On JFK, Joyce Carol Oates blames the victim

In an essay for The Washington Post, prolific novelist Joyce Carol Oates opines that the real problem in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy was not the government’s implausible and mendacious account of the crime but the confused and outraged response of the American majority that could not–and does not–believe it.

Alexandra Zapruder “If Kennedy’s assassination was a tragedy,” she writes in a review of Alexandra Zapruder’s book about her grandfather’s home movie of the assassination, “the aftermath of competing and vociferous conspiracy theorists was a farce, with serious consequences: the undermining of trust in the U.S. government and in authority in general that continues to this day.”

As we approach the commemoration of JFK’s death on November 22, Oates’s stance is a reminder of the sources and power of denial. Rather than face the facts, Oates takes comfort in the fiction that the American people are to blame for their own suspicion and doubt.

Oates suggests that the critics of Warren Commission’s account undermined trust in government. She refrains from judging President Johnson or FBI director J. Edgar Hoover or former CIA director Allen Dulles decided within 48 hours of JFK’s death that Oswald alone had committed the crime and then ordered subordinates to reach that conclusion.

Who’s to blame?

In Oates’ perspective, it was not the CIA that undermined trust in government by withholding two bodies of evidence from the public and from investigators: the plots to kill Castro and the pre-assassination monitoring of Oswald.

Giamatti as Zapruder
As seen in ‘Parkland,” Abraham Zapruder, played by Paul Giamatti

Note that I am not talking about individual pieces of evidence but whole bodies of information that contained multiple pieces of material evidence that were fundamental to the homicide under investigation.

The accused assassin was not, as the government pretended, of little interest to the FBI and essentially unknown to the CIA before JFK was killed. The story of a “lone nut” was false and senior government officials knew it was false.

Oswald was not alone as he made his way to Dallas; he was watched by senior CIA and FBI officers every step of the way. And he was not regarded as a “nut.” He was the object of intense interest, culminating on October 10, 1963 when senior CIA officers reviewed Oswald’s file and told the Mexico City station that he was “maturing.”

In fact, the accused assassin was a man whose politics, foreign contacts, and personal life had been monitored by the CIA’s Counterintelligence Staff for four years. The Fair Play for Cuba Committee to which he ostensibly belonged had been targeted for destruction by a joint CIA-FBI COINTELPRO operation in September 1963.

Playing dumb

Yet after JFK was dead, the CIA officers who knew the most about the accused assassin Oswald played dumb.

James Angleton testifies
James Angleton, spymaster who monitored Oswald.

At the same time, James Angleton, chief of the counterintelligence staff and other top CIA officers who had been conspiring to kill Cuban president Fidel Castro, said nothing about their own endeavors in political assassination. They didn’t disclose those murderous plans to JFK investigators, despite their obvious relevance.

In face of this painful and shameful accumulation of facts, Oates does what a lot of people do. She takes the easy way out. She blames the people, not the government. The problem, in her view, wasn’t criminal governmental misconduct. It was–and is–the millions of Americans who responded indignantly to this malfeasance.

Their implausible theories, she says implausibly, are what undermined faith in government. The men who actually committed perjury and obstructed justice in the case of the murdered president escape her censure.

Facts and fiction

A novelist, Oates is more interested in grand themes than mundane facts, especially facts that disturb her apolitical analysis of the human condition. What interests her about Zapruder’s film–and his granddaughter’s book about it–it how it shapes individual identity.

“If there is one predominant theme of “Twenty-Six Seconds,” she writes. “it is that an individual cannot easily escape the inheritance of names, and how it shapes identity and life experiences.”

Head ShotOates does not share Alexandra Zapruder’s efforts to understand the visual evidence of a homicide on the film. Oates doesn’t mention the most shocking revelation of the film when the film was first shown publicly in 1975: that the president was not driven “forward” by the fatal shot as Secret Service officer Clint Hill told the Warren Commission or that JFK fell to his “left” when shot as the Commission’s final report falsely stated.

The Zapruder film shocked tens of millions of Americans when it was first shown on national TV in March 1975 because it showed the president backwards and to the left, as if struck by gunfire from the front–which is was what Merriman Smith, the UPI reporter on the scene, reported and waht Roy Kellerman, the Secret Service agent in the motorcade, soon said. So did twenty other law enforcement officers at the scene of the crime.

The visual evidence of the film left no room for doubt. On the question of the impact of the fatal shot, the Warren Commission had propagated a false version of events. In plain language, the Commission lied.

In response, many people developed theories that would better explain the facts. Some of these theories were stupid, ill-informed and implausible. But none of the stupid JFK theories did so much to undermine public confidence as the governmental misconduct which preceded them.

By pretending otherwise, Oates can excuse herself from the chore of confronting the truth that we really don’t know what happened in Dallas, not even a half century later. This is an uncomfortable and disturbing fact and Joyce Carol Oates does not want to be detained by it. She wants to get on with her mission of writing more fiction.



From a 5-Star Amazon review of Jefferson Morley’s CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files,

“Can’t imagine a more meticulous take down of the CIA’s decades-long subterfuge surrounding the assassination.”

Jefferson Morley’s new ebook, CIA and JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, available on Amazon, provides the fullest account of the role of CIA operations officers in the events leading to the death of JFK, with a guide to what will be declassified in October 2017.






11 thoughts on “On JFK, Joyce Carol Oates blames the victim”

  1. Perhaps Ms. Oates feels, whether rightly or wrongly, that her ability to continue to have her writings published — or at least recommended by mainstream publications — depends on her continuing to mouth official dogma.

    1. I doubt this very much. Joyce Carol Oates is a distinguished, prolific and fine writer. I am certain she does not tailor her views on the JFK case for the sake of publication or money. She has no need to.

  2. Do some people in America suffer from over exertion of their right to free speech? If, when given a platform, one chooses to regurgitate the official government propaganda, the informed and enlightened listeners are duty bound to rebuke the speaker, so that an honest discourse can replace tired, old, baseless platitudes offered by a long mistrusted governmental authority. Indeed, the framers of the Federalist Papers (Hamilton, Madison, & Jay) had healthy suspicions of government and sought a “system of checks and balances and the Constitution’s clear delineation of the powers of the federal government—few, limited, and defined.” In regards to Oates’ opinion about citizens who seek the truth about JFK, we have encountered much more powerful opposition and systemic denial, albeit from the very institutions she blindly trusts. It is a fitting day (November 22, 2016) for truth seekers to be dodging venomous bullets from verbal assassins.

  3. QUOTE: “Oates suggests that the critics of Warren Commission’s account undermined trust in government. She refrains from judging President Johnson or FBI director J. Edgar Hoover or former CIA director Allen Dulles decided within 48 hours of JFK’s death that Oswald alone had committed the crime and then ordered subordinates to reach that conclusion.”

    Could someone show me where LBJ, Hoover and Dulles ordered their subordinates to reach the conclusion that Oswald acted alone? (Or did I misread it?)

    1. The fact that no surviving documents show that Hitler ordered the genocide of the Jews does not mean that he did not order it. In fact, he was probably careful to see that there were no such documents.

  4. Antonio D'Antonio

    How untrusting of some of us not to believe the Warren Commission’s official narrative on the JFK assassination.
    I guess we should have believed what the government told us about the Gulf of Tonkin incident also.
    And all the information that was released in the declassified documents about Operation Northwoods, Operation Mockingbird and Operation Gladio should have been completely ignored so that they did not contribute to “the undermining of trust in the U.S. government and in authority in general that continues to this day.”

  5. Dear Joyce

    Imagine, for a moment, that a man has been murdered.

    The FBI investigate his death and produce a report that concludes that 3 shots were fired at the man and all 3 shots hit him.

    This report is attached to the official record of the man’s death. A lawyer for the government then disputes the FBI report and instead concludes that the man was hit by only 2 shots.

    The FBI do not change their report or their conclusions.

    Would you have any questions about the thoroughness of this investigation and the conclusions of the official report?

    Or not?

  6. “If there is one predominant theme of “Twenty-Six Seconds,” she writes. “it is that an individual cannot easily escape the inheritance of names, and how it shapes identity and life experiences.”

    Nations also can not escape the inheritance of lies about a major event of the 20th century. Those lies are what has caused distrust in government and helped shape the identity of government.

  7. Joyce Carol Oates’s essay reads like a compendium of unexamined (and largely untrue) preconceived notions about the assassination. She calls Oswald “deranged,” calls Ruby “distraught,” and ignores the existence of the HSCA and the ARRB in favor of the usual snickering at “conspiracy theorists.” And yet she concludes by calling the assassination “an inadequately healed wound that defies our fullest understanding.” In other words, the assassination is a mystery that “defies our fullest understanding,” but the only people who have actually tried to understand it are reckless “conspiracy theorists” who deserve our condemnation. Writers like Oates, who spin endless cotton candy bales of empty words out of how the assassination “affected” us while sneering at the people who have actually taken the subject seriously, do a profound injustice to both John F. Kennedy and the country he served.

    1. One thing I’ve noticed about some well-known authors who have written on this subject in the last 3 years is that they seem to have read little to nothing of the skeptical literature on this subject. The one who stands out most for me is James Wolcott, the Vanity Fair writer who wrote a lengthy article about the assassination on its 50th anniversary. He repeated the erroneous story about Oswald having lunched on a meal of fried chicken while waiting for the Presidential motorcade. This received a lot of attention in the days and weeks following the assassination, and helped to paint Oswald as a psycho callously gorging himself while patiently waiting to commit murder. Yet it was debunked very shortly afterwards, and even the Warren Report gets it right — the lunch had been eaten by one of Oswald’s co-workers who left the 6th floor shortly before the murder. When I saw that in Wolcott’s piece, it confirmed what I already suspected, that he’d read just about nothing w/r/t to JFK’s murder, and simply threw together an article using Officially Sanctioned Sources, and didn’t even examine those adequately. I suspect the same is true of Oates.

  8. Here’s something you can be fairly certain Ms. Oates never thought about.
    On 11-18-63 the FBI intercepted a letter from Oswald to the Soviet Embassy in Washington in which he claimed he’d met with a “Comrade Kostin” in Mexico.
    On the morning of the 23rd, J. Edgar Hoover told Pres. Johnson they had reason to believe Oswald was impersonated in Mexico.
    An hour or so later, the CIA called the FBI and told them they’d realized the man Oswald met with in Mexico was Kostikov, who had a relationship with Department 13, the department of the KGB charged with conducting assassinations.
    And yet: within an hour, the FBI sent out a teletype to all its offices which read: “Lee Harvey Oswald has been developed as the principal suspect in the assassination of President Kennedy. He has been formally charged with the President’s murder along with the murder of Dallas Texas patrolman J.D. Tippit by Texas state authorities. In view of developments all offices should resume normal contacts with informants and other sources with respect to bombing suspects, hate group members and known racial extremists. Daily teletype summaries may be discontinued. All investigation bearing directly on the President’s assassination should be afforded most expeditious handling and Bureau and Dallas advised.”

    Explicate that one!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top