By Tim Molloy
Reelz is going back to the John F. Kennedy well, this time with an upcoming documentary that claims a Secret Service agent accidentally killed the president after Lee Harvey Oswald wounded him.
The theory isn’t new. Author Bonar Menninger introduced it in the 1992 book “Mortal Error: The Shot That Killed JFK.” Reelz CEO Stan E. Hubbard said the network was taking on the film because other networks were afraid of offending the Kennedy family, just as it did when it aired the 2011 miniseries “The Kennedys” after History passed on it.
The move comes as the network, available to about 70 million viewers, tries to find a niche after the Kennedy documentary put it on the map. The network was initially devoted to celebrating films, but has branched out to reality fare like “Beverly Hills Pawn” and “Hollywood Hillbillies,” as well as the new documentary “JFK: The Smoking Gun.”
“The mission is evolving,” Hubbard said Sunday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “Because we stepped into the fray of what ‘The Kennedys’ miniseries was a few years ago, everything that’s Kennedy comes to us. Lots of networks are not able to touch Kennedy projects. This is probably not one of those because I don’t think it offends the family. It has nothing to do with the family. It has to do with the investigation of a crime. But if there’s anything the Kennedy family is offended by, no other network will touch those.”
The new film is based on Colin McLaren’s book “JFK: The Smoking Gun,” which follows up on Menninger’s book.
What’s changed since Menninger’s book was published? For one thing, George Hickey, the Secret Service agent he accuses of shooting Kennedy, has died. That means he can’t sue. Hickey sued St. Martin’s Press after “Mortal Error” was released, and the publisher and Hickey settled for what Menninger called “a nominal settlement payment.”
On Saturday, Menninger and McLaren shared a stage and walked reporters through their theory. They say the trajectory of the final bullet fired at Kennedy suggests it came from Hickey, who was in the car behind Kennedy’s. They also say Hickey’s bullets were 5.6 millimeters, while Oswald’s were 6.5 millimeters. The Kennedy headshot was 6 millimeters — too small, they say, for Oswald’s bullets.
The authors argue that Hickey fired just once, but managed, in a stroke of incredibly bad luck, to hit the president he was sworn to protect. The authors say Secret Service agents had gone out drinking and carousing the night before.
They also contend that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy learned the truth about his brother’s death, but buried it to protect the Secret Service.