Embarrassing Media Performance

November 26th, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

I couldn’t stomach much of the media coverage last week, for the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Am I supposed to care what Angelina Jolie thinks of Kennedy? Or where a tearful Jane Fonda was when she heard? Hand me the air sickness bag, please.

The shameful media emphasis on Oswald as lone gunman and conspiracy theorists as fools came to a surprising head Friday night when Bill Maher, of all people, shrugged the assassination off as “shit happens.”

That’s the standard take of the pro-lone nut crowd – people like me just can’t accept that a great man like JFK could be taken down by a little nobody. Hearing the ridiculous Warren Commission findings taken seriously while the later HSCA  finding for conspiracy are ignored shows just how all-pervasive this new whitewash is.

It doesn’t come from the government. It comes from my fellow liberals wanting to deify Kennedy, to make him a marble figure on a statue like Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, how many people out there think John Wilkes Booth was a lone nut “like Oswald”? That will come as a surprise to Booth’s co-conspirators, who swung from ropes.

I’m an admirer of JFK, but also a realist. I understand that a president who sanctions assassinations of other heads of state might just trip over a whole lot of karma. I understand that when you team the CIA up with the Mob (not a theory – an historical fact) to bump off Castro, some nasty ramifications might ensue.

On Maher’s REAL TIME panel, Paul Begala stated that his fellow George magazine founder John F. Kennedy Jr. made a point of saying their new magazine wouldn’t be looking into the assassination. JFK Jr. reportedly said he could spend his whole life doing that, and had decided to move on. The implication was, we should all do the same.

Maher accepted this strained logic – if a son doesn’t give a shit who killed his old man, why should we? But the Kennedy family has always kept a tight control over assassination documents – they knew the dirty laundry that would come out. RFK’s first reaction to hearing about the shooting was that Chicago had done it, and he used his own Rackets Committee veteran investigators to do a sub rosa inquiry (part of the basis for Heller’s activities in ASK NOT).

Let’s keep this very simple. The problem with dismissing as a fool or a crank anyone who thinks a conspiracy took down JFK is this: it only takes two to make a conspiracy, and in this case we have at least two – Oswald and Ruby.

Or let’s look at it this way – to believe Oswald was a lone nut who shot JFK, you also have to accept Ruby as a lone nut who shot Oswald. So the media/Maher theory isn’t the Lone Nut Theory – it’s the Two Lone Nuts theory…which is particularly ludicrous when you consider that Ruby was a mobbed-up guy from Chicago with ties all the way back to Capone and a history in Cuba with the Marcello crowd.

I’m generally a Maher fan. He’s a smug prick, but he’s funny and smart. But he can also be glib and shallow, and this is one of those times. Him and the rest of the media.

* * *

The ASK NOT signing went very well at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Iowa, Saturday afternoon. Big bookstore chain signings often suck, but at this one – despite a Hawkeye game (even my collaborator Matt Clemens didn’t attend the signing) – we had a steady flow. A good stack of ASK NOT sold, quite a few TARGET LANCER paperbacks, plus a whole lot of ANTIQUES books, which Barb and I signed.

Speaking of ANTIQUES, three of the paperback reprints are going back to press – ANTIQUES ROADKILL, ANTIQUES DISPOSAL and ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF – which reflects just how well this series continues to do. If you’re a hardboiled M.A.C. fan and haven’t tried one, now’s as good a time as any, and the current ANTIQUES CHOP is one of our best.

As for ASK NOT, we had some nice attention last week, although with so many JFK books out there, mine got a little lost in the shuffle. An appearance on Paula Sands Live on KWQC-TV Davenport no doubt boosted the Barnes & Noble appearance. Paula is so great – some of you will remember her from her acting stint (as herself!) in MOMMY’S DAY.

The reviews for ASK NOT at Amazon are generally raves, but we only have around a dozen at this point. If you’ve read and liked the book, could you please post a short review? If you didn’t like the book, keep in mind that I don’t come to where you work and criticize you.

My “WHY I WRITE” piece for Publisher’s Weekly was picked up by two of the best blogs in mystery fiction: Ed Gorman’s and Bill Crider’s.

The other non-Gorman Ed’s Blog posted a nice ASK NOT review here.

One of several radio interviews I did last week is available at this link.

My old pal David Burke at the Quad Cities Times did this short but sweet interview/write-up, promoting the Barnes & Noble signing.

Tony Isabella, great guy/terrific writer, gave his blog followers a nice heads up about the forthcoming WRONG QUARRY.

And here’s a fun review (read the comments, too) of THE GIRL HUNTERS. By the way, a blu-ray is coming and I will likely be involved.


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5 Responses to “Embarrassing Media Performance”

  1. patrick_o says:

    When I reviewed ASK NOT on my blog — I’ll see about posting it to Amazon later today — I ended up writing that I had no opinion on the assassination and couldn’t see what my opinion was worth if I even had one (though I found your theory perfectly plausible). At this point, so many books and movies have been written and so many differing opinions float around everywhere that the only thing I know for sure is a 100% true-blue fact is that JFK died. (Unless he, Elvis, and the real Paul McCartney are all off on a tropical island somewhere.)

    My point being that I can sort-of understand the media’s attitude, though as is tradition they were utterly banal about it. It’s such a tough case to wrap your head around that you could easily devote your life to it and still get nowhere. I think you’ve done a fine job constructing a thriller out of the case, but is it *the* solution? Beats me.

  2. I can only say that ASK NOT flows from research. The pro-Lone Nut theorists fancy themselves as debunkers and attack facts and witnesses in a manner that betrays their obvious bias. I went in with a bias myself — the only time in the history of the Heller series — but that bias was merely, “I find it hard to believe Oswald was a lone nut assassin.” I was truly prepared to be swayed. Elements of ASK NOT remain ambiguous — i.e., was LBJ aware of what was going down, was Oswald a patsy or an accomplice/fall guy.

    After years of reading, I am not sure what happened. Oswald may have been one of the shooters.

    But what even the most cursory examination of the facts indicates is that more than just Oswald was involved — the point I try to make here is that at least Ruby was involved, if only as somebody tying off a loose end.

    What is offensive about this media coverage — beyond its puerile nature — is the acceptance, the insistence, that the case is solved. What JFK and history at least deserve is the uncertainty you express. That we don’t know and possibly may never know what precisely happened.

    But my fellow liberals want Kennedy as a martyr — Maher went on to do a very funny comparison about how JFK was cooler than Reagan (hard to disagree with that). In the litany of things that made Jack cooler than Ronnie is that the former slept with Marilyn Monroe and the latter with a wife nicknamed “Mommy.” Funny, right? But Playboy mansion hanger-on Maher isn’t able to see the ramifications of a president sleeping with a movie star who had leftwing connections, just as Jack Kennedy apparently saw nothing wrong with sharing a mistress with Sam Giancana. That cool prez got himself into hot water, and celebrities getting tear-eyed fifty years later about a real but complex tragedy just isn’t enough to really honor history. Neither is the simple answer.

  3. Gerard Saylor says:

    I thing Oswald was a lone nut. He was a nut and I think he was the only shooter. I could easily believe that Oswald was a lone nut like James Earl Ray was a lone nut. They were both handled and guided by others.

    Ray was bankrolled and papered through by money and influence. I’m surprised Ray never spilled the beans on his handlers.

  4. Oswald may have been a nut, but if you believe he was handled and guided by others, then he’s not a lone nut.

    We can get bogged down in contradictory research and opinions (even informed ones), and while my gut says Oswald was a patsy, he may have been a shooter. Less the likely the sole shooter, but let’s say he was. He was still a guy with CIA, FBI, Cuban and mob ties (directly to Carlos Marcello). So when you add in so-called Lone Nut #2 — Jack Ruby — we exceed logic and credibility in thinking these are two lone nuts who collided historically. Ruby is a mob guy — and those that try to downplay that are simply wrong — and the probability he was sent to ice Oswald is very, very high. Again, the threshold of conspiracy is just two people, and Oswald/Ruby meet that.

    My opinion is that Oswald was a patsy. A guy trying to make a name for himself doesn’t deny his Big Crime from the git-go, as did Lee. His manner and his words say patsy. But if for some reason he was the shooter and decided to claim otherwise, I don’t think that’s really important. What’s important is what you said: he was “handled and guided by others.”

    And my prelim research indicates Ray was guided and handled by some of the same parties.

  5. Gerard Saylor says:

    Yes, I contradict myself.

    I don’t know that Oswald’s denials are out of character, especially if he was a nut. Wasn’t Ruby a self-important guy himself? A fella who could see himself as an avenger? For me there are plenty of questions on both sides of the conspiracy theory.

    The theory that Oswald and Ray were run with the same strategy is intriguing. The organizers learned from the Oswald failures and spirited Ray out to the UK. James Ellroy’s theory in [cannot recall the book title] was that a professional killer was hired as a marksman and Ray was not even in the room when the rifle was fired.