IN A RECENT POST on The Round Place In The Middle (“If I Tweeted”), host Nondisposablejohnny addressed a variety of issues with hypothetical tweets, including several about the 1991 movie JFK by Oliver Stone. This led me to want to address all those silly conspiracy theories out there. These non-twittered tweets worked as a springboard for the article that follows.
An amazing phenomenon was sparked by the release of JFK: political newspaper editorial writers were instantaneously (if temporarily) born again as movie critics! Many of these men were pundits who had been staggeringly wrong about so, so many things that many of us not on their side of the aisle were aghast that they retained their well-paid positions. 1
For example, we were still waiting for the first trickles of Reagan’s trickle-down economics that these same pundits had ballyhooed a few years earlier. Now these men who had failed as political pundits wanted us to accept them as Siskel and Ebert’s third thumb! 2
If you’re interested in this issue at all, I suggest you click on over to TRPITM (“turpitum”?) and read Johnny’s piece. It’s not long and any references I make here will be more easily understood. 3
This is the first hardcover edition of Jim Marrs’ Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. It was published in 1989 by Carroll & Graf Publishers, a year after Garrison’s book (below). Marr’s book was a primary source for Oliver Stone’s movie JFK.
Questioning the Warren Commission
Needless to say, each of these right-of-center pundits-turned-critic read some kind of “liberal conspiracy” message into Stone’s movie, when all Stone did was address some of the salient facts associated with the assassination—many of them having to do with New Orleans as a nerve center for American intelligence agencies as well as a hotbed of extreme rightwing paramilitary activity.
This was certainly not known by the public in the ’60s, nor was it a topic broached by the mainstream media then (or ever).
The plot of JFK was based on two books: journalist Jim Marrs’ Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy and former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Murder of President Kennedy. Fifty-four years after the assassination, Garrison remains the only person to actually take anyone to trial for the murder.
While most of the facts presented in JFK are often painstakingly accurate, the conclusions presented by Stone’s interpretation of Garrison’s (played by Kevin Costner) conclusions are just that—Garrison’s conclusions. While reasonable conclusions, they are not embraced by every investigator who questions the lone gunman, non-conspiratorial theory of the Warren Commission.
The controversy [Michael] Medved has tried so hard to stir up [over Million Dollar Baby]—viewed, or distorted, through the prism of the talk-show mentality—graphically demonstrates how someone with a political agenda can re-interpret an entire movie by choosing to isolate parts of it from their context within the picture itself.” (Jim Emerson)
Silly conservative conspiracy theories
Most of the pundit-turned-critics ignored the facts in the movie and focused almost exclusively on those conclusions or nitpicked. Some offered the kind of conservative paranoia that we usually associate with Michael Medved, who has made a career out of dissecting blockbusters and finding ‘liberal Hollywood’ themes. 4
Most of the pundit-turned-film-critics’ editorials-as-criticisms were rather, um, dumb.
It’s possible that I’m coloring things from my side of the aisle and remembering these writers as dumber than they were.
But I doubt it. 5
This is the 2014 documentary Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy by Jim Marrs, based on his book of the same title. This extensively researched film includes never before seen maps, photos, newspaper articles, government documents and other evidence proving the Warren Commission’s report was a cover-up and a smoke screen for the true conspiracy. The truth is still out there.
Conspiracy theorist as compliment
Not too long ago, questioning official explanations for events such as the assassinations of John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F Kennedy, or the machinations behind the Bay of Pigs of Vietnam fiascos, got one labelled as a conspiracy buff.
Somewhere along the way, the term conspiracy buff morphed into conspiracy theorist—which actually has a touch more class and polish to it.
I don’t recall he term conspiracy theorist initially being used condescendingly, especially as most buffs/theorists tended to be well-educated and far better read than the average America. We buffs/theorists accepted the description as a reasonable assessment of who we were and what we were doing. 7
I am uncertain as to when conspiracy theorist became a damning condemnation, insinuating the believer to be a nut-job. But its use today is almost always derogatory—another gift from the skillful rightwing think-tanks skills with bending the mainstream/corporate media and altering the thoughts and speech patterns of their readers/viewers/listeners.
I don’t remember when the term “conspiracy theorist’ morphed from a compliment to a put-down, but it was certainly used as a put-down prior to the release of the 1997 movie Conspiracy Theory, in which Mel Gibson plays a clearly unstable, ultra-paranoid, obsessive taxi-driver who stalks Julia Roberts.
Back to Oliver Stone’s movie
Whether it’s a particular building in New Orleans (many of which held offices for the FBI, CIA, and related military intelligence units) , or the weird way in which the street addresses of certain buildings were misunderstood by investigators of Oswald (most of whom never bothered to actually go to New Orleans to do their investigating), or the political players in New Orleans (many of whom had many questionable political affiliations), Stone’s attention to factual detail is meticulously accurate throughout the movie.
But it is, after all, a movie based on recent history—not a historical documentary—and some artistic license taken. For example, Jim and Liz Garrison were nowhere near as good-looking as Kevin Costner and Sissy Spacek. 6
For example, Garrison never gave a lengthy speech in trial as Costner presents as the movie’s conclusion.
For example, the explanation for the shooting does not completely reflect Garrison’s theory, but several theories combined.
And it is here, with the moments of artistic license, that most pundits-turned-critics turned their attention. 7
The first edition of Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins was published in 1988 by Sheridan Square Press. It was subtitled “My Investigation And Prosecution Of The Murder Of President Kennedy.”
The truth is out there
As the poster in Agent Fox Mulder’s office reminded us weekly on The X-Files television series, “The truth is out there.” In most cases, that is so.
In the case of the shooting of the President of the United States in broad daylight in front of hundreds of witnesses on November 22, 1963, that may not be so …
FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of the page is taken from the banners used to promote the movie JFK in 1991. The main photo features Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison. The image in the lower right corner is the actual photo of Lee Oswald (played by Gary Oldham in the movie) used to convince us that he was the lone gunman—except the photo was a forgery.
1 The much-used term pundit means “a learned person; a person who gives opinions in an authoritative manner usually through the mass-media” (Merriam-Webster). I placed the word in single quotes to imply that I was using it ironically for these pundits-turned-critics, most of whom are provably prevaricating propagandists if not outright nattering nabobs of negativism.
2 Film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert used a silly but entertaining thumbs-up/thumbs-down method for grading movies on their popular television show.
3 Johnny’s remark about John Candy’s character and Candy’s acting is spot-on: Stone should have followed JFK with a movie about the attorney who knew too damn much about the underbelly of New Orleans politics and business.
4 Medved, among others, read Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby as an anti-Christian, pro-euthanasia screed: “In 2005, top [Oscar] nominations went to films that went out of their way to assault or insult the sensibilities of most believers. Both Million Dollar Baby and The Sea Inside portray assisted suicide as an explicitly and unequivocally ‘heroic’ choice. Their success suggests that if Hollywood ever gets around to making The Jack Kevorkian Story, it, too, would become an automatic candidate for major awards.” (USA Today, January 24, 2005)
5 I’m not going to look any of this up. I’m relying on my memory, an admittedly a faulty device. Anyone who has followed the ‘recovered memory’ phenomenon/hysteria of a few years ago knows full well how undependable individual memory is even in the best and brightest minds among us. Plus, if you’re really interested, look it up—it’s the best way to learn something and, after all, ain’t that what the Internet is for?
6 But then, not many couples are, right?
7 Most of these pundits-turned-critics never bothered to actually go to New Orleans to do their investigating.
FBI Agent Fox Mulder ratiocinating and mulling over the possibility of all things in his basement office. The world’s most famous flying saucer poster is on his wall.