A cottage industry turns 50
Lots of us bought in.
We purchased the books. We watched the "documentaries". We went to see the movies that claimed to tell the truth.
As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination this fall, something else is turning a half-century old, too: the conspiracy industry.
And, the Associated Press did a piece this month, saying business is still really, really good and probably about to get better as November 22, 2013 draws nigh.
There were the early books done by the first authors, guys like Mark Lane and Josiah Thompson who are still out there disputing the Warren Commission version of events. Some got rich. Others went broke. None ever seems to switch sides, to buy into the explanation that it was one man alone who killed Kennedy. That's how the conspiracy industry perpetuates, by claiming there's always one more witness or another file of secret documents that will blow the lid off the case. No matter how much time passes or how much new paper goes public, there's always another layer to the onion.
And there seems to be no end to the ridiculous claims. One on the Internet over the past year or so claimed, using the Zapruder film, that it was the driver of Kennedy's limousine who turned around to fatally shoot the President as he sat behind the wheel. Another one getting traction of late--Vice President Lyndon Johnson did it, or at least pulled the levers to make it happen. It wouldn't surprise LBJ to be fingered in his predecessor's murder--he predicted that it would happen shortly after the assassination.
It remains a free country, and people are entitled to their opinions, as well as the opportunity to turn a buck. Even the crime scene itself is fair game to a legion of theorists peddling books, magazines and all manner of explanations meant to keep an alternate reality alive--for a price.
What's so galling about it is that many of these claims absolve Lee Harvey Oswald, painting him as some sort of unfortunate, blame-free patsy. Even a modest dip into the facts of the case shows he's guilty as sin with no explanation for his whereabouts or actions that awful day. Too many people saw too many things that incriminate Oswald, who admitted to his wife months before his taste for blood when he tried but failed to kill a right-wing former military general who lived in Dallas, using the very same rifle he'd use months later to do in JFK.
I went through a phase in college and in my early adult life when I, too, rejected the Warren Commission. I, too, bought any number of those books and VHS tapes blaming Cubans, the Mafia, the CiA--anyone but Oswald.. Time passed, though, and a reality came clear: in a world where it's impossible to keep a secret, how could something as big as the JFK "conspiracy" remain under the radar? Wouldn't the mere scope of such a coverup lead to someone who'd spill the beans, blow the lid, scream from the highest mountaintop or utter the most infamous of death-bed confessions?
In one of the final documentaries before his death, ABC's Peter Jennings delved into the Kennedy murder and concluded, using new computer-generated evidence and fresh interviews, that Oswald acted alone. He also offered up an explanation: great crimes need greater criminals.
50 years later, you can still find your version of the "facts", fresh off the press, on demand via cable or in a theater near you. All for a price.
A half century later, the conspiracy industry grinds on.