On October 26, the National Archives was supposed to release the last of its remaining records on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The date was chiseled in a 1992 statute. Around 88 percent of the records had already been made public, but there were still 3,200 documents that had never been available and nearly 35,000 more that had only been released in redacted form.
As the date neared, Representative Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) declared, “It’s time to let people know the truth.” Jones believes (like a majority of Americans, according to polls) that accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had confederates and that important facts about that “awful afternoon” are still hidden away. Martha Wagner Murphy, chief of the special access and Freedom of Information Act staff at the National Archives, repeatedly cautioned that the documents would add only incremental information to what was already evident. But few in the general public and fewer still in the “research community,” as Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theorists prefer to be known, were willing to believe her. After five decades, occasions for challenging the official verdict are few and far between. The community knew the disclosures could gin up interest, and the excitement reached all the way to the White House.
Donald Trump created much of the drama by tweeting his inclination to align with those calling for full disclosure: No more postponements, no more deletions, damn the Deep State, he seemed to be saying on October 21. At the eleventh hour he deferred to the U.S. intelligence agencies and gave them an extra six months to make their cases for continuing to redact or withhold a tiny portion of the record. But documents were to be released as fast as they could be processed.
Murphy has been proven right; the pages released in five document dumps so far this year (there was a release on July 24 that attracted no fanfare) haven’t told us anything of moment we didn’t already know. The pseudo-drama surrounding the October date has only served to illustrate what H.L. Mencken once called “the virulence of the national appetite for bogus revelation.”
Press reports propagated the misperception that these “classified Kennedy assassination files” had never seen the light of day. That was a half-truth. The records had been pried out of federal agencies more than two decades ago and closely parsed by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), an entity created by the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. The statute was Congress’s response to widespread public dismay over a closing line in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, JFK, which noted that many federal documents pertaining to the assassination were sealed until 2029. The legislative remedy provided that all the records from the federal government’s investigations be gathered in one place and opened up once and for all. It’s important to stress the plural—investigations. Everyone knows about the Warren Commission’s 1964 report, but it was preceded by the FBI’s December 1963 report and followed by probes undertaken by the 1968 Clark Panel, named after then-attorney general Ramsey Clark; the 1975 Rockefeller Commission; the 1975-76 Senate Church Committee; and the 1978-79 House Select Committee on Assassinations. And those are only the major investigations. ...