet.

"/s/ Rosemary Newton"

Does anything more really need to be said about Lifton's silly allegation?

So why the beef? Why is Lifton so steamed about Bugliosi's book? As usual, Lifton tells all if you're willing to listen long enough:

"...I don’t know who wrote my chapter, you know? It’s going to become an interesting literary guessing game. Who wrote each chapter? Which ones did Bugliosi really write himself? Where did he get a draft from someone else that he then edited? I frankly don’t know. The one about me, I’m still not decided about – who wrote it. I’m not going to tell you I have the answer – I have my own little list of suspects, and I’m sure Bugliosi contributed, after all, it is his book, and he did work hard on his book. But, I’m just telling you, each chapter poses that kind of mystery. You can’t be a jack of all trades even though you try to be. And what’s interesting is that the publisher’s representing him as having written the whole thing himself! Which is absurd. So, to me, once you know that a man is willing to – ah – deceive the public about the nature of the process by which he wrote this book, that’s a very serious matter of credibility. Why should we believe what he says in the book?..."

Did I read that right? Lifton is questioning Bugliosi's credibility? Isn't Lifton the guy that claimed at one time that snipers were firing from inside artificial trees that had been installed and removed from the grassy knoll by crane?

One doesn't have to go any further than Roger Feinman's 1993 book Between the Signal and the Noise, a 104-page exposé of Lifton and his alleged dishonesty in Best Evidence, to get a peek at what Lifton has accepted as credible over the years. After all the lunacy, does anyone really consider David Lifton a beacon of rationality?

Lifton's problem is not Bugliosi's book or the secret gaggle of authors who supposedly wrote the master's work for him. David Lifton's problem is himself. As long as he continues to haunt the fringes of rational thought we can expect to be entertained with more ridiculous and unfounded accusations.END


Unknown said...

There are two assertions I'd question in your lengthy statement, the first being that Lifton's Best Evidence theory was spun wholly from the cloth of a "sentence fragment from an FBI report," and the second, made by Rosemary Newton, who said, "unequivocally, that NO section of Mr. Bugliosi's book was ghostwritten."

In the case of the first, Lifton may have, according to his own book, lit on the "surgery, namely to the head" comment, but his further analysis in reaching that conclusion was based on the descriptions given before the Warren Commission regarding the President's wounds, specifically with respect to the brain and its condition upon examination.

I, too, had once reduced Lifton's argument down to the ridiculous. It was only upon reading Best Evidence again during the past year that I gave any real notice to the balance of his theoretical basis. As a non-medical person, most of the description means little to me, but if Lifton's citation of doctors' categorizing it as seeming as if someone had taken a hatchet to the President's head holds any credence, then there is certainly more than "a sentence fragment from an FBI report" to hang a hat on that peg with.

Have you - or Vince - consulted with a medical pathologist to debunk that aspect of Lifton's analysis? If so, what are the results, and who were the pathologists?

As to the ghostwriting, you must be aware that Lifton has levelled the charge that you, yourself, were one of Vince's intended ghostwriters, even while the project was purportedly not completed while you remained under contract with him. (Reportedly, the contract's financial terms were honored, at least in part.)

Do you then categorically deny that any such relationship existed between yourself and Vince Bugliosi? Being that I'm well acquainted with at least one of Vince's pre-production "fact-checkers" (for want of a better description), that should be a relatively easy fact to ascertain one way or another.

None of this is, of course, intended to subscribe to either of what Lifton has had to say - either in Best Evidence or in his online essays about ghostwriting - but rather to point out that there at least seems to be potentially more to the story than you've published here. Unlike Occam's Razor, the "simplest" depiction of someone's position is not always the most likely one, especially when "keeping it simple" tends to omit several of the facts.

Dale K. Myers said...


As you yourself acknowledge, Mr. Lifton's entire thesis sprung from the Sibert and O'Neill statement that " was apparent that there had been surgery of the head area..."; as Lifton described in the Prologue of his book Best Evidence.

Your suggestion that Commander James Humes' Warren Commission testimony regarding the condition of the president's brain (or anything else in Lifton's book for that matter) means that "...there is certainly more than 'a sentence fragment from an FBI report' to hang a hat on that peg with..." doesn't change what I wrote one iota.

You apparently find Mr. Lifton's thesis and writings credible. I don't.

As to Mr. Lifton's 'ghostwriting' allegations regarding Vincent Bugliosi's book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, charges and assertions without support don't mean much to me.

I note that in the year since Mr. Bugliosi's secretary Rosemary Newton challenged Lifton to "...come to my home and I will show you the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of words I typed up from Mr. Bugliosi's handwriting for his book as well as from a great number of tapes of his dictation on the book. If I can't do this, I'll give you $100,000. If I can, you give me $100,000. Is that a deal? If you're afraid to do this, then please shut your mouth and remove your trash from the Internet..." that Mr. Lifton failed to grab what would apparently be (according to Lifton's 'ghostwriting' claims) an easy $100 grand, and instead continues to trash-talk Mr. Bugliosi's book.

Seems to me there would be an easy way to settle all of this - Why doesn't Lifton simply post the contracts for all of Mr. Bugliosi's 'ghostwriters' which he claims to be privy to?

I know the idea of some kind of evidentiary support for an allegation is a novel idea to most conspiracy theorists, but come on! Even you recognize that extraordinary charges require extraordinary proof, yes?

As to your question: "Do you then categorically deny that any such relationship existed between yourself and Vince Bugliosi?", perhaps you missed Mr. Bugliosi's acknowledgements on page 1515 of Reclaiming History?


Dear Mr.MYERS.
Japanese assasination resercher and writer.
In Japan exponent JFK assasination
resercher are only two,one is me,another one is Mr.Lifton's book
"BEST EVIDENCE" Japanese version translator and Prof Mr. HIROSHI TSUCHIDA.

I writing my new book about a
conspiracy theory in modern USA
Temporary title is "Truth of Bizarre Conspiracy Theory in USA".
Recent few days I read Mr.Lifton's theory debunking books.
"Conspiracy of One","OSWALD GAME",
"HIGH TREASON 2", Mr.Roger Feinman's long web article...

In past,from my high-school days,
I'm a conspiracy believer.
But my mind drastic chaged.
I think perhaps OSWALD acted alone.(Only perhaps).
Perhaps OSWALD hit president.

It's sad,Mr.TSUCHIDA 100% belived
Mr.Lifton's theory.
He write his own book "Message from Heaven:JFK Assasination Covert Operation" in 2003.
He insist a secret operation theory.

Mr.Myers,what a "BEST EVIDENCE"'s most absurd error?
I read "BEST EVIDENCE" 24 years before,I impress his detail account,but few days before I read again his book.
It's absurd,especially president
body transport by Air Force One Theory.
This is a childish thought!

Please inform me a most recent
debunking book about a "BEST EVIDENCE".

Best Regards.

Dale K. Myers said...

Dear Hideji,

I thought Bugliosi's "Reclaiming History" did a good job of shining a light on Lifton's theater of the absurd - not all of the evidence against having been presented in the pages directly dealing with "Best Evidence."

You'll find much to dispute Lifton's charge sprinkled throughout "Reclaiming" in sections dealing with the medical evidence, etc.

Better yet, focus on the things that did happened, as opposed to nonsensical might-have-happens like Lifton's theory.