In the Sunday, November 16, 2003 issue of the Austin American-Statesman, there is a special section (consisting of two full pages) addressing the John F. Kennedy assassination. It is no better and no worse than most such retrospectives (and another is planned on network television, to coincide with the 40th anniversary), but it provides a good example of the kind of coverage the assassination typically receives.
The original link: http://www.statesman.com/insight/content/auto/epaper/editions/sunday/insight_f34bd8f2b5c8411c0083.html
On the first page of the section, the Statesman places a graphic showing JFK’s head surrounded by other pictures representing various assassination "theories." Among the theories mentioned are: (1) UFO cover-up; (2) Joe DiMaggio arranged it; (3)LBJ did it; (4) Kennedy ordered it himself; and (5) Oswald was aiming at Connally, or Jackie, and missed. As so often happens, the editor decides to focus on several absurd theories rather than fairly examine the facts of the case. This has the effect of marginalizing those who maintain that the case is far from being closed. According to the Statesman, we should accept a priori that a lone gunman did it, or else we are kooks.
The main story, written by Patrick Beach, is titled "A conspiracy among us." It illustrates the argument that since humans are pattern-seeking animals, some humans make mistakes attempting to find patterns where they don’t exist. As a thesis goes, there’s nothing wrong with it. It is certainly possible that, given so much interest in one historical event, people are simply reading too much – or too little, as the case may be – into the situation. If this is the case, then there should be some instances in which some specific fact has been given an incorrect interpretation due to this ‘pattern-seeking.’ One expects, at the beginning of Mr. Beach’s article, that some of these examples will be explored during the course of the article.
Alas, none are found. He quotes Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine and author of several books, regarding the "pattern-seeking" mentioned above. I admire Shermer’s work, having read three of his books, but the quotes given fail to address any of the physical evidence in the JFK case. He does give one theory of his own, however: "But, in fact, it makes more sense that a lone assassin could do it. It’s easier to hide in the nooks and crannies if you’re a nobody."
I want to look at Shermer’s statement for a moment. I may disagree with the premise that a Travis Bickle-type nutcase will find it easier to get to the President than a person who has monetary support from a federal agency or rogue nation, but let’s leave that aside for a moment. The important part of his quote is his emphasis on a nobody. Lee Harvey Oswald was hardly a nobody, and this is a matter of historical record. Oswald was a Marine who defected to the USSR, later returned to the States without any trouble from the federal government, was an FBI employee and a likely CIA asset, and then became involved in a political movement to free Cuba. Is this a "nobody?" And that is only the uncontroversial portion of his resumè. The fact that Shermer can make this argument reveals that not only is he unfamiliar with the assassination literature, he doesn't even know the basics.
Mr. Beach’s article continues along this vein, arguing that "a grandiose solution" is required to solve JFK’s murder, because people need life to remain coherent; a president murdered by a lone nutball just doesn’t make sense. After employing this argument to no great effect, the article discusses fictional books by Don DeLillo and James Ellroy. The author's point continues to be that the "lunatic fringe" are the only ones interested in JFK.
Mr. Beach writes: "There’s also an allure to conspiracy that’s at once comforting, empowering and thrilling. No wonder some people, in an impotent rage, fall for it like swooning schoolgirls: It’s one-stop shopping for those who ever felt their life’s progress impeded by an unseen hand." Besides the absurd prose, the author manages to make two ad hominem remarks – conspiracy theorists are "impotent" and "schoolgirls," and undoubtedly confused, given the oxymoronic combination. And one more, at the end of the paragraph: "If you’re never met one [a conspiracy theorist], you’ve never been to a gun show." Ah! People who believe in conspiracies are also crazy gun nuts who probably want to form some sort of impotent schoolgirl militia.
The article moves onto to another voice of authority, a Professor Kenneth Rahn. Dr. Rahn remarks that it is "...quick and easy to lay this blame on the decay of the educational system..." So now conspiracy theorists are uneducated, as well. He continues: "I really think it’s a pity that so many people find themselves unable to bring the proper skills and critical thinking to this whole thing." The professor, however, does not give an example of same. If he is referring to someone who believes Joe DiMaggio killed JFK, then he probably has a point. If he is, however, referring to the work of, say, Dr. James Fetzer in Murder in Dealey Plaza, then it’s hard to know what he means when he says "critical thinking." In what sense is accepting a status quo argument an example of critical thinking? Just as few people who attend church regularly know much about the actual historical development of what came to be called the Bible, few people who believe the lone-gunman theory have bothered to look at the facts. There is, of course, room for legitimate disagreement among those who have examined the case, but ad hominem remarks are not generally considered germane. Dr. Rahn isn’t finished, however; the article mentions that the good professor tells conspiracy theorists to "get a life" and that investigating the murder is "...one small step from UFOs."
Patrick Beach’s article is supplanted by a second article from Dr. Rahn. Dr. Rahn’s piece is titled "Chance events leave no room for conspiracy, experts argue." What follows is a remarkable bit of nonsense. Rahn’s point throughout is to say that there were so many chance events along the way to JFK’s murder that it is impossible that someone could have controlled it all from the start. As he states: "Unpredictable events occur every minute of every day, but we focus on the tiny fraction that yield spectacular results. We should not forget all the public events where presidents have not been shot, including Kennedy’s six previous motorcades on the same trip." He gives a description of the "chance events" that occurred for Jack Ruby to kill Oswald. I want to quote extensively here, so that the reader can get the full effect:
Ruby was drawn to Oswald when he decided to close his nightclub for the weekend because of the assassination. That threw his dancers out of work. One of them called him Sunday morning for for food and rent. Ruby went downtown to wire her the money...
Arriving just as a truck came up the ramp and distracted the guard, he ducked into the basement. When Oswald appeared a minute later, Ruby lunged forward and shot him with the pistol he routinely carried to protect the large amounts of cash he usually kept on his person (,000 that day).
Save for every event in these two unplanned series, Ruby could not have killed Oswald. Extraordinary sequences to be sure, but with no room for conspiracy.
I urge the reader to review this summary carefully. It is astonishing. Let’s try to work through this. Dr. Rahn writes that "Ruby was drawn to Oswald when..." he closed the nightclub. Please note that one does not follow from the other; how, precisely, was Ruby drawn to Oswald? In other words, why did Ruby kill Oswald? From this description, it appears the professor is drawing the conclusion that he killed him because the nightclub was closed. I don’t want to be unfair to the argument, so we’ll just say that he leaves it an open question.
So now Ruby goes downtown to wire money to one of his girls. The reason he was carrying a gun is because he always carried a gun when he carried around money. Dr. Rahn leaves unstated another potential possibility: call me kooky, but maybe Ruby went downtown to kill Oswald. Dr. Rahn then states that the "guard" was "distracted." If this is factually correct, then the professor will have to show me how he knows it is so. The guard in question, Officer Vaughn, testified to the Warren Commission that he had no idea how Ruby got into the basement. "I don’t have an excuse," he said. However, let us grant the point and let the guard be distracted. Ruby chooses this opportune moment to sneak in and kill Oswald, the last in a chain of what the author called "extraordinary sequences." Extraordinary, indeed; for it leaves open the essential question of why Ruby decided to kill Oswald.
It is amazing that Dr. Rahn is making this frankly absurd argument, and even more amazing that the Austin American-Statesman believes that anyone will buy it. If Dr. Rahn is correct, than the explanation for any event will always be an impossibly complicated chain of other events; the argument is reminiscent of fundamentalist Christians who argue that the eye is too complicated to evolve without help from God. In this case, however, he can only be right if humans are like natural events, helplessly drawn along to their fates. According to the author, Ruby’s murder of Oswald happened because the murderer just happened to be in the right place at the right time. An interesting perspective, to say the least. Some defense lawyer at some point has probably made the argument, but with (one would suppose) dubious results.
There is another, rather ironic result to Dr. Rahn’s analysis: It is resolutely theoretical in nature. He doesn’t examine any of the actual facts; he lists some facts, but without regard to the motivations behind them. What he is actually proclaiming here is a theory that events proceed in haphazard fashion, one that would make it impossible for any detective to ever catch a criminal. For example, take the statement of Officer Vaughn. The police officer had no idea how Jack Ruby got into the basement, although it was his specific function to keep people out, and -- lest anyone forget -- this was the location where the man accused of killing the President would be led. Under those circumstances, one might surmise that a police officer would be highly motivated to perform to his utmost.
And yet Jack Ruby got into that basement. It then turns out that Ruby was a big supporter of the Dallas police, and was well-known to them. In fact, the nightclub Ruby owned was a frequent cop hangout, and they were allowed free drinks as well as other benefits. According to Dr. Rahn, this potential lead – the possibility that maybe Officer Vaughn allowed Ruby in, because he knew him and was used to seeing him around – is trumped by sheer chance.
Dr. Rahn’s article continues with complaints that there are a great many conspiracy theories and of course they cannot all agree with each other. "Forty years of failed speculation are enough," he writes. "It is time to admit there was no conspiracy and there never was any serious evidence for it." He has presented no evidence for his claims, but never mind. The author is surely being disingenuous, for it is hard to believe that a professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island could produce something like this, unless it is owing to the "decay of the educational system" he previously lamented.
With regard to serious examination of the facts, an interested reader would be well-served to pick up Mark Lane’s book Plausible Denial. It is an account of a defamation trial, Hunt vs. Liberty Lobby, in which Lane successfully defended a publishing house from E. Howard Hunt. Lane was able to get Hunt on the stand and introduce a great deal of evidence into the court record that points unambiguously to CIA involvement in the JFK assassination. No UFOs, no "military-industrial complex," no Nazis, no Joe DiMaggio. Just the facts. Another book to read, just for purposes of contrast, is Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, which comes to the conclusion that the Warren Commission was correct. The reader is invited to look at both books and judge for him- or herself who is trying to get at the truth and who is playing the tune called for by the piper. As Dr. Rahn points out, the assessment requires "proper skills" and "critical thinking."