Monday, June 18, 2007

It Never Ends


What did comedian Gilda Radner say as brash, tactless New Yorker Roseanne Roseannadanna? "It's always something." That phrase was never more true than in the world of the Kennedy assassination where 44 years after-the-fact unproven theories continue to propogate, outlandish myths are embraced as fact, and an endless parade of freaks, geeks, and weirdos offer their take on the crime of the century.

Somewhere in all this mess lies the truth. But, where is it? And how can anyone possibly find it? In a world gone crazy with conspiracy theories, the Kennedy assassination remains the granddaddy of them all. And believe me, everyone wants to get in on the act.

Thirty some years ago, I used to spend hours at the local library digging through the Dallas White Pages (for you youngsters, that's a phone book) in my quest to locate eyewitnesses and law enforcement officers - none of whom wanted to be found. It cost hundreds of dollars to play "Dialing for Witnesses" and it took real perseverance to make it through a list of a hundred or more "Joe Smiths" to find the one "Joe Smith" you were looking for. More often than not, you never found them.

Combing through the Warren Commission's twenty-six volumes of Hearings and Exhibits ate up thousands of hours at the local library; most of that time spent pumping rolls of dimes into the copy machine. I remember the day I discovered that I was among a miniscule group of researchers when I returned to a large metropolitian library after a two year absence and found my paper bookmarkers still littering the pages of their set of the twenty-six volumes. Seems I was the last person to request the set from the stacks in the library's basement.

Acquiring any kind of document from the National Archives meant writing letters and waiting weeks (and sometimes months) to get a reply from Marion Johnson, the man in charge of the JFK collection, about where the information you were looking for might be located. Then, you sent another batch of letters and waited a month or so before actually receiving the documents you thought might contain what you were looking for. Sometimes they did, but most of the time they didn't. Inevitably, whatever new information you learned led to more questions anyway and another round of requests. I suppose it might have been quicker to rummage through the documents personally, but I couldn't afford to spend a week or two in Washington, D.C. I was stuck with the the "Poor Richard" approach.

Other people like myself stayed loosely connected via newsletters from conspiracy advocates like Penn Jones, Jr., Bob Cutler, Jerry Rose, and Gary Mack. Letter writing was the primary mode of communication. Staying connected via computers was only a dream.

When the Internet was in its infancy, a friend of mine introduced me to Internet newsgroups. I was thrilled at the idea of being able to instantly communicate with other serious researchers like myself from around the globe. He logged on to alt.conspiracy.jfk and turned the keyboard and mouse over to me. I eagerly began browsing the topics and reading a few entries. "Oh my gawd!" I exclaimed, absolutely horrified. "These people are nuttier than a fruit cake!" My friend laughed his fool head off.

To say that things have only gotten worse would be an understatement. My early vision of an Internet utopia where serious research and discussion of the Kennedy assassination would lead to truth and clarity floundered on the rocks of reality on day one. It never occurred to me that the Internet might allow lonely, irrational, and psychotic people to clutter up the chat rooms and discussion boards. And God knows, the Kennedy assassination is one big magnet.

I've often wondered if other historic topics, like the Civil War or the Alamo or Custer's Last Stand, draw the zanies like the Kennedy assassination does? It might be that everyone feels qualified to pontificate on the subject of the assassination because there has been so much media attention about it. People feel like they know the subject well enough to advance an opinion. And they feel completely comfortable with the idea that their opinion on the subject has some level of merit. The reality, however, is that most people don't know what the hell they're talking about.

The worse part about the Internet and the Kennedy assassination is that the technology has allowed old myths to rise from the ashes and proliferate. Spin down the subject headings of any newsgroup: The Figure in the Doorway, Two Rifles on the Sixth Floor, The Sidewalk Scar, Tommy Tilson's Car Chase, James Files and the Dented Cartridge Case, and on and on. These subjects were not just debunked decades ago - they were destroyed beyond recognition and don't belong in any serious discussion, except perhaps as part of a brief and whimsical look back on what passed for "important" issues. Yet, there they are - hot, time-wasting topics for a new generation of young, naive minds. Sadly, this cycle of endless myth-making, destruction, and resurrection will never go away. It is the heart of the Internet.

In the recent past, television was referred to as "the vast wasteland," "the idiot box," and "the boob tube." The Internet now easily wears that crown.

I occasionally get email letters from students working on Kennedy assassination projects for school and, of course, they're doing all of their research on the Internet. They're lost and confused in a swamp of misinformation and looking for real answers. I try to explain that getting reliable information from the Internet is akin to getting reliable information off the bathroom wall of a public restroom - anyone can write whatever they want, they don't have to back it up with facts, and they can remain anonymous. How trust worthy is that, I ask them?

Does that mean that the Internet offers nothing of value? Of course not. But, you have to know where to look and you have to have a resource that is trustworthy, rational, and reliable.

In the coming months, I hope to offer an oasis of truth - a counter balance to the insane amount of hogwash and deception that continues to spread at an ever increasing and alarming rate across the Internet on the subject of the John F. Kennedy assassination. So, fasten your seatbelts. It's the ride that never ends.