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Five takeaways from ‘JFK: What the Doctors Saw’ documentary

The new documentary looks at the assassination of president John F. Kennedy 60 years ago from the perspective of the Parkland doctors

Parkland Hospital Surgery Staff in "JFK: What the Doctors Saw," streaming on Paramount+, 2023.Ronald Jones/Courtesy of Paramount+

“JFK: What the Doctors Saw” debuted on Paramount+ Tuesday, offering viewers a new look at the moments surrounding the death of president John F. Kennedy.

The documentary features interviews (filmed primarily a decade ago) with seven doctors who were in the emergency room with Kennedy when he died at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Dr. Joe D. Goldstrich, Dr. Lawrence Klein, Dr. Ronald Jones, Dr. Donald Seldin, Dr. Robert McClelland, Dr. Kenneth Salyer, and Dr. Peter Loeb are featured in the film and provide their firsthand accounts, which seemingly contradict some of the official details surrounding the assassination, in particular, whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter.

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Here are five takeaways from Paramount’s new documentary.

Doctors believed someone shot from in front of the president

While official records and subsequent investigations into the Kennedy assassination maintain that the president was shot by a lone gunman from behind, the Parkland doctors offered a different assessment. In the documentary, they talk at length about an injury on Kennedy’s neck, which they believed was an entrance wound from a shot that came from in front of him.

Archival footage and medical documentation from 1963 show how the doctors made that assessment while initially treating Kennedy. When they were interviewed 10 years ago, the seven surviving doctors maintained their position about the wound and its implications.

“I don’t think my impressions have changed since the day of the assassination,” Dr. Ronald Jones, Chief Resident at Parkland Hospital in 1963, says in the documentary. “I’ve always thought that this looks like an entrance wound.”

Inexperience may have hindered the autopsy

The documentary investigates questions about the forensic pathology experience of J. Thornton Boswell and James Humes, the doctors who led the examination of Kennedy’s body during his autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

Michael Baden served as chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations’ Forensic Pathology Panel, which investigated the Kennedy assassination in 1976. While Baden disagrees with theories of a second shooter or claims that the body was tampered with, he does believe that the autopsy was poorly run.

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“Bethesda was kind of a secret autopsy,” Baden says in the documentary. “The people doing the autopsy were not trained.”

There was a lack of communication between Parkland and Bethesda doctors

According to the Parkland doctors, the Bethesda team didn’t reach out to them to confirm details of Kennedy’s treatment until after the autopsy was finished.

For example, the Parkland doctors performed a tracheostomy on Kennedy, inserting the tube in the allegedly already existing neck wound. However, the Bethesda doctors were unaware of this, and believed the wound was only from the tracheostomy, and not a gun shot wound.

“Had they called us first, yes, they would’ve know that there was a wound in the neck,” Dr. Jones says in the documentary. “They didn’t have all the information.”

Jackie Kennedy was steadfast during the ordeal

Several of the Parkland doctors describe Jackie Kennedy’s participation in the response, saying she maintained a strong and steadfast demeanor despite bearing witness to her husband’s horrific shooting. She remained stoic, even while being covered in blood and brain matter, according to the doctors.

“She was still very much in command of herself,” says Dr. McClelland, who served as an assistant professor of surgery.

Zapruder footage gained popularity due to late night TV

While the famous recording of the assassination in Dallas’s Dealey Plaza by clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder is well known now, it wasn’t widely viewed by the American public until 1975. The first U.S. network broadcast of the footage occurred during a segment on Geraldo Rivera’s “Good Night America,” where he screened the recording while conspiracy theory author Robert Groden and comedian Dick Gregory served as guests.

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“This is one of the most important films in history,” says Matt Crumpton, creator of the “Solving JFK” podcast, who’s interviewed in the documentary. “Nevertheless, the American people didn’t know about the Zapruder film until Robert Groden and Dick Gregory went on the Geraldo show.”


Matt Juul can be reached at matthew.juul@globe.com.