From film shot by Abraham Zapruder, November 22, 1963.
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.”

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