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Doug Clark: JFK autopsy photo too much for tabloid

Tue., Nov. 19, 2013

I’ve never been much for censorship.

If adults want to get their hair cut or their coffee served to them by some nearly nude chick with self-esteem issues, well, so be it.

But sometimes a line does get crossed. Sometimes enough is enough.

I found my “offended moment” the other night while standing in a grocery store checkout line. What I saw to my left made me gasp.

There, staring back at me from a magazine rack, was the grotesque dead face of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy.

Eyes sightless and wide. Mouth slightly agape as if he’d just expelled his final breath.

My God.

The photograph was taken as the president lay on an autopsy table not many hours after egomaniacal nut-job Lee Harvey Oswald picked him off from a sniper’s nest in the Texas School Book Depository building.

Nov. 22, 1963.

I’ve seen the autopsy photo before, but in serious publications or on TV documentaries examining that dreadful day in Dallas, which turns 50 on Friday.

But seeing it on the cover of the tawdry National Enquirer? That’s about as classless as it gets.

“Kennedy Autopsy Was Faked!” blared the headline at the top of the page. “Bombshell New Evidence.”

Yeah, right.

Being in print journalism I don’t think I’ve ever uttered this line before. But some scum-sucking lowlifes really will do anything to sell papers.

Another thought struck me as I stood and stared: Am I the only shopper to be repelled by this?

This was the same store, mind you, that once pulled or covered up all the Cosmos or Vanity Fairs (time blurs the details) after a few religious-minded customers complained that the scantily clad bimbo on the cover would destroy the family and youth of America.

It’s the nature of grocers to be risk-averse types. If any sort of stink is raised they generally respond with a liberal dose of cautionary overkill.

So maybe I am the only guy in America put off by the tabloid airing of JFK’s corpse. A call to the store manager, who is a good guy, confirmed my suspicions.

“Haven’t heard of anyone complaining about it,” he told me.

That’s the way of the world, I guess. People will storm the castle with flaming torches and pitchforks held high over anything that has to do with sex.

Meanwhile, graphic depictions of death and violence are no big deal.

My age has a lot to do with my sensitivity, of course.

The bloodshed in Dealey Plaza seems as fresh in my mind as it was a half-century ago.

I was sitting in my seventh-grade class at Franklin Elementary School when Don Kolb, the best teacher I ever had, delivered the news.

The entire class went into shock.

Numbness. Sadness.


Randy Cloward, my best pal back then, agreed.

“I wasn’t into politics,” he said when I found his number on the Internet and called him out of the blue. “But for some reason I was really upset by what had happened.”

Randoon, as I called him back them, was as a good a friend as it gets. We were thicker than thieves, plinking cans with our .22s at a nearby gravel pit, inventing weird board games that we played all night during sleepovers at his house, making gunpowder in the chemistry lab we set up in my grandmother’s basement.

Our faces would have been on wanted posters had Homeland Security been around back then.

Both of us were the products of Republican parents who had voted for Richard Nixon over the upstart Democrat Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election.

But any partisan differences evaporated with the echo of rifle shots.

This cool, youthful president connected with my generation. He was hip. He was unbelievably handsome. He was tough enough to face down the Commies during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Hearing he was dead was a knife to the heart.

Cloward said he had to leave the classroom. He found a place to sit alone on the steps by the Franklin Elementary back door. That’s where Kolb found him, he said, and coaxed him back inside with kind reassurance.

“I remember it very well, like it was yesterday,” added Cloward, another lifelong member of the Don Kolb Fan Club.

I remember walking home at lunchtime. I don’t remember ever going back to school. It was a Friday, after all.

I parked my butt on the floor in front of our big steel-encased, black-and-white RCA television set and spent the next two days watching history unfold.

Jackie’s pillbox hat. Oswald’s arrest. LBJ being sworn in. Jack Ruby gunning down Oswald in a garage …

Man, what a time.

And, yeah, I know I’ll hack off plenty of people by pinning President Kennedy’s death on a lone crazy gunman.

A recent poll shows that some 61 percent of the public believe that Oswald didn’t act alone.

That’s OK.

Polls also show that 79 percent of the public thinks the government has kept quiet about UFOs while 57 percent of the public believes in stuff that Stephen King writes about, like the telepathic powers in “Carrie,” or ESP in the “Shining.”

Speaking of King, the Kennedy conspiracy buffs should read one of his newer masterpieces: “11/22/63.”

The novel is about a high school teacher who travels back in time to try and stop the assassination. It’s brilliant. It’s entertaining. And it’s painstakingly researched.

As King states in the afterword …

“After reading a stack of books and articles on the subject almost as tall as I am, I’d put the probability (that Oswald acted alone) at ninety-eight percent, maybe even ninety-nine, Because all of the accounts, including those written by conspiracy theorists tell the same simple American story: here was a dangerous little fame-junkie who found himself in just the right place to get lucky.

“Were the odds of it happening just the way it did long?

“Yes. So are the odds on winning the lottery, but someone wins one every day.”

And …

“It is very, very difficult for a reasonable person to believe otherwise. Occam’s Razor – the simplest explanation is usually the right one.”

Not that any of that will convince the conspiracy-minded. These characters can’t even agree on which conspiracy to believe in.

But one thing we should all be able to agree on is that the autopsy photo of one our most beloved and brilliant leaders deserves better treatment than to be exploited as supermarket grist by a gross and ghoulish rag.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or

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