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For JFK Authors, the Truth Is, Conspiracy Theories Sell Lots of Books

50th Anniversary of Assassination Prompts Torrent of Words; Four 'Whitewash' Titles

Wall Street Journal

June 2, 2013



When it comes to President John F. Kennedy's assassination, no word has been left unturned.

As the 50th anniversary draws near, some might think there is little left to say. That turns out not to be the case.

Skyhorse Publishing, an eclectic New York house whose imprints offer titles ranging from essayist John Graves's "My Dogs & Guns" to Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan's "Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out," is publishing 25 books related to the assassination this year.

Who Killed President Kennedy?

As the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination draws near, here are some new titles and reprints arriving on the already crowded JFK bookshelves.

Other publishers also are coming out with JFK-related titles tied to the anniversary. But Skyhorse is issuing eight new titles, flanked by 17 reprints. The publisher started the year with 12 JFK-related titles, which means it will have 37 by year's end.

"This is a big gamble for us, but I don't see that much downside," says Tony Lyons, Skyhorse's publisher. "It's one of the biggest events in history."

It has been covered. Bowker's Books In Print says nearly 1,400 titles related to President Kennedy, including his assassination, conspiracy works, biographies and speeches, have been published in the U.S. over the past five decades.

By comparison, the company says there were more than 3,300 titles related to Abraham Lincoln published during the same period, and nearly 800 about the Titanic.

Many of the Skyhorse works have vivid titles, among them Mark North's "Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover in the Assassination of President Kennedy" and Patrick Nolan's "CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys."

For those who doubt the Warren Commission's finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone on Nov. 22, 1963, Skyhorse is republishing four separate "Whitewash" titles by the late Harold Weisberg, including "Whitewash III: The Photographic Whitewash of the JFK Assassination." Skyhorse is also republishing related titles by Mark Lane and the late Jim Garrison, the former New Orleans district attorney whose "On the Trail of the Assassins" helped inspire Oliver Stone's movie "JFK."

"We've been fortunate to be able to track down and acquire so many of the classics in the field," says Mr. Lyons.

It takes more nerve than dollars to publish so many titles about JFK.

Mr. Lyons says Skyhorse's eight new books on the subject represent an investment of about $1 million, including costs related to acquisition, printing and marketing.

Skyhorse is investing about $300,000 to $400,000 to publish its 17 JFK reprints. If it sells only 3,000 copies of each of those, it will likely lose money, he says. But if it sells 5,000 to 10,000 copies each, Mr. Lyons says the books "will be very profitable."

Some of the best-known conspiracy authors are lawyers by training, but it is a wide-open field. In April, Skyhorse issued "Hit List: An In-Depth Investigation into the Mysterious Deaths of Witnesses to the JFK Assassination," by actor/comedian Richard Belzer and investigative journalist David Wayne.

"If anyone doesn't think there was a conspiracy in the assassination, they only have to read this book," Mr. Belzer says.

Spread across 50 chapters, "Hit List" has this to say about gangster Sam Giancana: "Congressional investigators knew that Giancana was linked to the JFK assassination and ordered him to testify. On June 19, 1975, very shortly before that testimony would have taken place, Giancana was gunned down in the basement kitchen of his quiet suburban Chicago home while frying sausages."

The chapter's conclusion: Mr. Giancana was killed as part of a conspiracy to cover up the conspiracy to kill the president.

Presidential historian Robert Dallek believes he knows why—despite the Warren Commission's conclusion—so many think there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. "People can't believe that somebody as consequential as Kennedy was killed by somebody as inconsequential as Oswald," he says.

Mr. Dallek's new book, "Camelot's Court," a look at how President Kennedy weighed the counsel provided by his brainy advisers, is being published this fall by Harper, an imprint of News Corp NWSA -0.19% .'s HarperCollins Publishers. News Corp. also publishes The Wall Street Journal.

Fascination with the JFK assassination remains a fixture of the national psyche. Among the most successful nonfiction titles of 2012 was "Killing Kennedy" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, which has sold more than 1.6 million copies in the U.S. in all formats, according to its publisher, Henry Holt.

While measuring the literary popularity of presidents is hardly an exact science, JFK memorabilia remain in strong demand, says Daniel Weinberg, who sells presidential books and memorabilia at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago.

He ranks the interest in JFK material right behind that in Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. "Collectabilty and popularity go hand in hand," he says.

"We have people coming in all the time, asking for what's new," says Patrick Whyte, co-owner of the Conspiracy Culture bookstore in Toronto. Mr. Whyte is confident there was a conspiracy behind the JFK assassination and believes the truth may be close to emerging.

"A lot of people involved are probably reaching the end of their rope and want to get stuff off their chest," he says.

Who killed President Kennedy? In his book "Betrayal in Dallas: LBJ, the Pearl Street Mafia, and the Murder of President Kennedy," Mark North argues that the guilty parties were contract killers hired by the Mafia to stop federal investigations in New Orleans and Dallas.

"The public hasn't been told the truth," he says.

Some conspiracy books have stayed in print for years. Peter Dale Scott, author of a title Skyhorse is issuing this September as "Oswald, Mexico, and Deep Politics: Revelations from CIA Records on the Assassination of JFK," says the title had three earlier publishers. "Some people want to know more about the assassination, but more want to understand the American political process," he says.

One group that may not be as aware of the anniversary is the nation's millennial generation.

"They come in knowing very little about the assassination," says Tom Stone, a senior lecturer in English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who has taught classes about it for 20 years.

"They know he was president, they know he was shot and died, they know it happened in Dallas," Mr. Stone says. "Beyond that, they are a blank slate. That's why we have anniversaries that end in zero, so we can educate people."

Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at jeffrey.trachtenberg@wsj.com

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For JFK Authors, the Truth Is, Conspiracy Theories Sell Lots of Books.

Wall Street Journal

Well thank you WSJ for your concern about the truth.

According to Mr. Lyons, Skyhorse would be happy to sell 10,000 copies of an assassination book.

I would guess that the royalty on a sale of 10,000 would not pay even minimum wage

for the author's years of research and writing. So the headline is contradicted by the story itself.

If the headline read:

"For Publishers, the Truth is, Conspiracy Theories Sell Lots of Books

I would say "Great news, America."

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I agree, Ray. The article made it sound like some sort of gold mine was out there in conspiracy land, while admitting O'Reilly's pretend book sold 1.6 million copies.

Well, HELLO, that's more than Skyhorse's 37 conspiracy titles are likely to sell...put together.

I mean, why are so many people upset by the thought someone might make a few grand off a conspiracy book, but so unconcerned when someone makes millions off a shoddily-researched piece of crap?

Pardon my French.

Edited by Pat Speer
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Pat -

Give the people what they want and they will buy

People do not WANT to be told our government is guilty of this... they don't WANT the red pill and see the world as it really is... even as they KNOW it to be true.

By reading a BOOK or seeing a TV SHOW that tells them some crazy guy did it, and their government did all it could.... they can sleep at night.

Amazing isn't it... when nasty frauds make millions selling a lie, that's AMERICA... but when a truth seeker earns a few dollars with a book it's OPPORTUNISTIC and SHADY.

None DARE call it Conspiracy....



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I really wish they would use more of their resources to bring out new work myself authors who have some new stuff to market. Like say the revised and expanded version of Bill Davy's book.

I did not read the original version of Bill Davy's book, since I knew it was a pro-Garrison book

and therefore Bill Davy would have to revise it

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