Some months ago, the way others take up double-crossticks, I decided to figure out who killed Kennedy. My approach was to take the arguments in two books which believed his murder resulted from a vast, insidious conspiracy and compare them with the arguments in two books which believed a solitary madman responsible. In my research I came across an argument put forth by a well-regarded member of the first school of thought, whom, for purposes of this discussion, I will call Professor Z. One part of his argument stood on a “message,” reported in a book by Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary, as having been disseminated aboard a cabinet officials’ plane flight shortly after the shooting. This message, Z concluded, came as a “direct” order from McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy’s national security adviser, and constituted “conclusive evidence” of the greater proposition in which Z believed.
Personally, I believed in the madman. And while much else argued against this leg of Z’s argument, I could not directly kick it from beneath him since my local library lacked Salinger’s book. Then, recently, I saw it listed at Alibris and found myself at the call of completeness and journalistic responsibility. What the hell, I thought, plunking down 99-cents, (plus $3 postage). It seemed a sign I should re-enter this twisted bowel of American political thought.
There turned out to be no “message,” as Professor Z described it. He had clearly considered it a single communication. [(T)his message,” “this same message,” “this announcement,” “the… message,” and “that message” is how he referred to it.] It is also clear that he believed this message directed that the American people be told two things. The first was that Oswald was the assassin; the second was that there was no conspiracy, vast or otherwise.
In truth, Salinger’s book reported a series of communications – not one – and they, neither singly nor in any combination, recreated what the professor said. Specifically, while, several communications into the conversation, Oswald was identified as the gunman, there was no second assertion. Viewing Z’s thinking most favorably, he seems to have reasoned that since none of the communications discussed either the existence or non-existence of a conspiracy, they were denying it. Of course, by this measure, these communications could also be said to be denying the existence of chicken noodle soup.
Furthermore, none of these communications were attributed to McGeorge Bundy; nor was he referred to by any of those to whom they were attributed. Z seems to have divined Bundy’s responsibility for the messages from the fact of their having been sent, coupled with Bundy’s alleged authority over the White House Situation Room, from which some, but not all, of them issued. It should be noted in this regard that Z’s overall thesis is otherwise replete with people, including in this case Bundy, acting counter to what their superiors would have expected of them, so why those under his command might not have acted similarly is not apparent. But, irregardless, Bundy-directed or not, since, contrary to what Z stated, nothing was said about a conspiracy, this portion of his argument collapses.
It is hard for me to believe that someone could read as carelessly or report as inaccurately or reason as shoddily as Professor Z had. (His greater argument, by the way, did not even require the existence of this “message.”) It is, of course, possible that he was not inaccurate or careless or shoddy but deliberately duplicitous. I am, however, too positively disposed toward my fellow man to propose this. I prefer to think his ardent belief in the importance of the truth he had to deliver to the rest of us led him to overlook the troublesome aspects of the snake oil he was peddling. Sort of like Mormon missionaries and the Angel Moroni.
Besides, this inability to read, this indifference to facts, this insult to reason, this presumption that your assertions will not be checked is not the point. What was and was not said in this “message” is of secondary concern. What is significant to me at this moment is what that which I have described says about the difficulties involved in determining what – and whom – to believe. Every day, from any number of sources, we receive an uncountable number of assertions which we are asked to accept as true. But we rarely have – or take – the time to check the ins and outs or convolutions of these assertions.
It may be that the public has been so discouraged by discourse of the caliber of the professor’s that it has given up hope of discovering truth. It may be it has succumbed to a case of “What the fuck” and given over judgment-making to poisons within our soul. It may be we will wake up one morning to discover the Republican Party has launched toward the presidency a loathsome bozo whose lies are more repellant than his comb-over, more grotesque than his elephantiasis-afflicted ego, and more numerous than his slanders, which outnumber the maggots on road kill.