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John Simkin

An interview with Robin Ramsay

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Robin Ramsay is the editor of Lobster Magazine since September 1983. He is also the author of several books including: Smear! Wilson and the Secret State! (1991), Conspiracy Theories (2000), Who Shot JFK? (2002) and The Rise of New Labour (2002).

(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an investigative journalist and historian?

(2) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

(3) How do you decide about what to write about?

(4) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

(5) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the "committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy".

However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh's Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call "secret history"? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

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(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an investigative journalist and historian?

I just sort of drifted into it. I read an article in a now defunct underground paper, International Times, in 1976, about an American conspiracy theory. I found this fascinating and went into the library to try and see if it was true; and while so doing discovered post-war American history, and began reading.

(2) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

The differences that I am aware of are mostly to do with what is regarded as legitimate sources and subjects. Most historians - by which I mean academic historians - do not trust subject matter which is recent (some more so than others, of course).

(3) How do you decide about what to write about?

It is rarely a matter of decision; usually a question of what I am already interested in.

(4) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

Rarely. I am too marginal a figure for the powers-that-be to be greatly interested in. To my knowledge I have only been of interest to the state while I was helping Colin Wallace.

(5) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

I have never had a career so this does not arise.

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the "committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy".

However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh's Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

Peer pressure, mostly. Being labelled a 'conspiracy theorist' is a career-damaging description; and most journalists and academics are interested in their careers first (and last).

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call "secret history"? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

I internalised and accepted academic standards of evidence and inference while an undergraduate. Thus I try to write in an academic way: assertions need evidence. Deciding which sources to believe is a mixture of things. (1) Do they themselves have sources? (2) Is what is being claimed consistent with what is already known? If not, how good is the evidence?

I have rarely got hold of documents proving illegal behaviour. Such documents tend to go to journalists higher up the food-chain. Occasionally they drop down to me.

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(1) Could you explain the reasons why you decided to become an investigative journalist and historian?

I just sort of drifted into it. I read an article in a now defunct underground paper, International Times, in 1976, about an American conspiracy theory. I found this fascinating and went into the library to try and see if it was true; and while so doing discovered post-war American history, and began reading.

(2) Is there any real difference between the role of an investigative journalist and a historian?

The differences that I am aware of are mostly to do with what is regarded as legitimate sources and subjects. Most historians - by which I mean academic historians - do not trust subject matter which is recent (some more so than others, of course).

(3) How do you decide about what to write about?

It is rarely a matter of decision; usually a question of what I am already interested in.

(4) Do you ever consider the possibility that your research will get you into trouble with those who have power and influence?

Rarely. I am too marginal a figure for the powers-that-be to be greatly interested in. To my knowledge I have only been of interest to the state while I was helping Colin Wallace.

(5) You tend to write about controversial subjects. Do you think this has harmed your career in any way? Have you ever come under pressure to leave these subjects alone?

I have never had a career so this does not arise.

(6) The House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that the "committee believes, on the basis of the available evidence, that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy".

However, very few historians have been willing to explore this area of American history. Lawrence E. Walsh's Iran-Contra Report suggests that senior politicians were involved in and covered-up serious crimes. Yet very few historians have written about this case in any detail? Why do you think that historians and journalists appear to be so unwilling to investigate political conspiracies?

Peer pressure, mostly. Being labelled a 'conspiracy theorist' is a career-damaging description; and most journalists and academics are interested in their careers first (and last).

(7) What is your basic approach to writing about what I would call "secret history"? How do you decide what sources to believe? How do you manage to get hold of documents that prove that illegal behaviour has taken place?

I internalised and accepted academic standards of evidence and inference while an undergraduate. Thus I try to write in an academic way: assertions need evidence. Deciding which sources to believe is a mixture of things. (1) Do they themselves have sources? (2) Is what is being claimed consistent with what is already known? If not, how good is the evidence?

I have rarely got hold of documents proving illegal behaviour. Such documents tend to go to journalists higher up the food-chain. Occasionally they drop down to me.

I am very excited about you appearing on the Education Forum.

I also have great respect for anyone who works in today's world to attempt to fight corruption, of which, investigative journalism has more than a casual relationship.

I wanted to ask you your opinion regarding the dynamics of media in the year 2006, specifically regarding 'the concept of quote 'conspiracy theory' versus establishment 'media.'

In other words, established news media, say the N.Y. Times in America, or the Daily Mirror in Britain are not only recognizable media, but indeed have an extensive readership, in turn because of the fact that they are elder's compared to other recognizable newspapers lifespan and with the exception of one recent flap regarding the NY Times, both have an extensive reputation for 'credibility.'

The term 'conspiracy theory' was non-existent in 1963, so, younger members of the Forum may not realize the incredible advantage this gives to the 'hearts and minds' element of journalism in the context of framing historical matters as it relates to something like political assassinations.

My assertion is that jounalism of that era [like many other facets of American culture] was more professional, insofar as a 'credible journalist' could 'take on' even a President, such as Walter Cronkite's disassociating himself from the established 'U.S. media support' for the Vietnam War., LBJ conceded that, Cronkite's stance was the nail in the coffin as far as not seeking re-election in 1968. That dynamic is largely in decline, if not dead in the water.

'Realizing that the corporate world was infringing on journalistic integrity and freedom to confront powerful issues, those journalist's who placed moral considerations and the welfare of the nation above their own careers, basically started 'indy-media.' [see Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism]

The results are somewhat problematic. While those who recognize the status quo offered by 'sanitized news' indy media faces the realization that only those who agree with the argument listen to it. Thus the original problem is still there like a 600 lb. Gorilla.

Do you agree with the characterization made here, and is there a similar dynamic in England?

What are your thoughts regarding the idea of re-introducing legislation here in America, to restore the Fairness in Media Act to restore 'checks and balances' for those who believe there is a credibility problem in the world of today's media conglomerates?

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The term 'conspiracy theory' was non-existent in 1963, so, younger members of the Forum may not realize the incredible advantage this gives to the 'hearts and minds' element of journalism in the context of framing historical matters as it relates to something like political assassinations.

It isn't quite true that 'conspiracy theory' was non-existent in 1963. It was, for example, at the heart of the Birchers' view of the world - indeed, of much of the far right on both sides of the Atlantic. What is true is that before the Internet, information was hard to get and mostly was acquired through newspapers and television. Thus the control of what we knew - and could find out - was more complete. The Internet has given us more information than we now what to do with - if we have the knowledge and patience to weed out the xxxx from the shinola.

My assertion is that jounalism of that era [like many other facets of American culture] was more professional, insofar as a 'credible journalist' could 'take on' even a President, such as Walter Cronkite's disassociating himself from the established 'U.S. media support' for the Vietnam War., LBJ conceded that, Cronkite's stance was the nail in the coffin as far as not seeking re-election in 1968. That dynamic is largely in decline, if not dead in the water.

Cronkite was more important then than he would be today because there were fewer TV networks and thus prominent individuals became more significant. But there was considerable opposition to the war in Vietnam with the US political-media system: eg in State, CIA and even bits of the Pentagon, as well as the liberal media. It wasn't just Cronkite.

Realizing that the corporate world was infringing on journalistic integrity and freedom to confront powerful issues, those journalist's who placed moral considerations and the welfare of the nation above their own careers, basically started 'indy-media.' [see Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism]

The results are somewhat problematic. While those who recognize the status quo offered by 'sanitized news' indy media faces the realization that only those who agree with the argument listen to it. Thus the original problem is still there like a 600 lb. Gorilla.

Do you agree with the characterization made here, and is there a similar dynamic in England?

Most people, then and now, are not interested in national or international news but only local news. Today's 'indy media' is in the same position vis-a-vis the mass of the population as someone standing on Times Square trying to sell the Daily Worker in 1963. Mostly no-one gives a f***.

In these times etc have been going a long time and have not greatly inctreased their circulation - nor would they ever do so, even if they were given wall-to-wall free publicity on prime time. There is no mass interest in news per se. Only in times of emergency - depression, war - are the masses persuaded to take an interest in matters beyond the edge of their town/county.

What are your thoughts regarding the idea of re-introducing legislation here in America, to restore the Fairness in Media Act to restore 'checks and balances' for those who believe there is a credibility problem in the world of today's media conglomerates?

I don't know anything about the Fairness in Media Act but no such act which tries to make the corporate media report the world in ways not to their commercial advantage will get through Congress now or in the forseeable future.

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I apologize for the lengthy prefacing of the questions, but I felt that to ask without a point of reference would have seemed a bit ambiguous to those viewing the statements made. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer them. I, and other Forum members will no doubt be more knowledgable concerning the dynamics of the media, due to your taking the time to respond. Once again, thank you.

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