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NY Times article: "No Stranger to Conspiracy"

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August 17, 2013

The New York Times

No Stranger to Conspiracy



AS a veteran newspaper reporter, I’ve heard some things. I once sat in a Friendly’s restaurant in Connecticut with an earnest nun who, between sips of her Fribble, confided that an evil man who looked like Pope Paul VI — but who was not Pope Paul VI — had seized control of the Vatican in the 1960s. A papal double, she explained. And she had photographs to prove it.

I knocked back a double Fribble and asked for the check.

Journalists will entertain conspiracy theories because conspiracies, in fact, do take place, and at our best we seek out the stories behind the stories. But we also pay a price if we don’t buy into every one. If you write that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in the summer of 1969, some reader somewhere is guaranteed to call you a government dupe. Hey, Jimmy Olsen! Everyone knows that Armstrong took one giant leap on a secured movie lot. Sap.

Though I am not unfamiliar with being called a patsy, I still respect and admire those who challenge the conventional wisdom; this is how I was raised, as you will see. Even so, I was still cold-cocked by the response to a recent This Land column of mine that touched on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Holy Zapruder.

The column focused on Patric Abedin, who owns a Fort Worth burial plot right beside Lee Harvey Oswald’s. The granite marker he placed above the empty grave says NICK BEEF, a curious name that has prompted years of Internet speculation. Let’s just say that Mr. Abedin, or Mr. Beef, has his reasons, going back to when he was a boy and saw President Kennedy at an Air Force base the night before the assassination.

In the column, I referred in passing to Oswald as the man who killed Kennedy. I did not use the phrase “alleged assassin.” I did not attribute the reference to the Warren Commission. I simply wrote that Oswald assassinated Kennedy, thinking that nearly 50 years have passed — a half-century! — and no one else has been convincingly tied to the murder.

So began my refresher course. While some readers wrote to say nice job and have a nice day, others got right to the point: I was a government patsy, employed by a newspaper that has worked in concert with various insidious powers to suppress what really happened in Dallas. One reader charged me with a “virtually treasonous act.”

The rough consensus among these unhappy readers was that at least two gunmen were involved, and that the Warren Commission was inept at best, corrupt at worst. In addition, I was a thought-free tool — a sap, really — who, among other failures, had made no reference to the House Select Committee on Assassinations report of 1979, which concluded that while Oswald fired the fatal shot, there also existed the probability of a conspiracy among unknown participants.

It might spawn another conspiracy belief for my critics to learn that I am of proud conspiracy-theorist stock. While other fathers pursued hobbies like golf, mine spent his free time trying to expose a government cover-up of the existence of U.F.O.’s. His preferred family outing was to pull over the station wagon and search the night skies for extraterrestrial activity.

That’s how we Barrys rolled.

My father was also obsessed with the murder of Kennedy, one of his few heroes. Our family bible was not the Bible but Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgment,” a sort of conspiracy primer on the assassination. Other children discussed the films of Walt Disney; my siblings and I discussed the film of Abraham Zapruder.

As time moved on, though, my questions about the Kennedy assassination gave in to a general acceptance that Oswald had acted alone. Probably.

But a half-century after the tragedy, I remain in the minority. According to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this year, 59 percent of Americans believe in an assassination conspiracy. Presumably, that includes my three siblings.

At least I am in fast company. Among the nonbelievers is the prominent presidential historian Robert Dallek, whose most recent book, “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House,” is one of many Kennedy books coming out in time for the assassination’s 50th anniversary in November.

“If there was some grand conspiracy, it would have been outed by now,” he said.

Mr. Dallek is more intrigued by the apparent need to believe in a conspiracy. “They can’t accept that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy,” he said. “To believe that only Oswald killed Kennedy — that there wasn’t some larger plot — shows people how random the world is, how uncertain. And I think it pains them; they don’t want to accept that fact.”

Jesse Walker, the books editor at Reason magazine and the author of “The United States of Paranoia,” also to be released in the coming days, said that conspiracy theories have a long and potent history in this country and are hardly embraced by only the fringe.

“Conspiracy theories emerge at this place where our natural tendency to find patterns and tell stories meets our natural tendency to have suspicions and fears,” he said.

Now and then I think of that nun at Friendly’s all those years ago. More often, I think of my father, who taught me about Watergate and other true conspiracies, dying without seeing a U.F.O. or trusting the official story of how his hero had died.

The murder of a president has not been easy for any of us who remember it.

“I love my country and find it hard to shrug and ‘move on,’ ” one of the more thoughtful conspiracy theorists wrote to me. “Good luck to us all.”

Dan Barry is a national correspondent who writes the This Land column for The New York Times.

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Guest Robert Morrow

I am making a list of the worst offenders of the media in the JFK assassination this year 2013. I am ready to "cold cock" a lot more of these clowns who make direct statements of Oswald murdering JFK and then on top of that ignoring 50 years of very fine JFK research by thousands of average Americans.

NYT on it. Dallas Morning News. WFAA. Associated Press. Bill O'Reilly. USA Today dialed in huge on the lone nutter side.

Ditto any media personality, reporter who makes snarky comments about "conspiracy theorists," a term invented by the CIA as it covered up the JFK assassination.

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