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It is the best of books; it is the worst of books. Former Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi takes on one of the biggest mysteries in American history, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and, with explosive bloviating, fuming, and fiery prosecutorial zeal, attempts to prove that JFK assassination conspiracy theories are all just a figment of our paranoid imaginations.
This perhaps the silliest book of all time written from the point of view of a conspiracy debunker (even if I’ll grant that the silliest books written about the JFK assassination have always been from the point of view of the conspiracy theorists). It is a concerted and confident leap into a giant manure pile that we cannot look upon with the dignity it asks, even begs of us.
Bugliosi believes Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin. He repeatedly
scolds anyone who has ever entertained that any of myriad conspiracy theories out there is worth more than something to line your canary cage with.
He attempts to analyze the consistent folly of conspiracy theorists in the following way: 1) they find some anomaly in the case; 2) they spin a theory using the most creative forces of their imagination; and 3) they cherry-pick supporting evidence out of the wide body of evidence of the case, irresponsibly omitting details disadvantageous to their theory. Then again, the old tale goes that when you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. In this way, Bugliosi unintentionally adapts what he perceives to be the disingenuous guile of conspiracy theorists and proceeds to fight fire with fire.
In all fairness, anyone cocksure of himself in explaining the JFK assassination is going to fall into the same trap Bugliosi falls into. No one has ever successfully written the type of book that Bugliosi envisions.
But wait a minute. Bugliosi is a prosecutor. The granddaddy of conspiracy theorists, Mark Lane, has always described himself as a defense attorney for Lee Harvey Oswald—with the blessings of Oswald’s late mother, Marguerite. Why not put the two great legal minds together—Bugliosi’s and Lane’s—and come up with an adversarial approach to justice, even if it is outside the hallowed halls of a court of law and into the arena of pulpy conspiracy theory books? In other words, if we let Bugliosi and Lane duke it out, we might come to some useful conclusions.
Actually Bugliosi did just that in 1986 with a defense attorney named Gerry Spence in a mock televised trial sponsored by London Weekend Television. Bugliosi reminds us that he won the case: a 12-person jury unanimously found Lee Harvey Oswald “guilty.” We assume this mock verdict means that the jury thought Oswald was involved in the killing, but the jury did not rule out a conspiracy, as Bugliosi so vehemently does.
Here’s the problem: Bugliosi does not present himself or his arguments in the context of a prosecutor, rather in the context of an historian, if not even a scientist or advanced logician. He claims that people who doubt the substantial conclusions of the Warren Commission are not living in the “real world” where bullets are fired from specific guns and specific people pull the triggers of these specific guns from specific places. Such theater may the gist of a court of law, but Bugliosi suffers from the severe delusion that courts of law and their theater do not exist outside of courts of law. The real world may be the predictalbe but confusing world of cause and effect, but it is also the world of eyewitnesses that disagree as to what they saw, while sometimes change their stories over the years, and of the general public trying to piece the confusion all together for themselves—without the Jedi mind tricks, thank you