Spook Shrink Flubs Script

In Forrestal, Foster Cover-ups

Readers will notice that in the following letter to George Washington professor, Jerrold M. Post, M.D., I adopt a somewhat different tone than I have in previous letters to members of the academic community with respect to the death of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal.  In those instances, I held out at least the faint hope that I was communicating with honest men who might actually overcome the strong herd instinct of the species and embrace the truth once it had been pointed out to them.  One need not linger long over Professor Post's pedigree to see that such assumptions have no place in his case.  One might as well write a hopeful letter on this matter to a representative of the American news media or to a Congressman.  I have already wasted too much time waiting for a response before publishing the letter.  I sent it on March 8 and it is now March 25, but, realistically speaking, there was never any chance that any response would be forthcoming.  

So here, without further delay, is the email I sent to Dr. Jerrold Post, Professor of Psychiatry, Political Psychology and International Affairs and Director of the Political Psychology Program at The George Washington University, who also founded and directed the Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Dear Professor Post,

I realize that truth is not exactly a CIA long suit, but you really ought to be a bit more careful in your writing. It would help your credibility if you would at least make your "facts" consistent with the popular fiction produced by others writing for a similarly deceptive purpose.  I refer in particular to the conclusion of your section on the death of James Forrestal on page 64 of Leaders and their Followers in a Dangerous World:

"Before he leaped to his death, Forrestal copied in a notebook the melancholic chorus from Sophocles' play Ajax:

Thy son in a foreign clime
Worn by the waste of time
Comfortless, nameless, hopeless
Save in the dark prospect of the yawning grave.

Oh, when the pride of Grecia's noble race
Wanders, as now in darkness and disgrace,
Better to die and sleep
The never waking sleep than linger on
And dare to live when the soul's life is gone.

"A psychiatrically trained medical corpsman would have recognized this as a literary suicide note, but the corpsman assigned to Forrestal paid no attention to the poignant despair conveyed by this selection."

I dare say that no psychiatric training at all is necessary to recognize the fairly obvious suggestions of suicide in the passage, and the press, from day one, has certainly energetically sold it as a "literary suicide note," but belaboring the obvious is not your biggest offense here.  Dramatic though those last three lines may be, they were never transcribed by Forrestal, even according to the approved script.  Although one Washington Post reporter on the day after the death wrote that those lines stood out "in a firm and legible hand" in the transcription, a longer article in the same newspaper reproduced the whole poem, with the part he was said to have transcribed in italics.  The italics stop in the middle of the word "nightingale," many lines before those last three lines are reached.  That story is the one that has been repeated by authors of books on Forrestal, from Walter Millis, to Arnold Rogow, to Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, and it is the one to which a proper professional in your trade should conform.

Furthermore, Hospital Apprentice Robert Wayne Harrison, Forrestal's guard that night, was hardly remiss in not recognizing the ominous nature of the words.  According to biographer Rogow, Harrison (whom Rogow does not name) last looked in on Forrestal at 1:45 am and saw him transcribing something from a book.  By the time anyone got a look at what had been written, Forrestal had gone out the window.  The transcription was reportedly found later (not in a notebook as you have it, but on a loose sheet of paper from a hospital notepad).  Interestingly, no contemporary newspaper accounts said that Harrison witnessed Forrestal copying from the book.  They only reported that the transcription and book had been found, but never by whom.  Some accounts say the book was found open on the radiator near the bed, others that it was found open on the table next to the bed.

When I wrote about the matter somewhat more carefully and less credulously than you, two years before your book was published, I speculated that Rogow had probably made up the story that Forrestal was witnessed transcribing the poem. He had cited no source for his claim, and he was alone in making it.  It turns out that I was right.

In 2004, when you were busy sloppily parroting the fable about a depressed man copying a morbid poem and then plunging out a high window, I was submitting Freedom of Information Act requests for the long suppressed official investigation of Forrestal's death.  On my third attempt, I got it.

In his testimony to the review board convened by the head of the National Navy Medical Center, Admiral Morton Willcutts, Apprentice Harrison said he last looked in on Forrestal at 1:45 am, exactly the time that Rogow had Harrison witnessing Forrestal copying the poem.  He testified that the room was dark and Forrestal was apparently sleeping.  He related further that the room was, in fact, dark the whole time that he was on duty, starting at midnight, and he did not see Forrestal do any reading.

It gets worse, much worse, for your nice, neat suicide-from-depression thesis.  The book of poems that the newspapers described so precisely was never entered into evidence, nor was anyone produced who claimed to have found either it or the transcription.  A transcription of the first few lines of the Sophocles poem was among the exhibits, and Captain George Raines, the lone doctor who claimed that Forrestal made suicidal statements, volunteered that the handwriting looked like Forrestal's.  That one very brief mention, virtually in passing, is the only appearance that the "literary suicide note" makes in the entire report.  Nothing, whatsoever, is said about its text.

It's little wonder that the review board steered so far clear of it.  Have a look at the note along with known Forrestal handwriting samples.  What do you think?  It's not even close to Forrestal's handwriting, is it?  And not that it matters much compared to the patent fraudulence of the note, but the transcription also cuts off several lines short of the line with the "nightingale" in it, which was supposed to be the stopping place.

Wrong on Foster, Too

Backing up to page 63, I see that you also colored outside the accepted lines in your account of the aftermath of the death of Deputy White House Counsel, Vincent Foster.  In your over-eagerness to sell the ever-popular suicide-from-depression story in this case, too, you write, "When his body was found, he had with him an unfilled prescription for an antidepressant from his doctor in Little Rock and the names of three Washington area physicians, whom he never consulted."

The official story, as contained in the report by Kenneth Starr and reported in the newspapers, is that the prescription was conveyed by telephone to the Morgan Pharmacy in Georgetown the night before Foster's death and that Foster had taken the medicine.  There was no written prescription for Foster to have had on his person when his body was found, and, certainly, no one has been reported to have found such a prescription.  Furthermore, the doctor said that at the small level of dosage prescribed, the medication was only for the treatment of insomnia, not depression.

The likelihood is high that none of these stories about medicine prescribed from Arkansas is true.  No telephone records of the call from Foster to the doctor or from the doctor to the pharmacy, nor the prescription, nor the pills themselves were ever entered into evidence.  In the toxicology report accompanying the autopsy, it was reported that there were no drugs in Foster's system, and antidepressants were among the drugs being searched for.  In the early days after the death when the official word was that no one had any idea why Foster might have killed himself, the doctor in Little Rock held his tongue, as did everyone close to Foster.  On July 24, four days after the death, White House spokesperson Dee Dee Myers is quoted as saying that, "His family says with certainty that he'd never been treated [for depression]."  Nothing was said about any prescription for it.

There are problems with that list of Washington-area doctors, as well.  It first appeared on the official record in an article on page A8 of The Washington Post of July 28 with these lines, "White House officials searching the office of Vincent Foster, Jr. last week found a note indicating the 48 year-old deputy White House counsel may have considered psychiatric help shortly before he died July 20 in what investigators have concluded was a suicide, federal officials said yesterday."

The note, as it turned out, was that list of physicians, who, in an article two days later, The Post said were two in number, and it named them.  In that article, the discovery site was said to be Foster's car at the park where the body was found, although the Park Police, too, had held their collective tongues when the word had been that no one had any idea why Foster might have killed himself.  The “three psychiatrists” number that you report is consistent with the Park Police report released almost a year later.  The names of the doctors in that report are redacted.  They later appear unredacted in released Senate documents.  The first name, that of the doctor not previously identified by The Post, is written in block letters; the latter two in cursive style.  Strange!

Scruples aside, I can almost sympathize with you and your journalistic cohorts sometimes.  It's not easy to sell a story that keeps changing.  I gather, though, noting the nine members of your profession who weighed in back in 1998 on behalf of admitted would-be double murderer, Ruthann Aron, that this is the sort of thing that you are paid to do as an expert witness from time to time. With that experience, you should have done a slicker job than you have done in your recent volume.

Finally, if I might dare to poach on your dubious turf a bit, I must take issue with your postmortem personality profiles.  I know that you are doing only brief, thumbnail sketches, but I find it most unfortunate that you should seize upon the word "ambitious" to sum up both Foster and Forrestal.  It conjures up in the mind the power-hungry careerist type, who, like Richard Rich in A Man for All Seasons, would jettison everything that is good and noble for his own personal advancement.  From everyone who knew Forrestal, in particular, it is hard to imagine anyone who was more completely opposite from that kind of person.  Hoopes and Brinkley chose well when they titled their biography of Forrestal, Driven Patriot.

To cite just two of many possible examples, a personally ambitious person would hardly have risked being sacked for insubordination for the efforts he made to bring about Japanese surrender on terms different from those desired by the White House, as Forrestal did as Secretary of the Navy in 1944, and he would not have brushed off his friend Bernard Baruch's warning that he had become too closely identified with opposition to the creation of the state of Israel for his own good, as he did as Secretary of Defense in 1948.  I think that even the historical psychoanalyst, Rogow, would have found your suggestion novel in the extreme that Forrestal became "depressed" because he had seen his "political future destroyed."

Foster, for his part, was a man of broad interests and great accomplishment in the legal field.  He was known for the style and clarity of his legal briefs, so different from the text of the peevish, sophomoric note, torn into 27 pieces (but without residual fingerprints) said to have been found in a briefcase that had previously been emptied in the presence of a number of people.  He shunned the limelight and was trying to quit his job and go back to his practice in Little Rock.  To me, that doesn't sound like much of a Richard Rich type, either.  Rather, the personality type seems to fit much better the husband and wife couple for whom he worked.

I'm not much into pop psychology myself, but your manner of describing these two men looks to me like a classic case of projection.

David Martin

David Martin

March 25, 2008


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