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3-4-09

[This essay is a joint effort. I wrote it and bear the responsibility for any errors. But the concept came from the group and it was executed by the group. Thanks to Gary Mack for invaluable information and critical editing. Thanks to Bill Miller for creating some stunning visuals. Thanks to Barbara Junkkarinen for criticism and editing when her eyes still hurt from surgery. Thanks to Craig Lamson for his insights. We offer apologies in advance for the length of the piece. We mean it to be the definitive and last treatment of this issue. Josiah Thompson]

MOORMAN - IN - THE - STREET?

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Preface

Try a simple experiment. Crank up Google and make a quick trip to the internet offerings on the Kennedy assassination. It’s like a visit to a carnival midway. Pitchman after pitchman is offering his or her wares. Over here you have somebody using a bad copy of the Zapruder film to show that Agent Greer turned around and shot JFK with a flashy chrome revolver. Over there is someone claiming George Bush was in Dealey Plaza or that Richard Nixon arranged the whole thing. Many film clips attempt to show that this or that photo from Dealey Plaza has been falsified by unknown conspirators. After a few minutes of this, you’ll come away convinced that the only way to keep up-to-date on developments in the case is by subscribing to one of the supermarket tabloids.

It wasn’t always like this. How did this change come about and what will be its likely outcome? I’ll try to answer the first question right off while leaving the second for the end of this essay.

In the years immediately after the assassination, things were different. There was no internet and there was an almost unanimous feeling in the country at large that the Warren Commission got it right. Those of us who questioned the official story were mindful of the larger picture and particularly careful to avoid mistakes. The early books on the assassination were carefully fact-checked and edited.. Mark Lane’s "Rush to Judgment" was worked over by numerous helpers in London, England. Edward Epstein’s book, "Inquest," started out as a master’s thesis at Cornell and hence was subject to scholarly discipline. For the rest of us... private individuals working on the assassination for a variety of reasons.. modesty of claim was the order of the day. We were willing... even eager... to have our claims vetted by other researchers. Those of us who challenged official opinion were meticulous about avoiding mistakes. Any mistake of fact or misinterpretation of evidence would be held against all of us. For this reason, articles or essays were fact-checked and discussed exhaustively before publication. Sylvia Meagher checked chapters of my "Six Seconds in Dallas" and I checked chapters of her "Accessories After the Fact," both before publication. Sylvia ended up doing the index for "Six Seconds."

Things are quite different now.  The popularity of the internet and print-on-demand publishing have brought about a drop-off in research standards.  There are exceptions.  Books published by JFK Lancer, for example, are still fact-checked and copy-edited.  But things took a decided turn for the worse with the publication of  Professor Fetzer’s first book, "Assassination Science" in 1998.  No longer was there a small community wherein opinions and theories could be vetted before publication. With a penchant for the tabloid style, Fetzer gave voice over the years to a number of researchers who competed with each other to produce dramatic (often outlandish) claims.  As book followed book, Zapruder film alteration became the central focus of Fetzer’s promotion.  Rather than doing research himself, Fetzer became the pitchman for this view.  His tabloid style meant that nothing was checked in advance of publication. The basic idea was to publish first and ask questions later.  This led to the collapse of many claims as soon as critical attention was paid to them.   

Such was the fate of the claim that is the subject of this essay.

For some thirty-seven years, we all thought of Mary Moorman as the young woman seen in the Zapruder film snapping her Polaroid photo of JFK with the knoll in the background. Fetzer’s second book, "Murder in Dealey Plaza," made the astounding claim that she had actually taken her photo from the street. In tabloid style, Fetzer’s book proclaimed in headlines:

“MOORMAN POLAROID CONTAINS ABSOLUTE PROOF OF ZAPRUDER FILM TAMPERING.... MARY AND JEAN WERE NOT ON THE GRASS; THEREFORE, THE ZAPRUDER FILM IS FAKED”

Unchecked by anyone before publication, the claim was immediately challenged and shown to be simply another example of Jack White’s careless analyses.

Unique to the Moorman-in-the-street claim, however, is the commitment that White and Fetzer continue to make to it. Other mistakes of photo interpretation by White, if not admitted to be mistakes, are at least left to molder in the dust heap of unremarked and forgotten theories. With respect to Moorman-in-the-street, earlier believers in the claim, David Mantik and John Costella, threw in the towel long ago. John Costella recently lectured Fetzer on Fetzer’s mistakes of interpretation pointing out on 12/17/08 that “it has been established, without any doubt, that the extant Moorman Polaroid could NOT have been taken from the street... It is, in fact, completely consistent with the Zapruder film’s location of her lens.” [NOTE: Emphasis in original; see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jfk-research/message/6147] A week earlier, Costella posted, “Just to bring everyone up to speed: I do NOT believe that the extant Moorman Polaroid places her on the street. In other words, I am on the Thompson et al. side of this argument, not Jim’s .” [NOTE: Emphasis in original; see http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jfk-research/message/5999.]

Yet over the last three months, Fetzer and White have continued to defend it with a steady stream of invective and irrelevant claims. The usual end of these debates is that one side or the other just gets tired of the invective and the issue dies unresolved. For me, however, dissatisfaction with the debate forced a series of questions: What if I ignored Fetzer’s invective and insults and pursued the whole question in a more scholarly manner? What if I treated it simply as a historical claim subject to reasoned argument and demonstrated fact? What if I offered in terms of thoroughness and logical rigor a demonstration of what real research looked like? Might not such a demonstration stand as a judgment over the shrill tone and tabloid style familiar to us? Even better, might not such a thorough job of research lead us into hitherto unexplored territory concerning that Friday so long ago? With the help of others, I answered these questions affirmatively and set to work.

Part I deals only with the Fetzer/White claim that a line-of-sight (LOS) in the Moorman photo proves it was not taken from the position Moorman occupied in the Zapruder, Nix, Muchmore and Bronson films. Part II will take up the Fetzer/White claim that Moorman took her photo from the street. Appendix A will lay out the various comments Moorman has made since 12:30 PM on November 22nd about her position in taking her photo. It will also evaluate the Fetzer/White claim that Moorman stated unequivocally from first to last that she took her photo from the street.

PART I.

1. Optics: what principle is involved?

The whole Fetzer/White claim hangs upon a simple principle of optics: If two objects in your visual field line up exactly, the eye that lines them up is on the same line-of-sight (LOS) as the two objects. A simple experiment shows this.

Look out your back window. See the top of that swing-set about 100 feet distant? Close your left eye and line up the right top of the swing set with the crotch of the tree some 35 feet beyond it? Your right eye, the right top of the swing set and the crotch of the tree beyond form a straight line... that is, a line-of-sight (LOS). That’s why it’s called “a line-of-sight.” Now substitute a camera lens or surveyor’s transit for your right eye. If you take a photo with the camera, the right top of the swing set and the crotch in the tree will exactly line up. The LOS formed by lining up these two objects will have a different height above the ground as the ground curves up and down between your position and the top of the swing set. By dropping a tape to the ground along that line, you can determine the height of the LOS above the ground at any point. Hence, at any point along that line, you can take a photo showing that the two objects remain aligned and then measure with a tape the height of the center of the camera lens above the ground. Note too that by moving around you can line up any number of objects thus identifying with your eye any number of “lines-of-sight” (LOS).

There is nothing in the Fetzer/White claim more complicated than this simple principle.

2. What is the Fetzer/White claim?

The first appearance of the Fetzer/White claim known to me occurs in Fetzer’s book, "Murder in Dealey Plaza." In a special photo section put together by White, Fetzer announces the claim in his usual style, “MOORMAN POLAROID PHOTO CONTAINS ABSOLUTE PROOF OF ZAPRUDER FILM TAMPERING.” White points out that since the Moorman photo was clearly “genuine” he might be able to use it to prove the inauthenticity of the Zapruder film. “I discovered a point within the photo,” writes White, “that aligned two widely disparate points such that their alignment established that unique line-of-sight. At the left is a graphic image of the two points of reference I aligned, which are easily located in the plaza. Two edges of the window openings in the rear of the paragola (sic) (A and B) in the photo exactly coincide with the top and south edge of the pedestal (C and D). As you can see, the angles AB and CD form a large cross (+), which is readily perceived across Elm where Moorman stood to take her picture.” If we look at the enlargement from the Moorman photo that Fetzer and White used to illustrate their claim, White’s verbal description may become clearer.


Photo 1.

White speaks of “two widely disparate points such that their alignment established that unique line-of -sight.” What are those “two widely disparate points?”

Since White also describes the points as being made up of the coincidence of four lines and two angles, we can use this description to identify the points he refers to. Line C is the top of the Zapruder pedestal; line D is the southwest (or left) edge of the Zapruder pedestal; line B is the bottom of the pergola window; line A is the northeast (or right) edge of the pergola window. Since White says that the coincidence of the two angles forms the cross (A, B, C, D) indicated, we can say with confidence that the two points he referred to are the left top corner of the Zapruder pedestal and the right bottom corner of the pergola window beyond. Alternatively, but more awkwardly, one could say that the LOS is formed by the lining up of lines B and C, of lines A and D, and the cross formed by their intersection.

Jack White took David Mantik to Dealey Plaza and showed him what he had found. Mantik later related in Fetzer’s book how “astonished” he had been by White’s discovery:

It was possible to locate Moorman (actually Moorman’s eye) [(sic) It’s not her“eye.” It’s the lens of her camera which is 2.25" below the viewfinder.] very precisely at the moment she took her picture. Although her distance from the arcade remained uncertain, her lateral and vertical position could be determined quite exactly. When I attempted to reproduce this, I was astonished. As I lined up one corner of the pedestal with a chosen point on the background arcade [the bottom right corner of the window], I could immediately see that this technique was exquisitely sensitive to even slight head movements. The smallest movement of my head put it out of alignment.” (MIDP, 344)

White returned to the claim in Fetzer’s next book, The Great Zapruder Film Hoax, but added no significant new information to buttress it. In introducing White’s brief section, Fetzer had this to say about it:

Few incidents in the history of the study of the death of JFK have provoked such strenuous disputation as that over Jack White’s observation that certain structural features of the Dealey Plaza pergola provided a line-of-sight present in the Moorman that should permit a determination of Mary’s location at the time she took her famous photo. These features are the left-hand side and the top of the pedestal from which Abraham Zapruder was allegedly taking his film and the bottom and right-hand side of the window behind them. These features create two points in space that are located approximately 35 feet apart, generating an imaginary line to the lens of her camera about 100 feet away.*

[*NOTE: Fetzer then adds to his introductory remarks the following caveat: “A minor structural indentation at the top of the pedestal has misled some to think that the intersection of these lines is indeterminate, but that is a mistake.” Fetzer is correct that the left edge of the pedestal has a setback of approximately one inch around its top. Since this setback only affects Moorman’s lateral position by a few inches and not the height of her lens above the ground, no one has been “misled” by its presence. John Costella has called this caveat by Fetzer “irrelevant.”]

As Fetzer points out, the importance of White’s observation is that the “two points in space... located 35 feet apart generate an imaginary line to the lens of her camera about 100 feet away.” In MIDP, White states that this “imaginary line” places her camera 44.5" above the ground. This height above the ground for her camera is much lower than it appears in the Zapruder film. White and Fetzer conclude that they have discovered indisputable proof that “the Zapruder film is faked.”

3. The “White LOS” vs. the “Moorman LOS”

Based as it is on a simple principle of optics, if Fetzer and White are correct about the LOS present in the Moorman photo, their conclusion follows necessarily. Their proof, however, depends upon the claim that (what we might call) the “White LOS” really is found in the Moorman photo. The fact that anyone can go to Dealey Plaza and line up any two objects with one’s eye is true but unenlightening. If the lining up of two objects is to establish the position of Moorman’s camera, the same alignment of the two objects has to appear in the Moorman photo. Fetzer and White have claimed unequivocally that the left top corner of the Zapruder pedestal lines up with the bottom right corner of pergola window. If they are correct in this observation, there is a huge discrepancy between the Zapruder film and the Moorman photo.

Are they correct?

Recall that the Moorman photo enlargement placed in MIDP by White and Fetzer had a wide, red cross superimposed on the enlargement. Their point was to illustrate the alignment of what White called “the two widely disparate points such that their alignment established that unique line-of-sight.” The cross, however, covered up precisely what it was meant to illustrate... the alignment of the two points. The copy of the Moorman photo used by Fetzer and White in this illustration is easily recognizable; hence, the “cross” can be removed and we can see what is underneath it. Do the two points align exactly or not?

 

photo

No, they don’t. The top of the pedestal is significantly below the bottom of the pergola window and to the right of the bottom of the pergola window. The left side of the pedestal is to the right (or east) of the side of the pergola window. Or to put it another way, White’s “angle” formed by the lines A-B is above and to the left of his angle formed by the lines C-D. Indisputably, the left front corner of the Zapruder pedestal does not line up with the bottom right corner of the pergola window beyond. There is a significant “gap” between the two. What Fetzer and White have claimed is simply untrue.

So what does this mean?

It means that there are actually two relevant lines-of-sight. There is the “White LOS” formed by the alignment of the two points (or two angles or four lines, depending on how you want to describe it). This LOS is not to be found in the Moorman photo. The actual “Moorman LOS” is quite different.

If one goes to Dealey Plaza with a copy of the Moorman photo one can readily find both the “White LOS” and the “Moorman LOS.” Here’s how to do it: In Dealey Plaza, line up the left top corner of the Zapruder pedestal with the bottom right corner of the pergola window beyond. You have now identified the “White LOS.” Next move your head a few inches to the left (or west) and then lift your head seven or eight inches higher. You will now have identified the real “Moorman LOS”... that is, the actual LOS present in the Moorman photo. Make no mistake, that “seven or eight inches higher” is crucial for it brings the height of Moorman’s camera into coincidence with its position as shown in the Zapruder film. It also brings Moorman’s camera and her own position into coincidence with what we see in the Nix, Muchmore and Bronson films.

4. The Fetzer/White Defense

Fetzer began his most recent defense of this claim on the JFK-research site, a Yahoo group, (NOTE: See <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jfk-research/message/5869>.) He quickly made clear what he has announced in other venues over the years. Despite the overwhelming obviousness of their mistake, Fetzer and White have refused to admit any error. They have insisted now for over a decade that the “White LOS” is in fact the “Moorman LOS” and that this proves the alteration of the Zapruder film. They have claimed that the “drum scan” copy of the Moorman photo has been faked up by Josiah Thompson. They have claimed that all copies of the Moorman photos have been faked up by persons unknown to put Zapruder and Sitzman on the pedestal when they weren’t really there. Repeatedly and characteristically they have claimed that their critics are part of some grand plot to keep the truth about the Kennedy assassination from the American people.

Instead of treating their particular defenses in serial order, it will be more economical of time and effort to treat their defense effort as a whole. First, it is important to lay out a few non-controversial facts.

Examination of the Zapruder film shows that Moorman was standing with the heels of her shoes approximately 24" from the south curb of Elm Street. She is holding the camera up to her face with the viewfinder to her right eye. Her eyes are approximately 5" below the top of her head. The viewfinder is 2.25" above the lens of the camera. Her legs are somewhat spread and her shoulders hunched forward as she takes her photo. In 1963, Moorman was between 5' 0" and 5' 1."

 

305 Cropped for Moorman

Not only did Fetzer and White fail to accurately identify Moorman’s position with respect to the Moorman LOS, they have also failed to get her position correct as it is shown in the Zapruder film. They have repeatedly said that she was standing two feet from the curb. This is the position of the back of her heels. The camera lens, however, is 5" forward of the viewfinder through which she is looking and her shoulders are hunched somewhat forward. Hence, the true position of the lens is within a few inches of the curb, not two feet. The turf slopes slightly upward from the edge of the curb and is sometimes soft and squishy. In addition, the Sixth Floor Museum has a photo showing that the spot where Moorman stood was torn up and replaced with new turf late in 1966. Therefore, measurements made above the turf at Moorman’s position in 2000 or 2002 can NOT be assumed to be precise. Alternatively, measurements taken over the curb can be considered probative.

In 1963, 2000 and 2002, the turf sloped upward from the curb. As stated above, Jack White measured the “White LOS” as being 44.5" above the turf at Moorman’s position. Later, White, Fetzer and Mantik returned to Dealey Plaza with a transit and measured the height of the “White LOS” as 41.5" above the turf. Since, in neither case, did White or Fetzer take photos recording what exact LOS they were measuring, I have no idea whether these figures are correct. Nor do I understand why they should vary by 3". Had White made measurements over the curb and written down the results, we would know more. David Mantik took notes of their “transit” visit to Dealey Plaza and noted that their LOS crossed the curb at a height of 48.25" Since Gary Mack and I recorded the “White LOS” as crossing the curb at a height of 48," Mantik’s and our figures match for the height of the “White LOS” over the curb. Unlike Fetzer and White, Gary Mack and I took photos at the heights we measured over the curb. Although the “White LOS” crossed the curb at a height of 48" the actual “Moorman LOS” crossed the curb at a height of 55.75". Gary Mack and I also replicated the Moorman photo from a position in the turf a foot back from the curb. The center of the camera lens in that location was 53.75" above the turf.

Grass Blow Up

Fetzer and White continue to claim that the “White LOS” is the same as the “Moorman LOS.” In other words, they continue to claim that the two points (or two angles or four lines) line up perfectly. When a single Moorman copy is presented to them, they claim that it has been altered to disprove their claim. The fact that all the extant copies of the Moorman photo show exactly the same thing means that none have been altered. The “White LOS” is not in the Moorman photo. This can be seen in a comparison of various Moorman copies with a White photo that shows the “White LOS.”


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