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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

LBJ & The Invisible Gorilla of Succession

Last week’s excerpt in The New Yorker of Robert Caro’s account through the prism of  LBJ's biography of the Kennedy assassination and its immediate aftermath (The Transition) offered one riveting insight after another. My favorite was an Invisible Gorilla moment of inattentional blindness when at Dallas’s Parkland Memorial Hospital, Johnson and his retinue, having just learned that Kennedy had expired and fearing the prospect of a conspiracy, elected to leave the building before the press discovered Kennedy's fate.
Caro writes in The New Yorker:
As the new President of the United States headed out of the hospital, Robert Pierpont of CBS News caught a glimpse of him but did not follow. No other reporter followed him, or apparently knew he was even leaving. "We weren't thinking about succession,"  Newsweek's Charles Roberts explained later.  .  . Nobody attempted to follow him although he was then President of the United States."
[With Kennedy’s death, Johnson immediately became the country’s 36th president. The subsequent oath was a ceremonial formality.]

Only one member of the press, the official White House photographer, Captain  Cecil Stoughton, had the independence of mind  to follow the new president’s decisive exit to his limo and the airport. It was Stoughton who later snapped the iconographic photo of LBJ--framed by Lady Bird and Jacqueline Kennedy--taking the oath of office on Air Force One.

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simon's Invisible Gorilla experiment asked subjects viewing a video of basketball players to count passes on a gym floor. When a man in a gorilla suit appeared in the frame, a significant number of the observers (typically 50%) failed to notice. The experiment revealed the diminished cognitive/perceptual flexibility that accompanies hyperattentiveness in a demanding cognitive task--a task that was also reinforced by the subjects'  emotional commitment to completing the exercise itself.

The emotional valence at Parkland Hospital was, of course, through the roof—fueled by an uncertain, unfolding, epic tragedy-in-the-making. Little surprise, then, that the press was hyperfocused both emotionally and cognitively on JFK. Since becoming vice president, Johnson had morphed from his leonine days in  the Senate into a nexus of self-doubt. His swagger had become a shrug; he feared expulsion from a second-term ticket. Why focus on a decidedly second fiddle when you might miss the outcome to the story of the decade? But with the news of his own assumption, Johnson was reborn.  His posture straightened,  his facial expression waxed determination and fierce concentration. And he became the  cool, decisive leader that his aides had known in the Senate.
The New Yorker article is excerpted from The Passage of Power, the 4th volume--due out in May--of Caro's magisterial LBJ biography. Without question, Caro is Johnson's Boswell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you want to get quickly “up to speed” on the JFK assassination, here is what to read:

1) LBJ: Mastermind of JFK’s Assassination by Phillip Nelson
2) JFK and the Unspeakable:Why He Died and Why it Matters by James Douglass
3) Brothers: the Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot
4) The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh
5) Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty by Russ Baker
6) Power Beyond Reason: The Mental Collapse of Lyndon Johnson by Jablow Hershman
7) Google the essay “LBJ-CIA Assassination of JFK” by Robert Morrow
8) Google “National Security State and the Assassination of JFK by Andrew Gavin Marshall.”
9) Google “Chip Tatum Pegasus.” Intimidation of Ross Perot 1992
10) Google “Vincent Salandria False Mystery Speech.” Read everything Vincent Salandria ever wrote.
11) Google "Unanswered Questions as Obama Annoints HW Bush" by Russ Baker
12) Google "Did the Bushes Help to Kill JFK" by Wim Dankbaar
13) Google "The Holy Grail of the JFK story" by Jefferson Morley
14) Google "The CIA and the Media" by Carl Bernstein
15) Google "CIA Instruction to Media Assets 4/1/67"
16) Google "Limit CIA Role to Intelligence" Harry Truman on 12/22/63
17) Google "Dwight Eisenhower Farewell Address" on 1/17/61
18) Google "Jerry Policoff NY Times." Read everything Jerry Policoff ever wrote about the CIA media cover up of the JFK assassination.