Shedding new light on John F. Kennedy’s legacy and assassination: An interview with Larry Sabato on his “The Kennedy Half Century” book
University of Virginia political scientist Professor Larry Sabato has a new book being released today that will become an instant classic that’ll be read, discussed and studied for years. Among other things, “The Kennedy Half Century” uses new scientific methods to probe one of the most famous assassinations in American history. Scientific tests conducted for Sabato’s research undercut a key part of evidence that led the the House assassinations committee to conclude that JFK was likely the victim of a conspiracy. Here’s the intro and part of the interview I did with him for The Week:
November 22 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and a host of new books about the 35th president have been slated for publication to mark the event. But the book that will have the biggest impact will be the University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato’s recently released The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Enduring Legacy of John F. Kennedy.
The book explores JFK’s administration, analyzes assassination conspiracy theories using new scientific evidence, and details Kennedy’s influence over five decades on public policy and politics.
In his book, Sabato deploys the same thoroughness, balance, and incisiveness that have made him one of the country’s top political analysts and most accurate election forecasters. His free Crystal Ball political newsletter, put out by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, is required reading for political junkies. The book’s release will be followed on Oct. 21 by a free online course on “The Kennedy Half Century” taught by Sabato, as well as a PBS documentary coming later this fall.
In an interview with The Week, Sabato details the book’s findings on the assassination, JFK’s legacy, and more.
The Week: Your book is called The Kennedy Half Century. How has Kennedy’s legacy played out over the last 50 years? And do you see the half century expanding into a Kennedy century?
Larry Sabato: I thought it important to write a more comprehensive book that covers his life, not just his death — and the impact from that life, something we call legacy. While I’m pleased that we have been able to present some important new evidence about the assassination, I’m much prouder of the final third of the book. It traces JFK’s legacy through all nine of his White House successors. I looked at how LBJ through Obama have used President Kennedy’s words and deeds to further their own presidential agendas.
The results are fascinating. The use of a predecessor’s legacy turns out to be another device in the White House tool kit. I speculate that after we Baby Boomers shuffle off this mortal coil, Kennedy will have fewer advocates and receptive members of the public. Nonetheless, JFK’s great advantage is that he translates well to any era. My students are as mesmerized watching him speak as we were back in the 1960s.
Several other, less meticulously researched books that are coming out have flatly accused the CIA and Mafia of killing Kennedy. One book even points the finger at President Lyndon Johnson. These books mostly recycle old interviews and older data and the authors’ positions are predictable once you see their names. How does your book differ in the methodology you used to chronicle and analyze the assassination?
The Politico offers a preview of what Sabato will release at the press conference:
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato commissioned a scientific analysis of the Dallas Police Department’s Dictabelt recording of scanner traffic from Nov. 22, 1963, as part of his research for “The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy.”
Investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassinations relied heavily on the tape to say there was a high probability that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the lone gunman. The microphone on a motorcycle cop’s radio was stuck, so it was believed to capture a full recording from the motorcade. They detected four gunshots on the tape, and two academics told the committee that they believed one came from the grassy knoll — not the Texas School Book Depository.
Dealey Plaza was even closed on a Sunday in August 1978 so sharpshooters could fire into sandbags, and the noises were recorded. Acoustics experts crosschecked those recordings against the 1963 tape…..
“The long-hoped-for Rosetta Stone of the Kennedy assassination is nothing of the sort,” he writes. “And the much-publicized conclusion of proven conspiracy … was deeply flawed and demonstrably wrong.”
It turns out that the motorcycle cop whose radio was transmitting was not where the investigators believed him to be when they did their tests. He was actually more than two miles away in a place where his radio could not have picked up the sound of gunshots.
The firm Sonalysts concluded that some of the sound impressions on the recordings that were interpreted as gunfire a generation ago are nearly identical to other sound impressions earlier on the tape that are definitively not gun shots.
“In fact, there are no less than twelve similar impulses in a period spanning just over a three-minute segment of the open microphone audio,” Sabato writes, guessing that they are probably “of a mechanical origin associated with the motorcycle.”
The Politico notes that the House committee’s findings have been quested by others over the years as well.
Sabato ridicules the House committee’s methodology and says it relied too much on estimates. The frequent political commentator, who has written two dozen books, also strongly criticizes the Central Intelligence Agency for continuing to hold back documents about the assassination. Many potentially important government documents are not scheduled to be released until 2017.
“No one has offered a convincing explanation for the CIA’s special treatment of Oswald’s paperwork in the weeks leading up to the assassination,” wrote Sabato. “It is beyond question that the CIA lied to the Warren Commission in 1964 and then again to the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s.”
Go to the link to read the article in full.
Here’s Sabato on CBS This Morning. He discusses his book and some of his findings, including his contention that given security at that time and the way JFK was hated by certain parts of the electorate, it was unlikely he would have lived through his term:
FOOTNOTE: I have read “The Kennedy Half Century” and will be reviewing it shortly on TMV. It is HIGHLY recommended to anyone interested in JFK, his term in office, his impact on future Presidents — and especially for those who want to read a scholarly, thorough and detailed analysis of the various conspiracy theories on the JFK assassination. He spent five years writing this book. It is a can’t put down read due to Sabato’s excellent writing style, which is lively and uses no wasted words.It’s available starting today: