Oi, CNN! Conspiracies. You’re Doing ‘Em Wrong.

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A CNN article this week addresses “11 Political Myths and Conspiracy Theories” — how can a guy like me not click that shit? The 11 myths “debunked” are Presidential in one form or another, with a single exception: Gary Condit and the murder of Chandra Levy.

The list is mostly a warmed-over retread of other squibs CNN has published over the years — they seem to trot this stuff out in time for every presidential election. But one aspect of it really bugs me this time.

They’re doing a crappy job of debunking at least a few of these myths. Let’s start by putting a few 6.5 mm Carcano slugs in some barrel-grown Presidential salmon, shall we? Here’s CNN:


#9 The theory: Someone besides Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK.

The facts: Decades after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, the shooting and the events that followed continue to fascinate many Americans.

Much of that interest rests on the theory that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy — not the act of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Theories include that Kennedy “was killed by CIA agents acting either out of anger over the Bay of Pigs or at the behest of Vice President Lyndon Johnson,” by the KGB or by “mobsters mad at Kennedy’s brother for initiating the prosecution of organized crime rings,” according to Time magazine.

But the Warren Commission, established to investigate the assassination, found that Oswald was the lone gunman — and that there was not a second shooter.


Ba-da-bing! Zing! Hibbity-skibbity-yow! Who knew it was that simple?

Seriously? The Warren Commission? You’re going to hand us that line of crap, as if that ended the discussion? Look, I’m not saying I do or don’t believe that JFK was killed by aliens, the KGB, or a mutant cult of sun-worshiping cocaine addicts, but…in an article about Presidential conspiracies, you’re going to seriously point to The Warren Commission as the end of the story on Kennedy?

Writing about conspiracies: Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer, you absolutely could not do this more wrong than CNN has done it.

In case you just showed up at the freak parade, conspiracy theorists have spent almost fifty years sifting every bit of evidence related to the Kennedy assassination. Some of the sifters are half-baked; others aren’t baked at all. There are many competing theories. They all have one thing in common. They all think the Warren Commission is bullshit.

Whether it’s right or whether it’s wrong, what kind of a numbskull suggests that all the theories pointing at Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, the KGB, Castro, the CIA — or any of at least a dozen other usual suspects — were put to bed by the Warren Commission?

Even putting JFK conspiracy theories in a list with the blatantly racist “myth” of John McCain’s hallucinatory African-American child — which was made up by Karl Rove to “discredit” McCain in South Carolina before the 2000 Republican primary — is insulting.

Don’t worry too much, though, because other improbable claims — for instance, the 9/11 Truther movement — are taken on with similar intellectual rigor. Here’s what they say about 9/11:

Some of the theories include that the U.S. government was behind the entire terror plot, including taking down the World Trade Center, in order to take the country to war in the Middle East; the Pentagon was not hit by a commercial plane but rather by a missile; and United Flight 93 did not crash after passengers stormed the cockpit, but an Air Force jet took it out.

Popular Mechanics magazine looked into the claims and was able to “debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense.”

Seriously? You’re going to tell me that a single reference to Popular Mechanics is enough to close off all 9/11 conspiracy theories, wacky or no? What about the very real questions about the relationship of, oh, say, some wealthy Saudis to Al Qaeda despite their very close ties to the United States and even Israel? And for that matter, what about the widespread belief within Saudi Arabia that Israel was behind the attacks — a belief that originated with the Saudi government and was boldly stated in official sources, but then finally “refudiated” by the Saudi royal family under pressure — but that persists on the street in Saudi Arabia to this day? Isn’t that a conspiracy theory that bears mentioning? Given that it’s far more widely held in Riyadh than any aspect of “9/11 Truther” beliefs are in New York, isn’t the “theory” that Zionists are behind 9/11 significant enough to get a reacharound? Or do only Americans with dumbass ideas get called out in CNN?

In that case, why not ask questions about the phantom WMDs, which George W. Bush specifically and explicitly linked to Al Qaeda in order to scare the American public into supporting war in Iraq, even though there was obviously — to anyone who knew a damn thing about Al Qaeda, Osama, Wahabism, Sadaam or the Taliban — not just no connection between Osama and Saddam, but outright hostility between them? Why isn’t that on your list, CNN? Or is that not a conspiracy, because it’s documented fact…just one that mainstream news agencies and the U.S. Congress found less compelling than a ’90s blowjob?

While we’re at it…what about other “real” conspiracies like the second Gulf of Tonkin attack, which the NSA de facto confirmed as a hoax in a lengthy 2008 report on SIGINT? Is Tonkin not not a Presidential conspiracy theory, it’s just — what? Another fact, since the NSA confirmed it? But does that make it a fact that doesn’t matter? Does that make it somehow not a conspiracy?

Each conspiracy seems to require only a single reference to debunk it here. That that suggests is that in the author’s view, any “authoritative” source is equivalent to any other, and all are superior to any quantity of whack jobs who believe Bush planned 9/11. Therefore, anyone who questions any published article — as long as its published by a major news agency, like Popular Mechanics or CNN, or by the U.S. Government — is easily discredited by, potentially, the same kind of butt-brains who make up words like “refudiate” and rewrite other authorities documents at will, with the weight of — you guessed it — CNN behind them.

But one link to Popular Mechanics does not an “overwhelming weight of scientific opinion” make. Nor does the Warren Commission, a group widely believed by JFK conspiracy theorists to be corrupt and flat-out wrong in its conclusions.

Even if you believe the ultimate conclusion — that Oswald acted alone, and his bullets did some wacky things, as bullets sometimes do — the Warren Commission is clearly not the last word on the matter. And the questions asked about JFK’s assassination, while sometimes the province of lunatics and weirdos, are also at least sometimes the province of people who just simply know what they’re talking about. No matter what you believe about JFK, every person who ever questioned the Warren Commission isn’t a complete idiot.

The problem is in equating large, complex conspiracy theories like the JFK assassination or, more to the point, the 9/11 attack — which was in every legal definition a conspiracy to begin with — with single-source bullshit garbage like McCain’s African-American baby. You could read 100 books and still never really understand the context of 9/11. It piles conspiracy upon conspiracy upon conspiracy, stretching back decades or centuries. Even if you don’t believe the U.S. government was complicit in 9/11, there is no aspect of the attacks that doesn’t qualify as a conspiracy. Suggesting that any questions about it should stop with a Popular Mechanics article is like suggesting that we should stop asking questions about World War II because Saving Private Ryan settled all that.

Some shit grows from a genuine desire to know the truth — even if it may be a completely misdirected and misused impulse. Other shit is made up by trolls who don’t plan to ever have to answer for it in public — and if they do, they’ll just deny they were the ones who said it. Karl Rove may have a million sock puppets, but he’s still the one who put the McCain baby myth out there. It was a conspiracy, and it worked. Bush won handily in South Carolina. What other definition of a conspiracy do any of us need?

Similarly, equating theories about the Mob and JFK with irrelevant stuff like Trig Palin’s birth is insulting. It creates the illusion that questions about JFK or 9/11 are somehow equivalent in wing-nuttery to clearly cynical and politically-derived Birther movement. Whereas certain JFK theorists may get a hard-on for Johnson or Castro or Sam Giancana, there is no clear political agenda in cynical, power-grabbing terms. With 9/11 there may be in the case of some theorists — but suggesting that’s equivalent to something like the Birthers is ridiculous.

Birthers pretend to question Obama’s birthplace — while clearly opposing him strictly on racial and political grounds, not factual ones. Whether they’ve really convinced themselves that Obama was born in Kenya or Indonesia, I have no idea. But if they have, they’re shit-stupid. If they haven’t, they’re not just liars — they’re committing actionable libel and slander.

Plenty of conspiracy theorists commit actionable libel and slander all the time — and no one takes legal action against them, so getting worked up about any of this may seem pointless.

But in ignoring real conspiracies and concrete governmental misinformation campaigns in the interest of being “bipartisan,” the mainstream media commits a libel of omission against anyone who dares to speak up.

And to suggest that one single reference to a Popular Mechanics article or the Warren Commission would “debunk” any large, complex group of conspiracy investigations — some of which center around real conspiracies, ones that aren’t only not-improbable, but extensively documented — is insulting. It groups two groups of people together — those who think George W. Bush “planned” 9/11, and people who think the Bush administration conspired to hush up the assertions of Saudi Prince Abdullah (King Abdullah after 2005) that Zionists, not Saudis, were behind the attacks, then used the attacks to justify two wars, one of which had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. It groups together people who think the planes carried suitcase nukes, and those who think the Bush Administration failed to follow due diligence on the USS Cole investigation, because they could always blame that one on Clinton.

One is folklore, but the other is far from a “conspiracy theory.” It’s politics-as-usual. Folklore may have any connection to fact, from none at all to a very close connection. But politics-as-usual is fact, and the complicity of the media in selling it as acceptable — or irrelevant — is what makes a conspiracy a conspiracy.

By which definition, we live in the age of conspiracies.

Sadly, the only ones that seem to matter to CNN are the improbable ones that in its view can be “debunked” by a link to Popular Mechanics.

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One comment on “Oi, CNN! Conspiracies. You’re Doing ‘Em Wrong.
  1. Very well written piece and with a slice of humour always a plus in my book thank you.

    Debunkers and conspiracists should read this before heading off into the choppy waters of disinformation.

    I tend to use a rule of thumb based on research, instinct and mild scepticism when reading debunkers and conspiracists material. I have to tell you that in two cases 9-11 and JFK I believe they were both the most hideous conspiracies perpetrated on the US and the rest of the world.

    Once again thank you for this article.

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