Under the right circumstances, even an unsuccessful Presidential campaign can serve as a powerful lens for focusing public attention upon issues normally avoided by the mainstream media. I think that the success or failure of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s longshot Democratic Party primary challenge to President Joseph Biden should best be considered in such terms.
Kennedy bears the name of the most famous political family in modern American history and that legacy, together with his leadership role in criticizing our controversial Covid public health policies and his #1 Amazon best-seller in 2022, quickly established him as a serious candidate in the race. The early polls gave him roughly 20% support, an absolutely astonishing achievement for someone who had never previously held public office, even against a relatively weak and unpopular incumbent.
During recent election cycles the Democratic Party has become quite adept at seeing off anti-establishment challengers, and virtually its entire political and media apparatus has lined up against Kennedy, whom it has heavily demonized, so he must be considered an extreme underdog. However, even if Kennedy’s political quest doesn’t ultimately place him in the White House, he has already notched some important achievements at this very early stage.
The 60th anniversary of the assassination of Kennedy’s uncle, President John F. Kennedy, comes in just a few months, and last year Tucker Carlson’s top-rated FoxNews show ran a segment highlighting the compelling evidence that our 35th President had died at the hands of a conspiracy, probably involving elements of the CIA.
Carlson’s show had a regular live audience of 3 million and that segment attracted another 1.6 million views on Youtube, so taken together his JFK revelations probably reached more Americans than any other such account in many years, perhaps since Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning 1991 film JFK was playing in the theaters three decades ago. Kennedy praised Carlson’s courageous effort and his remarks were Retweeted more than 32,000 times.
— Robert F. Kennedy Jr (@RobertKennedyJr) December 17, 2022
That sudden burst of coverage came eight months ago and there was little if any media follow-up to Carlson’s breakthrough declaration. But as a Presidential candidate, Kennedy himself can now command considerable media attention and three weeks ago he gave a long interview to Bill Maher, describing the overwhelming evidence that a similar conspiracy had been behind the assassination of his own father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
The 1968 RFK Assassination has attracted only a small fraction of the attention received by his elder brother’s death in Dallas five years earlier, and Kennedy’s interview segment drew 1.5 million views on Youtube, so it’s quite possible that more Americans have now learned the shocking facts from the candidate’s own words than had ever been aware of them. In late 2021, Kennedy had already declared his views in a major San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece.
- Sirhan Sirhan didn’t kill my father. Gov. Newsom should set him free
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. • San Francisco Chronicle • December 8, 2021 • 1,000 Words
Soon after publishing that piece, Kennedy became the target of a wave of media vilification, yet strangely enough almost all of those insulting attacks completely avoided any mention of the strikingly conspiratorial claims he had just presented in a major newspaper. In January 2022, I reviewed and summarized the main sources of information on that assassination, and the likely reasons for that strange media silence.
Yet although Kennedy’s legion of media critics attacked him on almost all other grounds, fair or unfair, they carefully avoided that seemingly easy means of branding him as delusional. The long AP attack that ran a week later mentioned not a word, nor did the January Counterpunch piece. As a consequence, I doubt whether more than a tiny slice of the public is aware that Kennedy is a “conspiracy theorist.”
The obvious reason for this strange media reticence was that Kennedy’s position was very solidly grounded in hard factual evidence. In 2018 I drew upon some of the material in David Talbot’s widely-praised 2008 book Brothers to describe the strange aspects of the assassination.
If the first two dozen pages of the Talbot book completely overturned my understanding of the JFK assassination, I found the closing section almost equally shocking. With the Vietnam War as a political millstone about his neck, President Johnson decided not to seek reelection in 1968, opening the door to a last minute entry into the Democratic race by Robert Kennedy, who overcame considerable odds to win some important primaries. Then on June 4, 1968, he carried gigantic winner-take-all California, placing him on an easy path to the nomination and the presidency itself, at which point he would finally be in a position to fully investigate his brother’s assassination. But minutes after his victory speech, he was shot and fatally wounded, allegedly by another lone gunman, this time a disoriented Palestinian immigrant named Sirhan Sirhan, supposedly outraged over Kennedy’s pro-Israel public positions, although these were no different than those expressed by most other political candidates in America.
All this was well known to me. However, I had not known that powder burns later proved that the fatal bullet had been fired directly behind Kennedy’s head from a distance of three inches or less although Sirhan was standing several feet in front of him. Furthermore, eyewitness testimony and acoustic evidence indicated that at least twelve bullets were fired although Sirhan’s revolver could hold only eight, and a combination of these factors led longtime LA Coroner Dr. Thomas Naguchi, who conducted the autopsy, to claim in his 1983 memoir that there was likely a second gunman. Meanwhile, eyewitnesses also reported seeing a security guard with his gun drawn standing immediately behind Kennedy during the attack, and that individual happened to have a deep political hatred of the Kennedys. The police investigators seemed uninterested in these highly suspicious elements, none of which came to light during the trial. With two Kennedy brothers now dead, neither any surviving members of the family nor most of their allies and retainers had any desire to investigate the details of this latest assassination, and in a number of cases they soon moved overseas, abandoning the country entirely. JFK’s widow Jackie confided in friends that she was terrified for the lives of her children, and quickly married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek billionaire, whom she felt would be able to protect them.
Over the years, the 1968 Robert Kennedy assassination has attracted merely a sliver of the books and research devoted to the earlier killing of his elder brother in Dallas, and Talbot’s text spent only a few pages sketching out the strong evidence that the convicted gunman was merely an innocent dupe, manipulated by the true conspirators. But in 2018, two additional books appeared that were entirely focused on the case.
A Lie Too Big To Fail by longtime journalist and conspiracy researcher Lisa Pease ran 500 pages and covered the events of that fatal California evening in exhaustive detail, winning the endorsements of filmmaker Oliver Stone and renowned JFK researcher James W. Douglass. When I read it a few months ago, I found the huge volume of material quite useful but felt that it relied too heavily upon the recollections of eyewitnesses, which can easily grow attenuated over the decades. I was also disturbed to note that the text sometimes seemed to gradually transform reasonable suspicions into apparent certainties, eventually arguing that 3-4 different gunmen were probably firing at the presidential candidate that evening while Sirhan’s own gun had held only blanks.
At the very end, the author also veered off into building castles in the air with regard to other assassinations, arguing that Oswald probably had multiple personalities and that Jack Ruby was operating under a post-hypnotic suggestion, thinly documented claims that seriously weakened her credibility, as did her earlier suggestion that John Lennon had been killed by a government-programmed assassin in 1980 for his past criticism of the Vietnam War. Sometimes less is better, and I think that Pease’s book would have been much stronger if it had been heavily edited and substantially pruned. All those extraneous elements should have been left on the cutting-room floor rather than distracting from the central evidence she provided regarding the existence of an RFK assassination conspiracy and Sirhan’s likely innocence.
Meanwhile, The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy by Tim Tate and Brad Johnson was released that same year and suffered from none of these flaws. The two conspiracy researchers had spent some 25 years heavily involved in the case, and although their volume was only around half the length of the Pease book, it seemed a far more effective treatment of the topic, including eyewitness accounts but focused primarily upon the undeniable physical and forensic evidence while avoiding any damaging bouts of unwarranted speculation.
While working at CNN, one of the authors had originally obtained the audiotape establishing the number of shots fired, which probably constitutes the single strongest piece of evidence in the case. The book analyzed and evaluated that crucial item in tremendous detail, and also focused upon the fatal shot, which was fired at point-blank range from behind the candidate while Sirhan, the supposed gunman, was standing several feet in front. But since both the publisher and the lead author were British, the work seems to have received much less attention in this country, and I only discovered and read it after Kennedy cited it in his SF Chronicle column.
Unlike many other controversial American killings or terrorist attacks, the powerful evidence of a conspiracy in the case of the RFK assassination was physical and seemingly undeniable. Wikipedia is notoriously reluctant to promote conspiratorial narratives, but in this case the striking facts are presented with only rather weak challenges.
The conclusive proof from the audio recording only came to light in 2004, but I was surprised to discover that all the other strong evidence, including the large number of unexplained bullet holes, had already been known and reported for decades.
Former Congressman Allard K. Lowenstein had been heavily involved in the 1968 election campaign, playing a major role in the effort to unseat incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. In 1977 he published a long cover-story in the influential Saturday Review, setting forth the overwhelming evidence that a second gunman had been involved in the shooting, and my content-archiving system provides a convenient PDF copy. So nearly all the crucial facts in the case have been known for 45 years, but were almost always ignored by our dishonest or cowardly American media.
Three years after publicly revealing that explosive information, Lowenstein himself was dead, supposedly shot at the age of 51 by a deranged lone gunman who had been a former student of his, but I have been informed that his personal friends never believed that story.
Given this massive preponderance of evidence, we can easily understand why the harsh media attacks upon Kennedy had so carefully avoided mentioning his conspiratorial beliefs regarding his father’s assassination. Such criticism would have merely brought the issue to wider public attention, and anyone who began looking into the matter would have quickly concluded that Kennedy was probably correct while our media had spent a half-century covering up the true facts of the 1968 assassination.
The two Kennedy assassinations constituted a dramatic turning point in twentieth century American history and until about a dozen years ago, I had never questioned the official story that both killings were committed by crazed lone gunmen, fully accepting the media suggestion that only crackpots and conspiracy-cranks claimed otherwise. According to his interviews and his writing, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. seems to have followed a somewhat similar trajectory, only discovering the truth about his own father’s death in 2016 when he had already reached his early 60s.
Although our backgrounds are very different, both of us had been taken in by the uniformly dishonest mainstream media narrative, but that successful effort to suppress the true facts of those historic events had only been achieved after a long struggle, as I explained in my original 2018 article.
Our reality is shaped by the media, but what the media presents is often determined by complex forces rather than by the factual evidence in front of their eyes. And the lessons of the JFK assassination may provide some important insights into this situation.
A president was dead and soon afterward his supposed lone assassin suffered the same fate, producing a tidy story with a convenient endpoint. Raising doubts or focusing on contrary evidence might open doors better kept shut, perhaps endangering national unity or even risking nuclear war if the trail seemed to lead overseas. The highest law enforcement officer in the country was the slain president’s own brother, and since he seemed to fully accept that simple framework, what responsible journalist or editor would be willing to go against it? What American center of power or influence had any strong interest in opposing that official narrative?
Certainly there was immediate and total skepticism overseas, with few foreign leaders ever believing the story, and figures such as Nikita Khrushchev, Charles DeGaulle, and Fidel Castro all immediately concluded that a political plot had been responsible for Kennedy’s elimination. Mainstream media outlets in France and the rest of Western Europe were equally skeptical of the “lone gunman theory,” and some of the most important early criticism of U.S. government claims was produced by Thomas Burnett, an expatriate American writing for one of the largest French newsweeklies. But in pre-Internet days, only the tiniest sliver of the American public had regular access to such foreign publications, and their impact upon domestic opinion would have been nil.
Perhaps instead of asking ourselves why the “lone gunman” story was accepted, we should instead be asking why it was ever vigorously challenged, during an era when media control was extremely centralized in establishmentarian hands.
Oddly enough, the answer may lie in the determination of a single individual named Mark Lane, a left-liberal New York City attorney and Democratic Party activist. Although JFK assassination books eventually numbered in the thousands and the resulting conspiracy theories roiled American public life throughout the 1960s and 1970s, without his initial involvement matters might have followed a drastically different trajectory.
From the very first, Lane had been skeptical of the official story, and less than a month after the killing, The National Guardian, a small left-wing national newspaper, published his 10,000 word critique, highlighting major flaws in the “lone gunman theory.” Although his piece had been rejected by every other national periodical, the public interest was enormous, and once the entire edition sold out, thousands of extra copies were printed in pamphlet form. Lane even rented a theater in New York City, and for several months gave public lectures to packed audiences.
After the Warren Commission issued its completely contrary official verdict, he began working on a manuscript, and although he faced huge obstacles in finding an American publisher, once Rush to Judgment appeared, it spent a remarkable two years on the national bestseller lists, easily reaching the #1 spot. Such tremendous economic success naturally persuaded a host of other authors to follow suit, and an entire genre was soon established. Lane later published A Citizens Dissent recounting his early struggles to break the total American “media blackout” against anyone contradicting the official conclusion. Against all odds, he had succeeded in sparking a massive popular uprising sharply challenging the narrative of the establishment.
According to Talbot, “By late 1966, it was becoming impossible for the establishment media to stick with the official story” and the November 25, 1966 edition of Life Magazine, then at the absolute height of its national influence, carried the remarkable cover story “Did Oswald Act Alone?” with the conclusion that he probably did not. The next month, The New York Times announced it was forming a special task force to investigate the assassination. These elements were to merge with the media furor soon surrounding the Garrison investigation that began the following year, an investigation that enlisted Lane as an active participant. However, behind the scenes a powerful media counterattack was also being launched at this same time.
In 2013 Prof. Lance deHaven-Smith, past president of the Florida Political Science Association, published Conspiracy Theory in America, a fascinating exploration of the history of the concept and the likely origins of the term itself. He noted that during 1966 the CIA had become alarmed at the growing national skepticism of the Warren Commission findings, especially once the public began turning its suspicious eyes toward the intelligence agency itself. Therefore, in January 1967 top CIA officials distributed a memo to all their local stations, directing them to employ their media assets and elite contacts to refute such criticism by various arguments, notably including an emphasis on Robert Kennedy’s supposed endorsement of the “lone gunman” conclusion.
This memo, obtained by a later FOIA request, repeatedly used the term “conspiracy” in a highly negative sense, suggesting that “conspiracy theories” and “conspiracy theorists” be portrayed as irresponsible and irrational. And as I wrote in 2016,
Soon afterward, there suddenly appeared statements in the media making those exact points, with some of the wording, arguments, and patterns of usage closely matching those CIA guidelines. The result was a huge spike in the pejorative use of the phrase, which spread throughout the American media, with the residual impact continuing right down to the present day.
This possible cause-and-effect relationship is supported by other evidence. Shortly after leaving The Washington Post in 1977, famed Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein published a 25,000 word Rolling Stone cover story entitled “The CIA and the Media” revealing that during the previous quarter century over 400 American journalists had secretly carried out assignments for the CIA according to documents on file at the headquarters of that organization. This influence project, known as “Operation Mockingbird,” had allegedly been launched near the end of the 1940s by high-ranking CIA official Frank Wisner, and included editors and publishers situated at the very top of the mainstream media hierarchy.
For whatever reason, by the time I came of age and began following the national media in the late 1970s, the JFK story had become old news, and all the newspapers and magazines I read provided the very strong impression that the “conspiracy theories” surrounding the assassination were total nonsense, long since debunked, and only of interest to kooks on the ideological fringe. I was certainly aware of the enormous profusion of popular conspiracy books, but I never had the slightest interest in looking at any of them. America’s political establishment and its close media allies had outlasted the popular rebellion, and the name “Mark Lane” meant almost nothing to me, except vaguely as some sort of fringe-nut, who very occasionally rated a mention in my mainstream newspapers, receiving the same sort of treatment accorded to Scientologists or UFO activists.
- American Pravda: The JFK Assassination, Part I – What Happened?
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • June 18, 2018 • 4,800 Words
As I discussed last year, exhaustive archival research by an experienced Intelligence professional eventually explained how the creation of a false trail for Oswald had been a crucial element of the original assassination conspiracy.