James Joyce once remarked that Rome reminded him of a man who made his living “by exhibiting to travelers his grandmother’s corpse.” It strikes me that this observation applies more aptly to the commercial exploitation of President Kennedy’s assassination. After more than four decades, no scrap of evidence is immune from being dislodged, mutilated, and reconstructed so as to fit more securely into the imaginative web of an aspiring conspiracy theorist.
Did Oswald act alone? Was there a gunman on the grassy knoll? Did the doctors at Parkland Hospital alter their autopsy report? Was Kennedy’s body transferred to another coffin? Was the assassination a military coup d’etet “with Lyndon Johnson waiting in the wings”?
This last theory—concocted by Oliver Stone for the movie JFK—surpasses all previous efforts in combining ideological rigidity, factual manipulation, and commercial exploitation. The truthfulness of this assessment is open to any reader willing to peruse the writings of lawyer David Belin (Final Disclosure), writer Gerald Posner (Case Closed), and Brandeis Professor Jacob Cohen (“Yes, Oswald Alone Killed Kennedy,” June, 1992, Commentary).
The sad fact is that the dead president has entered the marketplace as a salable item. His death is not a question of historical interest but an exploitable commodity that may be packaged with impunity. Is it really a desire to get at the truth that motivates the never-ending publication of conspiracy books and the periodic production of television specials commemorating that fateful November day?
Why—if the media are really interested in the truth—are most Americans ignorant of even rudimentary facts about the case? When, for example, can you remember any prominent member of the Fourth Estate mentioning these critical facts: Oswald worked at the book depository; eyewitnesses actually saw someone shoot at the motorcade from the sixth floor of the building; a witness 110 feet from the window provided police a description that fit Oswald quite well; no one else was with Oswald at the time of the shooting; most aural witnesses heard three shots; Oswald brought some “curtain rods” wrapped in brown paper to work with him that morning; that brown paper, three cartridge cases, and a recently fired rifle were all found on the sixth floor of the depository; this rifle had been mail-ordered by Oswald a few months earlier; Oswald alone left the building after the assassination and later murdered a police officer in front of several eyewitness; Oswald kept an “Historic Diary” that made clear his radical political views and mental instability.
I could go on and on. I mention only a few highlights from the mountain of evidence that convinced three government committees that Oswald alone killed the president. The sad conclusion to which I must come is that most people involved in the mass dissemination of information are not really interested in these facts. They want an angle.
In George Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry of Information constantly rewrote history to fit the party’s ideological requirements. Our reality is more crass. History today has become a victim of the marketplace. Truth and decency are the casualties. In such a society, lusting for scandal, some people are obviously slain in perpetuity.