Star, a tentacle of tabloid kraken American Media, Inc., has a special "Who Shot JFK Jr.!" issue out. (No question mark!) Their answer: "Muslim terror kingpin Osama bin Laden." Or the Mob. Also, LBJ killed JFK, they report. It is a breathless corroboration of the far Right's favorite JFK conspiracy phantasies.
The literal-minded, nuance-free explanation as to why this AMI tabloid holding is pushing these conservative conspiracy theories about JFK Jr.'s death is boilerplate "follow the money" stuff. As the New York Post published earlier this month, AMI is purportedly accepting a $515 million dollar buyout deal from New Jersey hedge fund Chatham Asset Management and Omega Charitable Partnership with the usual political implications.
Omega's Chairman and CEO, Leon Cooperman, is most famous for writing a very long, embarrassing open letter to Barack Obama at the height of those heady Occupy Wall Street days bemoaning Obama's and his "minions' role in setting the tenor of the rancorous debate now roiling us that smacks of what so many have characterized as 'class warfare'." And, currently, Chatham Asset Management is embroiled in a seemingly clear-cut criminal case along with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. From Pando Daily:
[Late] last month, the New Jersey State Investment Council moved to award a controversial $300 million investment contract to Chatham Asset Management, despite the fact that Chatham's principal, and a woman living at his address and sharing his surname, donated more than $50,000 to a Republican election group that oversaw major portions of Gov. Christie's 2013 re-election operation. The proposed investment is already highly controversial given the hedge fund also reportedly owns a stake in the Atlantic City casino, Revel.
Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen, which originally lobbied for the pay-to-play statute, said that the $300m offer "appears to be not an indirect violation, but a direct violation of the law."
All of which is to say that you can probably expect your supermarket celebrity magazines to now more frequently echo the pernicious partisan rancor of Rupert Murdoch-owned properties like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. Many have been laid off at AMI, for sure, as with most print media publishers, so job security would tend to dictate appealing to the people upstairs.
However, this sort of tabloid empire Kremlinology is surely very denigrating to the hard work Star's team of five full-time researchers and six full-time writers (Wow.) must have put into their reporting.
Plus: ever since 2008, when the National Enquirer caught Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards committing adulterous, sexually reproductive acts with his videographer, America is no longer permitted to casually dismiss the tabloids and their scoops. And so:
Did bin Laden Murder JFK Jr. Somehow?
The first most important thing that you will notice about Star's account of this, after its baby talk goofiness, is that it is initially credited to many experts:
A terrorist working under orders from Osama bin Laden secretly stashed a bomb on board JFK Jr.'s Piper Saratoga and blew the Kennedy icon from the sky! That's the shocking conclusion of some experts, who say the 911 mastermind wanted Kennedy dead because he "symbolized America."
Then, immediately afterward, only one expert really: "a top Justice Department source." It helps to read all of this confidential informant's quotes imagining a ten-year-old boy who is always throwing up his arms for emphasis.
"He believed JFK Jr. would run for president, win the White House and make the United States stronger than ever," explains the Washington insider. "Bin Laden's own writings show he was obsessed with John's father, President Kennedy, along with conspiracy theories about his assassination.
"JFK Jr. was a symbol of New York City, and bin Laden was determined to destroy him AND the city he loved."
This magazine cost $5.99, by the way. Plus tax. Plus taquitos. Plus Coke Slurpee®. It will be available on newsstands until August 18th.
The Enquirer, as of Friday, is also running with a story about a bomb on JFK Jr.'s Piper Saratoga, attributing the story to nameless FBI agents and a guy named Michael Rivero who is so crazy that he was blacklisted by Alex Jones. Infowars warlord Alex Jones.
The Enquirer version of the bombing makes no mention of bin Laden, however, and even Star's account ends with an unnamed "federal law enforcement official" blurting out that "The Mob or other people involved with President Kennedy's assassination may have done it." A natural segue to:
Did the Mob Conspire with Lyndon Johnson to Murder JFK, Then Decades Later Murder JFK Jr. to Keep Him from Investigating His Father's Assassination?
Once again, this comes to us via a single unnamed source, this time an alleged Kennedy family member, whom Star quotes at length.
"Over drinks Ted [Kennedy] told John [JFK Jr. that] the Mafia and LBJ were behind the assassination," the relative says. "Their motive was simple: power, greed and revenge. Ted said the Chicago Syndicate helped steal the 1960 presidential election for JFK by rigging vote results in Illinois after cutting a deal with John's grandfather, Joe Sr. In exchange for helping JFK, Joe Sr. promised the Kennedy Administration would go easy on the Mafia."
Which, of course, famously, they did not.
"So, Ted explained, JFK's murder was payback—and so was Bobby's 1968 California assassination," the relative says. "Ted said he'd been warned any other Kennedy who got in the way would get the same treatment. He believed it—and ordered John to let sleeping dogs lie."
You will notice that, right down to the part where Ted Kennedy is drinking, this is basically conservatives' favorite version of the Kennedy family (and Lyndon Johnson). It is the version of Camelot from that 2011 miniseries that the History Channel, FX, Starz, and Showtime all passed on.
But, still: Is this anonymous, supposed Kennedy family member correct?
Career political operative and former Nixon gopher Roger Stone is convinced. He put out a book last year on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination forcefully accusing LBJ of the murder—cribbing healthily from a similar book by Barr McClellan (father to George W. Bush's White House spokesman Scott McClellan) entitled Blood, Money, & Power: How LBJ Killed JFK, as well as Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt, who pointed the finger at LBJ in an interesting deathbed confession.
Make no mistake, Johnson was a brutal and ruthless political operator who would stop at nothing—even passing broad welfare and entitlement legislation like the Great Society programs—to get his way.
Another weird thing happened over the course of the 50th anniversary: Literally every conservative pundit who had a mouth to open had something to say about how John F. Kennedy was actually a conservative, when you think about it. It was the kind of pervasive nuttiness we've all come to recognize as "staying on message." The underlying premise seems to be that beloved cool dude JFK rightly belongs to the GOP, because he loved tax cuts and fighting Communism. Had he lived, Johnson and those Saul Alinsky types would not have been able to pass all that dangerous Great Society socialism.
I am embarrassed to say that I dragged Salon founder and author David Talbot into this miserable waste of time via email. (David, I am sorry.)
Talbot is the author of a genuinely good, honest contribution to the history of the Kennedy assassination, Brothers, that details Robert Kennedy's harrowing and sad private investigation into his brother's murder. It was almost made into an HBO miniseries directed by Academy Award-nominated director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Velvet Goldmine, I'm Not There, etc.). It probably would have been gorgeous to look at and very cool.
"I can't help you, since I know absolutely nothing about what JFK Jr. was doing in regard to his father's murder," Talbot politely responded via email. "But my general sense, as you know from my book, is that RFK was the only one in the family with the courage and inside knowledge (and, of course, proximity to the crime) to have mounted a serious investigation."
Talbot interviewed just about every living Kennedy acquaintance or family member who would speak to him for Brothers and, failing that, their still-living children. In the book, you can read an on-the-record account of Bobby Kennedy telling Bay of Pigs veteran Harry Ruiz Williams point-blank that he believed members of the CIA's anti-Castro programs (which, yes, did include the Mafia) were responsible for the assassination. You can read an on-the-record account, corroborated by declassified documents, of Kennedy family friend Bill Walton relaying Jackie and Bobby Kennedy's suspicion of a domestic political conspiracy to Khrushchev via a back channel from the Cuban Missile Crisis. You can hear everyone from Look magazine EIC William Attwood to comedian Mort Sahl tell their version of Robert Kennedy saying something about reopening the case once he's president. What you will not read, is anything on-the-record about the Kennedys believing LBJ orchestrated the assassination.
It may help here to add an account from the day of the JFK assassination by Brigadier General Godfrey McHugh, President Kennedy's military aide on the Dallas trip. It was conducted for the Kennedy Presidential Library in 1978:
McHugh, like most members of the Kennedy entourage, did not know that Johnson was onboard. They believed that the new president was on his own plane flying back to Washington. If LBJ was on the plane, McHugh wanted to see for himself. Since he had not seen Johnson in the aisle — and at 6'4" Johnson would be tough to miss — McHugh assumed that he must then be in the bedroom. When he checked there Johnson was nowhere to be seen. The only place on the plane he had not inspected was the bathroom in the presidential bedroom.
What McHugh claimed to have witnessed next was shocking. "I walked in the toilet, in the powder room, and there he was hiding, with the curtain closed," McHugh recalled. He claimed that LBJ was crying, "They're going to get us all. It's a plot. It's a plot. It's going to get us all.'" According to the General, Johnson "was hysterical, sitting down on the john there alone in this thing."
Perhaps Lyndon Johnson is a cunning, Oscar-caliber performer. But it's certainly also just as likely that he was genuinely quivering with fear, in a bathroom, expecting to die in a bloody coup that had taken him completely by surprise.
Star has published commemorative special issues beginning the year JFK, Jr. died (like their first one from 1999, pictured directly above) fairly regularly, roughly at 5-year intervals.
One of the more unpleasant realities of these fun and stupid, but also nauseatingly gauche, special issues—and to be sure the coverage of JFK Jr. across all of AMI's vast holdings, the Globe, the National Enquirer, the National Examiner, Sun, Radar Online, and OK!—is that AMI's CEO David Pecker is and was ostensibly a friend and ally to the young Kennedy. While CEO at Elle publisher Hachette Fillipachi, Pecker invested $20 million in Kennedy's fledgling "post-partisan" politics glossy George back in the 1990s.
"After I left Hachette, he [JFK Jr.] sent me a very, very nice note wishing me luck," Pecker reminisced for a book on John and his sister Caroline. "His letter contained an amusing aside about looking forward to reading about himself in my new publications in the near future. I thought it was really sweet considering he'd been tabloid fodder for so many years."
In the years since JFK Jr.'s death, Pecker's company has claimed that Hillary Clinton had orchestrated his fatal plane crash to clear the way for her Senatorial run in New York, published two separate allegations of a JFK Jr. bastard child, and has run with tons of less atrocious, but equally spurious things.
There are plenty of legitimate criticisms and grievances one could have about the Kennedy family and fortunate son John-John in particular. But surely everyone can agree that there must be a fresher corpse for AMI to profit off of by now.
[top photo taken by author]