A SEVERE INSULT TO THE BRAIN
Ah me. I've spent the best part of the last twelve hours getting Incoherently Angry again; or maybe it was the worst part, I'm no longer sure. I must say I feel increasingly like doing a Rob Newman and just cutting ALL TV and newspapers from my intake. I mean - what's the POINT? Last night, I was so Incoherently Angry at the BBC's supposedly "definitive" JFK Assassination doc, even hours and hours later, that I had to put down my copy of Mark Lane's Rush To Judgement and read back my vacated humanity and mislaid sense-of-humour with Flann O'Brien (never fails, by the way).
If that wasn't bad enough, I then open The Guardian hoping/expecting to see a searing indictment of the JFK prog, only to find a love note. Of course, the author of this is "only" a TV "critic". And by any objective criteria - not to mention certain personal experiences - one should have given up on expecting much from The Guardian years ago. Part of me thinks: well, it's JUST a bad TV programme, why get so narked? I feel like I'm turning into the left-leaning equivalent of one of those choleric old ex-Forces Telegraph reading blimps, permanently crippled with rage at some new insult from the Modern Age. Most of the time, I really do wish I was walking in the Highlands instead: this media stuff makes me feel GRUBBY. I mean, even I'm under no illusions: I'm not exactly Mr Fastidious. I'm a lazy, LAZY man. I'm not even a TRAINED journalist: pure autodidact, through and through. But even I know the difference between PROOF and ASSERTION. And in the end, all the JFK prog came down to was the uncorrobarated ASSERTION of - well, of one unknown ANIMATOR (!!??), over forty years of painstakingly researched, properly argued and presented PROOF. (ALL of which, btw, was unilaterally IGNORED by the prog.) The advantage of books in cases like this is that you can check the author's bona fides, and method, and references with your own eyes. E.g.: are his references only to other assertions he himself has made elsewhere; or only to assertions made by other lonley nut jobs like himself; or are they to concrete examples that can be independently checked and verified?
Just one quibble to start with: the SOLE verification the prog advanced for this animator (with Miami Vice style sleeves halfway up his arms and a ghastly looking chunky gold watch: he came over like, I dunno a slightly disreputable minor character in some 80s film like Manhunter) was the "fact" that he had spent TEN YEARS doing this reconstruction. Um, well, I'm no pyschologist - but don't you think there might be some internal pressure on somebody who HAD spent ten years time, money and reputation to prove his set-ups reliability by "definitively" coming down on one side or the other? Otherwise, ie, his set-up would just seem Robot-Wars pointless - and also, not to be cynical, but, not much of an advertisment for FURTHER WORK? What WERE this man's bona fides? Was he legally recognised? Had he gained financially from this research in any way? Had it been financed by anyone we ought to know about? Etc, etc, etc. Any halfway decent law student could have disassembled this farrago in a few minutes flat. But here's the Guardian saying that it "proved beyond a reasonable doubt" that Oswald WAS the lone gunman.
Er - I'm sorry. But you're a TV critic, NOT a lawyer. And you - ruched up sleeves guy, YOU'RE an ANIMATOR, not a ballistics expert. (And all the 'experts' the programme aired were ALL - 100% - on the Lone Gunman team. The SOLE representative of sober dissent was, uh, Oliver Stone. Right. Very, uh, balanced BBC. I'm sorry, but this is serious in its way: it is an INSULT to all the people who have devoted their lives to PROPER research and who were just waved away here under the general rubric "conspiracy theory". ) And obviously not someone who can READ either. It only took me two page-turner chapters of Lane's peerless book [Rush To Judgement] to raise so many doubts about this programme's "case" that it wasn't even funny.
a) I have no axe to grind here. I have no particular "theory" about JFK or LHO; but the one thing I know is true, is a verifiable FACT, is that the Warren Commission is absolutely unreliable, and that no one - pace Rupert Smith, TV Critic of The Guardian - has yet "proved" anything. ANYone with an open mind, who has done evena small amount of background reading (and I have done more than a small amount, including reading books by right wing hagiographers and nut jobs, just to get an Other Side's pov) could have told you the prog was likewise Fudge City.
b) Lane is a lawyer, and his book is paradigmatic: he ASSERTS not a single thing. He simply presents reported or established fact, contradiction, reportage, eyewitness account, and lets it be. This is not "theory" of any stripe. It is the recorded experience of police officers, security service men, doctors, people with brains running down their nice new dress, etc., etc ... (I'll likewise leave you to decide the relative "objective merits" of a lawyer with a tape recorder, or a cartoonist with a diagram that DOESBNT EVEN TELL US SQUAT unless HE, the cartoonist, guides us through it, and makes bald assertions to which he appends NO OTHER AUTHORITY. (E.g., just one quibble: the first shot, upon which he pretty much rests his entire case.He ASSUMED its back-entrance throat-exit trajectory. When just the LAZIEST LAZY GUY bit of background research - i.e, me, in my bedroom, before falling asleep amidst three annoyingly affectionate cats - turns up the fact that ALL the doctors who worked on Kennedy (and who were used to dealing with dozens of gunshot wounds everyday) identified this as a throat-entry back-exit wound. They told this to the press in the immediate aftermath. They kept on saying it to EVERY TV station and EVERY newspaper of note. This is not "theory". If you go back to the press and TV and press conferences of the time you will find this AS HISTORICAL RECORD. So accepted was this FACT, that likewise, if you go back to the papers of record in the first 5 days after Nov 22nd 1963, you will find the assertion, BY the police/secret service/et al, that the car was DRIVING TOWARDS THE BOOK DEPOSITORY. It was only when this all became a bit inconvenient that trails were muddied and doctors spoken to and tapes of press conferences lost. (Again - the latter is not theory or assertion; it is verifiable fact. The ONLY press conference records and transscripts which have gone missing, are ones in which doctors mention the throat-ENTRANCE wound. Now who ya gonna believe - doctors, or Secret Service men, who (verifiable fact) "spoke" to the doctors and "advised" them that this position was untenable?
If I have the energy, I'll list some of more of this fascinating stuff. (But like I say - I'm a lazy, LAZY man.) Anyone who has the least interest in this owes it to themselves - at the very least - to track down Lane's work. (I've got a battered old Penguin p/bck. Most of my Assassinations library was bought second hand in the Eighties. And, like anyone who's done his work, and has been interested in this stuff for a longer than trendy time frame, I/we-all already KNEW that:
a) Stone's film is - well, it's an Oliver Stone film.
b) Garrison is a nut job. We all knew that. (But: if you ignore the strange, possibly homophobic Clay Shaw prosecution-as-persecution trail' and ignore Garrison's overweening self-love and self-belief, his BOOK has interesting stuff in it. Almost by definition, an American D.A., with a huge team of energetic young prosecutors, in an age before media payments had muddied the waters, was just BOUND to turn up SOME intersting shit, no?)
c) Castro/USSR? HUH!? No one I know who knows this terrain EVER thought either of 'em had anything to do with the JFK hit. So why did the BBC prog spend so much time grandstanding its "proof" that they didn't?
d) Likewise the "controversial" "acoustic" "evidence". Which, again, anyone who knows the terrain forgot about this before it even began: it's at most a footnote to a footnote.
Two final points.
This heavily advertised (but NO PREVIEW TAPES AVAILABLE, oddly) BBC prog, was introduced with the heavy imprimataur of "Gavin Essler and the Correspondent team." (Correspondent is a uniformly excellent, hard hitting foreign reportage slot on BBC2, and one of the only remaining Current Affairs/News slots that DOESN'T make me Incoherently Angry.)
But come the Credits - if you could read them, because they went by at blink blink US TV speed, NOT normal BBC speed - it was clear that Essler's sole contribution to the prog was reading out a script written by someone else; and that most of the names on the credits appeared to be (I stress 'appeared to be' as I could barely read anything the speed it was going) American, or, not names I recognised from other BBC current affairs progs; and it was in fact a BBC "co production" with two other channels, one of which - again - APPEARED TO BE - a Fox arm or affiliate. I assert nothing. I merely note these facts. Although one MIGHT say that is precisely such coyness or muddied waters which indeed leave the gate open for the loonier Conspiracy Theories ...
I've forgotten Two: I just got Incoherently Angry all over again. Oh yeah - I remember. The ONE thing - the sole and solitary and single conspiracy nub this prog didnt mention was the Joe Kennedy stitch: the fact that he owed the Mafia BIGtime for their help in buying JFK into power in the first place. (This isn't loony conpiracy theory. Even Kennedy hagiographers have to admit these days that yes, this was pretty much how ol' Joe operated, and YES, he makes George Bush senior look like Bungle from Rainbow.)
Strange that the ONE detail they wouldnt mention was the one that casts doubt on the SYSTEM rather than the margins. On Dub-Ya's wonderful wonderful "freedom, democracy and civilisation", on the myths of Destiny and Statesmanship and civilised First Office.
Yeah, strange that.
I expect they forgot.
+ bang bang bang BANG -
The thing that got me really angry last week was when Dub-ya tried to co-opt our WW11 war dead into his current scam, when he tried to compare - in nobility of purpose - all those who perished fighting Hitler, with what he and Toni Toni Tone are trying to sell us. I'd never thought of myself as particularly patriotic before (most days I have trouble thinking of myself as even having any kind of nationality) but this ... this ... I thought this was OBSCENE.
And then you get the media coverage, which instead of dealing with the failure to engage with ACTUAL TOPICS - like Guantanamo - "reports" that the speech was really quite impressive, that the "story" here is that Bush seems finally to be [Channel 4 News] learning to speak in public. Never mind the HORROR of this is what we've come to: the most powerful man in the world [HA HA] is FINALLY LEARNING TO SPEAK, is considered a leap forward... I'm SORRY!!!???
How soon they forget. This is the kind of "reportage" they gave Blair's speech in the Commons when he "won round" sceptics to his War cause: nothing on the [lacking] DETAILS of the speech. Everything on STYLE. Nothing on FACTS - everything on opinion, inflection, and the kind of Gentleman's Club bollocks that should have been outlawed from public discourse aeons ago: you know: carries himself well, seems like a decent chap, OK, let's go massacre the millions/minions.
The logical terminus of such discourse was exposed last week with the Foundation Hospital bill in the Commons. Never mind that this is the sort of issue that WILL effect millions (of sick and poor and deserving people, the traditonal Labour heartland), never mind that this is the future of NATIONAL HEALTH we are dealing with: the truly IMPORTANT thing was: don't let Michael Howard have a chance of looking good or getting a soundbyte out of this, New Labour, so vote vote vote for Tone!
There is a certain type of Pro Media Commentator - let's call them the Middle Brow Realists; or maybe the White Male Debonairs: WMDs - whose current tactic in the face of any opposition is a kind of pained, donnish - 'Oh, come now. Really! Let's stop all this SILLY anti-Bush stuff. And your doubting take on Tony Blair is just ... juvenile. Come along! Let's be sensible and cultured and grown up and realpolitick about this, let's be ADULT. Put away those silly SILLY conspiracy theories. This has got nothing to DO with oil, or the election knobbling in Florida... that's all, anyway, in the PAST. No, we have to be adult and REALISTIC...'
And just like their hero, Blair, if you raise some inconvenient FACTS to advance your case their reponse is sighing exasperation, and ... 'WELL. We could quibble about figures/numbers/interpretations all day ...' [Never mind that what you just raised was a FACT.] 'But are you REALLY saying you prefer Saddam to the lovely LOVELY Ikea-style freedom pack of the poor Iraqi people? I find that VERY strange. That'd be a bit like saying you'd rather have STALIN ...'
This isn't exaggeration. In one of the most stomach turning things I'd seen on television (before the JFK prog) for a long time, Andrew Neil tried to take apart Ken Loach last week with this kind of tactic. (And yes, Neil DID bring Stalin into it.) When Loach quite rightly said that if he was going to have his ethics interrogated and impugned it would have to be by someone a bit further up from the stink of the Murdoch money pit/ethical gutter (I'm paraphrasing in my own inimitable way), I kind of wanted to lead my own velvet revolution, and march Loach into Ten Downing Street with a kestrel on one hand a a long spiked pole in the other, atop which is the ghastly crinkly topped head of HYPOCRITE presenter Andrew Neil.
Only slightly less aggravating was Clive James' deeply deeply patronising attempted/concerted put-down of Vanessa Redgrave on Question Time. Admittedly, as even her friends might admit, Vanessa is someone who sometimes seems to invite being patronised - but I was surprised and disappointed. Something seems to have gone soft and rotten in James lately (likewise in someone else I used to revere: Christopher Hitchens). The old James would rightly have calculated that the more powerful, correct and (yes, why not say it:) gentlemanly way to deal with VR, if you disagreed with her, would be to match her FACT FOR FACT. But James, as newly installed cheerleader for the WMDs (mmmm: nice existentialist black rollneck flecked w/ dandruff, btw, Clive: a REAL quantam leap, fashion wise) could only sneer and sigh at Redgrave's mostly watertight FACTS. (I.e., it is a FACT that all the scriptwritten Dub-Ya platitudes about "freedom" will do nothing but INCREASE terror, until such a time as the rest of the Middle East doesnt perceive the US as the biggest aide de camp and apologist for ISRAEL in the cough-cough "civilised" world: & that it applies double standards to itself and Israel which would have them bombing the shit out of ANY OTHER COUNTRY in the world. (Including the UK, I'm moved to add, just to be mischievous.)
Until today my least favourite WMD in the Guardian/Observer nexus was David Aaronovitch, but that title has been taken by Andrew Rawnsley for his IDIOT WIND column in yesterdays Observer. Which makes me so Incoherently Angry I'm not even going to... except to say: its yet another Wasnt Bush Really Rather Good column. These people are either STUPID or DISHONEST: there's no middle ground. Are they so stupid that, like even little children no long think, they confuse the ACTOR with the SCRIPTED words he speaks? What do they think Bush would be like - unprepared, with a bunch of really tough FACT based questions?
Starting, of course, with how come a man whose family spent QUITE so much of its heavy Texas influence and ill-gotten fortune keeping him as FAR AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE from Vietnam, is QUITE so keen on war all of a sudden? [More on this topic soon, FACT fans.]
Of course the favourite brush off amongst the MWDs is "conspiracy theory". If I could bank the number of times that phrase has cropped up recently ... just the JFK prog alone would be enough for a decent midwinter break. They use "conspiracy theory" when presented with FACTS that don't square with their vague woolly platitude-led humanist case. They use it the way people used to use "red" or "liberal": 'Oh, case closed, I'm a realist and a pragmatist who sees the world the way it really is, while you're obviously just a wishy washy dreamer. I'm a well paid media sleaze with Friends in High Places, while you're someone who spends all day with his head in a Noam Chomsky BOOK and is not exactly raking it in ... so who's more convincing here? It's like when I met Tony recently I said to him ...' And so on.
But it's nothing to DO with "theory".
It's to do with research, facts, proofs, counter proofs and stating a case not sliming out another "opinion". This is the curse of the COLUMNIST classes. Well, it's one thing to use your Column to talk about the Queen's wallpaper, or Britney's tits, or reality tv, or whatever other twaddle is currently SO important (these are the same columnists, never forget, who swore that the world had changed on 9/11), but once you start defaming the DEAD, which is, ultimately, what their words do - whether those dead are Palestinian children, scared witnesses at the Warren Commission, or working class soldiers who died fighting Nazism - I think we ought to draw a line. NOT FORGETTING is the best weapon we have. The role of the dissenter or intellectual (so called) at times like this is to BEAR WITNESS; not to discuss Nigella's menu at Buck House, or how sparkling Dub-ya's scriptwritten jokes were, or how it went today between Michael Howard and Toni-Toni-Tone.
posted by Ian 11/24/2003 10:28:00 AM