The JFK Myth, 50 Years Later

Conspiracy stories about our youngest elected president still dominate headlines and pack movie theaters 50 years after his death.

President John F. Kennedy waves to onlookers approximately one minute before he was shot in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. Fifty years later, conspiracy theories still abound.
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The power of myth has such an enormous hold over the American mind that – 50 years later – conspiracy stories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy can still dominate headlines and pack movie theaters.

[READ MORE: JFK: 50 Years Later]

In fact, so much JFK conspiratorial minutiae has been thrown at the American public for so long it is now nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. Yet it all still feeds a nearly insatiable public appetite for JFK myths and conspiracy theories.

On Nov. 22, it will be 50 years since Lee Harvey Oswald took aim from an upper window overlooking Dealey Plaza and, firing in rapid fashion with a long-range rifle, killed JFK as his unprotected motorcade car wound its way through the streets of Dallas.

Yet another movie chronicling the JFK murder from yet another angle – from the eyes of the doctors and nurses who were unable to save JFK at Parkland hospital – makes its way into American theaters a month or so before the 50-year anniversary of the JFK assassination. The movie, "Parkland," doesn't promise any new revelations. But JFK conspiracy stories continue to fascinate Americans, and fill seats in movie theaters.

"There is almost nothing about 'Parkland' that will feel familiar or known," its director, Peter Landesman, told a local Fox News affiliate recently. But, he added, "it turns our preconceptions about the JFK assassination on their head… and shows us we really knew little or nothing."

Such is the enduring power of the JFK assassination that it could be a big box office draw 50 years later.

"The real power and truth of the JFK assassination has been buried under the murder mystery. We as a culture are obsessed by conspiracy and mythology…while the bigger story has been right in front of us all this time," Landesman said.

People have made hay – and careers – from JFK myths and conspiracies for decades. Legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, for instance, made some extraordinary claims about JFK in his 1997 best-selling book, "The Dark Side of Camelot," including speculation from unnamed sources that Kennedy had a close working relationship with mafia boss Sam Giancana, a theory that now sits firmly at the center of many of the JFK murder conspiracy stories.

Hersh recently tapped into that distinctly American love for presidential conspiracies when he made the unsubstantiated claim in an interview in The Guardian that the death of Osama bin Laden was "one big lie, not one word of it is true" and almost certainly set off yet another wild round of conspiracy talk online, where Obama presidential conspiracies and myths reside.

In short, Americans love presidential conspiracies – and JFK is the motherlode of all presidential conspiracies. The notion that Oswald could not possibly have killed an American president all by himself with a few shots from his rifle more than a block away is the myth that simply will not die.

In fact, poll after poll says that millions of Americans, to this day, simply don't believe that Oswald acted alone, despite exhaustive efforts on the part of journalists and historians alike to confirm or deny the "grassy knoll" theory that other shooters from other directions also fired on JFK's motorcade that day in Dallas.

Did Oswald – erstwhile CIA informant, ex-military sharpshooter, and Soviet sympathizer – act alone 50 years ago? We may never know, though the weight of history and journalism heavily leans on the lone gunman side of the equation.

But even if someone were to produce incontrovertible proof, either confirming or denying that Oswald did or did not act alone, such is the power of presidential conspiracies in the United States that vast parts of the American populace wouldn't believe it anyway.

Myths and conspiracies are seemingly easier to believe in than the truth. It's far more fun for some to believe that Barack Hussein Obama wasn't born in the United States and that the "lone birth certificate" will emerge someday to vindicate the birthers – despite the fact that Obama's aides have, time and again, produced valid birth certificates that should have put that myth to rest.