On Friday morning, NPR couldn't think of a thing to say about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Thus, a hard-hitting, fact-finding no-holds-barred interview with Slate editor Michael Kinsley ensued... on the subject of anniversaries. What's the attraction? Why do we love 'em so?
Indeed, had you embarked on a tour of the galaxy on November 21, 1963, and your spacecraft had returned this week, you would have learned from the mainstream media only that the man who was president when you left had been murdered by a man named Oswald, that he had represented hope and inspired a nation, and Americans still love and admire him despite his inability to pass major domestic legislation.
Other than occasional passing reference to the interesting factoid that the majority of the American people did not then and do not now believe that Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin, you would not learn from the guardians of the gates of knowledge that some questions arose over the manner of the president's demise and they have not gone away.
In all that time, of course, the media has never budged from unswerving, closed-ranks support of the conclusions of the Warren Commission and condemnation of its critics. The difference in media coverage for this go-round is purely tactical. This time, there is no raised-eyebrow listing of conspiracy theories or challenges to the evidence supporting same; no rebuttals from public officials; just silence. The implication, it is hoped, cannot be missed: The matter has been settled, and we shall speak of it no more.
Citizens are obligated to continue to voice the words: "Not so."
In 1978, after two years of investigation, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that the murder of John F. Kennedy was the result of a "probable conspiracy." It announced this on the last day of the Committee's congressionally mandated existence, its allocated funding exhausted, so it promptly declared itself adjourned, to investigate no more. The evidence on which the HSCA largely based its conclusion, the sound of a shot from the grassy knoll recorded by the microphone of a police motorcycle, was immediately attacked and discredited -- until March 2001, when Britain's Forensic Science Society found major errors in the discrediting study, issuing its own peer-reviewed study confirming the HSCA's conclusion and placing the probability of a second gunman at 96%.
In Newsweek's November 24 issue, Warren Commission white knight and "Case Closed" author Gerald Posner admitted to at least a slight degree of unease over the continuing suppression of evidence in the case by the Central Intelligence Agency. Posner is irked by the CIA's ongoing insistence that the cameras they had constantly trained on the Soviet and Cuban embassies in Mexico City somehow managed to take no pictures of the multiple Sept. 1963 visits of a man calling himself Lee Harvey Oswald (when, in fact, they did), and that Agency personnel routinely destroyed the embassy wire taps of "Oswald's" phone conversations prior to the assassination. (They didn't). Posner did not mention a further complication: The Cuban embassy staff who interviewed "Oswald" were subsequently surprised to see the news footage of the man arrested in Dallas on 11/22/63 for killing the president, because the obnoxious man who asked them for a visa and whom they turned away as an obvious agent provocateur was blonde, about a decade older, and several inches shorter than the man on TV.
Posner's frowns on the CIA's mendacity, fretting that "Needless conspiracy speculation is only fueled by the CIA's stonewalling." It does not occur to him that the withholders of that evidence may have good reasons for not wanting those tapes subjected to voice analysis and not revealing the face of the "Oswald" who was so anxious to get a visa and go to Cuba, thereby more firmly connecting that name with the regime of Fidel Castro, eight weeks before that name was to be linked to the assassination of the president of the United States.
Langston Hughes wondered eloquently what happens to a dream deferred, as we might ask what happens to a conspiracy dismissed. Obviously, a deeper hole is dug. Certainly, a greater silence is imposed. But the grave will always be shallow.
Andrew Christie is a film editor in Los Angeles