How “conspiracy theories” happen: The case of Douglas Brinkley (and Tom Hanks)

In a piece I sent out earlier this week–about the passing of Israeli spy David Kimche, and the secrets he took with him to the grave–there’s a section that will shed some light on how real scandals are kept down in the forbidden netherworld of the “conspiracy theory,” no matter how much solid evidence there is that they occurred. As Parry’s piece is rather long, it’s likely that you didn’t read this passsage, so I reproduce it here.

Parry’s article lays out Kimche’s hip-deep involvement in the infamous “October Surprise”  that first got Reagan/Bush elected–i.e., the covert deal that the Reagan campaign team struck with Iran (with Israel’s help), to keep our 52 hostages locked up past the 1980 election, so that their timely liberation wouldn’t give a boost to Jimmy Carter’s bid for re-election.

Parry knows this story better than anyone, having stuck with it doggedly for years–despite its having long since been defined as baseless. In fact, the evidence of that scandal has, throughout the years, continued (quietly) to grow; but no one will go near it.

Why? Consider the case of best-selling historian Douglas Brinkley, who makes a sudden and enlightening appearance in Parry’s piece:

Dangerous Taboo

Despite the evidence, the October Surprise case, like the contra-cocaine dispute, became a taboo topic within the U.S. political/media establishment. That, in turn, diminished the eagerness of career-oriented historians to challenge the conventional wisdom.

For example, popular historian Douglas Brinkley was witness to an important October Surprise admission but then shied away from his own evidence.

In the mid-1990s, while working on a book about Carter’s post-presidency, Brinkley was present for a face-to-face meeting between Carter and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat, when Arafat tried to confess a role in the October Surprise maneuvering.

“There is something I want to tell you,” Arafat said, addressing Carter at a meeting in Arafat’s bunker in Gaza City. “You should know that in 1980 the Republicans approached me with an arms deal [for the PLO] if I could arrange to keep the hostages in Iran until after the [U.S. presidential] election.”

Arafat insisted that he rebuffed the offer, but Carter discouraged any further comments, apparently not wanting to reopen the October Surprise controversy and open himself to accusations that he was engaging in sour grapes.

Naively perhaps, Brinkley recounted this extraordinary exchange in an article for the fall 1996 issue of Diplomatic History, a scholarly quarterly. Later, through a spokesman, Carter confirmed to me that the conversation with Arafat had occurred as described by Brinkley.

However, when Brinkley got around to writing his much more widely circulated book on Carter, The Unfinished Presidency, the startling Arafat admission was missing. After getting a better feel for the October Surprise taboo, Brinkley presumably concluded that his professional standing would be hurt by an association with the ugly controversy.

So there it is:  Brinkley, when he came to write his book, quite conveniently “forgot” what Arafat had said, right there in front of him, even though it wasn’t only pertinent to his subject, but could have been big news in its own right–and that’s exactly why he had to let it vanish down the memory hole, because such “big news” could have tagged him as a crank, and that would be the end of him as a celebrity historian.

And so it’s been with countless other journalists and pundits, not just in the mainstream but also throughout the left, when it comes to such explosive issues as (for instance) 9/11, and election fraud in the US, and various dark patches of our national history. To face and publicize the evidence, in each such case, is to risk a lot (go do a Google search on Gary Webb); and so the Brinkleys out there automatically–and understandably–erase that evidence in their own minds, and thereby help to keep it buried deep in the “imaginary” archives of “conspiracy theory.”

And so it’s only right (albeit profoundly wrong) that Brinkley should have been the gushing author of Time‘s recent profile of Tom Hanks, exalting him as “America’s Historian in Chief.” In fact, Hanks is America’s leading guardian of our national mythology, from “the Good War” to “the Greatest Generation” to the CIA’s involvement with the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan. And, as Brinkley tells us (with no comment), Hanks now plans to do his idealizing number on the JFK assassination:

For an upcoming project, Hanks has obtained the rights to Vincent Bugliosi’s controversial Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He is eager to weigh in on America’s quintessential murder mystery. (Bugliosi is best known for having put Charles Manson in prison for the Tate murders.) Hanks and Gary Goetzman will act as executive producers, and Hanks hopes the adaptation will air in 2013. He believes the public has been snookered into believing that Lee Harvey Oswald was framed. “We’re going to do the American public a service,” Hanks says. “A lot of conspiracy types are going to be upset. If we do it right, it’ll be perhaps one of the most controversial things that has ever been on TV.”,8816,1969606,00.html

I’ll have more to say about this project soon. For now, suffice it to say that Hanks and Brinkley both make clear that, in these United States, some truths are quickly waved away as “theories” not because there’s little solid evidence supporting them, but because those truths have (somehow) been declared off-limits, so that you will do much better to ignore them, or even ridicule them, than to talk about them honestly, if what matters most to you is your career.


1 reply on “How “conspiracy theories” happen: The case of Douglas Brinkley (and Tom Hanks)”

Sounds as if Hanks has been talking to Gerald Posner, doesn’t it?

That aside, who wouldn’t suspect the Repugs of trying to alter history to fix an election? That’s what they do best. From a former Chief Justice chasing blacks and Latinos away from the polls in the `60s to Nixon’s Plumbers to Reagan’s ex-CIA election helpers to the elder Bush’s Willie Horton moment to the 2000 con job at the Supreme Court to the ACORN defunding effort, they’ve been in the business of vote suppression and election fixing.

Too long a history of skulduggery and ratfucking for any sensible person to ignore.

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