Wednesday, March 4, 2009


by Josiah Thompson


Try a simple experiment. Crank up Google and make a quick trip to the internet offerings on the Kennedy assassination. It’s like a visit to a carnival midway. Pitchman after pitchman is offering his or her wares. Over here you have somebody using a bad copy of the Zapruder film to show that Agent Greer turned around and shot JFK with a flashy chrome revolver. Over there is someone claiming George Bush was in Dealey Plaza or that Richard Nixon arranged the whole thing. Many film clips attempt to show that this or that photo from Dealey Plaza has been falsified by unknown conspirators. After a few minutes of this, you’ll come away convinced that the only way to keep up-to-date on developments in the case is by subscribing to one of the supermarket tabloids.

It wasn’t always like this. How did this change come about and what will be its likely outcome? I’ll try to answer the first question right off while leaving the second for the end of this essay.

In the years immediately after the assassination, things were different. There was no internet and there was an almost unanimous feeling in the country at large that the Warren Commission got it right. Those of us who questioned the official story were mindful of the larger picture and particularly careful to avoid mistakes. The early books on the assassination were carefully fact-checked and edited.. Mark Lane’s "Rush to Judgment" was worked over by numerous helpers in London, England. Edward Epstein’s book, "Inquest," started out as a master’s thesis at Cornell and hence was subject to scholarly discipline. For the rest of us... private individuals working on the assassination for a variety of reasons.. modesty of claim was the order of the day. We were willing... even eager... to have our claims vetted by other researchers. Those of us who challenged official opinion were meticulous about avoiding mistakes. Any mistake of fact or misinterpretation of evidence would be held against all of us. For this reason, articles or essays were fact-checked and discussed exhaustively before publication. Sylvia Meagher checked chapters of my "Six Seconds in Dallas" and I checked chapters of her "Accessories After the Fact," both before publication. Sylvia ended up doing the index for "Six Seconds."

Things are quite different now. The popularity of the internet and print-on-demand publishing have brought about a drop-off in research standards. There are exceptions. Books published by JFK Lancer, for example, are still fact-checked and copy-edited. But things took a decided turn for the worse with the publication of Professor Fetzer’s first book, "Assassination Science" in 1998. No longer was there a small community wherein opinions and theories could be vetted before publication. With a penchant for the tabloid style, Fetzer gave voice over the years to a number of researchers who competed with each other to produce dramatic (often outlandish) claims. As book followed book, Zapruder film alteration became the central focus of Fetzer’s promotion. Rather than doing research himself, Fetzer became the pitchman for this view. His tabloid style meant that nothing was checked in advance of publication. The basic idea was to publish first and ask questions later. This led to the collapse of many claims as soon as critical attention was paid to them.

Such was the fate of the claim that is the subject of this essay.


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