By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press

 On the very day John F. Kennedy died, a cottage industry was born. Fifty years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, it’s still thriving.

 Its product? The “truth” about the president’s assassination.

 ”By the evening of November 22, 1963, I found myself being drawn into the case,” Los Angeles businessman Ray Marcus wrote in “Addendum B,” one of several self-published monographs he produced on the assassination. For him, authorities were just too quick and too pat with their conclusion.

 ”The government was saying there was only one assassin; that there was no conspiracy. It was obvious that even if this subsequently turned out to be true, it could not have been known to be true at that time.”

 Most skeptics, including Marcus, didn’t get rich by publishing their doubts and theories — and some have even bankrupted themselves chasing theirs. But for a select few, there’s been good money in keeping the controversy alive.

 Best-selling books and blockbuster movies have raked in massive profits since 1963. And now, with the 50th anniversary of that horrible day in Dallas looming, a new generation is set to cash in.

 Of course, the Warren Commission officially concluded in 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone — and issued 26 volumes of documents to support that determination. But rather than closing the book on JFK’s death, the report merely served as fuel for an already kindled fire of doubt and suspicion.

 Since then, even government investigators have stepped away from the lone assassin theory. In 1978, the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations ended its own lengthy inquiry by finding that JFK “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

 That panel acknowledged it was “unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” But armed with mountains of subsequently released documents, there has been no shortage of people willing to offer their own conclusions.

 Among the leading suspects: Cuban exiles angry about the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Mafiosi enraged by Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s attacks on organized crime; the “military-industrial complex,” worried about JFK’s review of war policy in Vietnam.

 One theorist even floated the notion that Kennedy’s limousine driver shot the president — as part of an effort to cover up proof of an alien invasion.

 Anything but that Oswald, a hapless former Marine, was in the right place at the right time, with motive and opportunity to pull off one of the most audacious crimes in American history.

 ”As they say, nature abhors a vacuum, and the mind abhors chance,” says Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society and author of “The Believing Brain,” a book on how humans seem hardwired to find patterns in disparate facts and unconnected, often innocent coincidences.

 Polls underscore the point.

 About 6 in 10 Americans say they believe multiple people were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy, while only one-fourth think Oswald acted alone, according to an AP-GfK survey done in mid-April. Belief in a conspiracy, though strong, has declined since a 2003 Gallup poll found 75 percent said they thought Oswald was part of a wider plot.

 The case has riveted the public from the start. When the Warren Commission report was released in book form, it debuted at No. 7 on The New York Times Best Sellers List.

 Two years later, attorney Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgment” dominated the list. The Warren Commission, he argued, “frequently chose to rely on evidence that was no stronger and sometimes demonstrably weaker than contrary evidence which it rejected.”

The book has since sold millions of copies in hardcover and paperback, says Lane.

 Since then, dozens of books with titles like “Best Evidence,” ”Reasonable Doubt,” ”High Treason” and “Coup D’Etat in America: The CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy” have sought to lay responsibility for JFK’s death at the highest levels of the U.S. government — and beyond.

 British journalist Anthony Summers, whose BBC documentary became the 1980 book “Conspiracy,” says many conspiracy buffs “are fine scholars and students, and some are mad as hatters who think it was done by men from Mars using catapults.”

 Unlike the later coverage of Watergate, there were no reporters like The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were told by their editors, “Get on this and don’t get off it,” says Summers, whose works focused on people and events largely ignored or treated cursorily by the official investigations. “Nobody went down there and really did the shoe leather work and the phone calls that we’re all supposed to do,” he says.

 For many, the Kennedy assassination has become “a board game: ‘Who killed JFK?’ So you feel free to sit around and say, ‘Oh! It’s the mob. Oh! It’s the KGB’ … and have no shame,” scoffs Gerald Posner, whose 1993 book “Case Closed” declared that the Warren Commission essentially got it right.

 The Oswald-as-patsy community has vilified Posner.

 But the lawyer says he didn’t set out to write a defense of the Warren Commission. Instead, he planned to go back through the critical evidence to see what more could be determined through hindsight and more modern investigative techniques — “and then put out a book that says, ‘Read THIS book. Here are the four unresolved issues of the Kennedy assassination, with the evidence on both sides.’”

 Halfway through the allotted research time, Posner went to the editorial staff with a new idea: A book that says flat-out who killed Kennedy.

 ”Who?” one of the editors asked, as Posner retells it.

“Oswald,” he answered.

 ”And who?”

 ”Oswald,” Posner says he repeated. “And they literally looked at me as though I had just come in from Mars. And you could tell there was this feeling of, ‘Oh my God. He’s read the Warren Commission and that’s all he’s done.’”

 ”Case Closed” went on to sell 100,000 copies in hardcover. “I would have never thunk it,” Posner says.

 Unlike Posner, Vincent Bugliosi, author of 2007′s “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” embarked on his book expecting to vindicate the Warren Commission.

 What he didn’t expect was for it to balloon into a 1,650-page behemoth — with a CD-ROM containing an additional 960 pages of endnotes — that cost $57.

 ”STOP writing,” he recalls his wife telling him. “You’re killing the sales of the book.”

 The 78-year-old lawyer blames the conspiracy theorists. “We’re talking about people,” he explains, “who’ve invested the last 15, 20, 25 years of their life in this. They’ve lost jobs. They’ve gotten divorces. Nothing stops them.”

 ”Like a pea brain,” he says, he responded to all of their allegations. “It’s a bottomless pit. It never, ever ends. And if my publisher … didn’t finally step in and say, ‘Vince, we’re going to print,’ I’d still be writing the book.”

 Despite its girth and hefty price tag, “Reclaiming History” had a respectable first printing of 40,000, says Bugliosi, best known as the former deputy Los Angeles district attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson.

 But in a 9,400-word review, Gary L. Aguilar, a director of the Washington-based Assassination Archives and Research Center, wrote that the only thing Bugliosi’s book proved was “that it may not be possible for one person to fully master, or give a fair accounting of, this impossibly tangled mess of a case.”

 Bugliosi omitted or distorted evidence and failed to disprove “the case for conspiracy,” Aguilar wrote.

 Lamar Waldron is not surprised at the success of people like Bugliosi and Posner.

 ”The biggest money has been generated for the authors … who kind of pretend it all was right back in 1964 and nothing really has happened since,” says Waldron, who has co-written two books on the assassination. “The large six-figure advances and everything like that don’t go to the people who dig through all those millions of pages of files and research for years.”

 In “Ultimate Sacrifice” and “Legacy of Secrecy,” Waldron and co-author Thom Hartmann used declassified CIA documents to make the case that JFK (and later his brother Robert) were killed because of plans to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — and the Mafia’s infiltration of that operation. Waldron says the books have sold a combined 85,000 copies since 2005.

 And now, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro are set to star in a feature film version of “Legacy of Secrecy” — with a reported price tag of up to $90 million.

 That’s one of a pair of major movies — landing on opposite sides of the Oswald-as-lone-gunman debate — due out this year.

 Oscar winners Marcia Gay Harden and Billy Bob Thornton have signed on for the Tom Hanks-produced “Parkland,” named for the Dallas hospital where Kennedy was pronounced dead. That project, which Hanks’ website describes as “part thriller, part real-time drama,” is based on a small portion of Bugliosi’s magnum opus.

 A TV movie is to be made from another new book, “Killing Kennedy,” co-written by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, which had sold 1 million copies within four months of its release in October. In a note to readers, O’Reilly wrote: “In our narrative, Martin Dugard and I go only as far as the evidence takes us. We are not conspiracy guys, although we do raise some questions about what is unknown and inconsistent.”

 Academy Award winner Errol Morris is working on a documentary about the assassination. He did not respond to an interview request.

 One film, critics say, has done more than anything to shape the public’s perception of the assassination: That’s Oliver Stone’s 1991 drama, “JFK.”

 ”He made this kind of paranoid conspiracy theory respectable,” says New York writer Arthur Goldwag, author of “Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies.”

 The movie tells the story of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, played by Kevin Costner. Garrison remains the only prosecutor to bring someone to trial for an alleged conspiracy to kill Kennedy.

 The film is “a remarkable litany of falsehoods and misrepresentations and exaggerations and omissions,” Posner says. “The reason that I’m so hard on Stone is because he’s such a good filmmaker. If he was a schlocky filmmaker, it wouldn’t matter.”

 Shermer, of the Skeptics Society, agrees that Stone’s role in stirring the conspiracy pot is “huge.”

 ”You tell somebody a good story, that’s more powerful than tons of data, charts and graphs and statistics,” he says. “And Oliver Stone’s a good storyteller. He’s biased and he’s very deceptive, and I don’t trust him at all. But the movie’s great.”

 Stone’s publicist said the director had “chosen to pass on this opportunity” to comment.

 ”JFK” took in more than $205 million at the box office, nearly two-thirds of that overseas, and has since raked in untold millions more in television royalties, pay-per-view, and videocassette and DVD rentals.

 In the recent AP-GfK poll, respondents were asked how much of what they knew about the JFK case came from various sources. Only 9 percent cited movies or fictional TV shows, while the greatest portion, 37 percent, said history texts and nonfiction books.

 About two dozen JFK-related titles are due on bookstore shelves in coming months, says Patricia Bostelman, vice president of marketing for Barnes & Noble booksellers. Among them is “They Killed Our President: The Conspiracy to Kill JFK and the Cover-Up That Followed,” by former pro wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.

 Other authors are taking advantage of the anniversary to reissue or expand on previous works.

 Waldron is working on a book focusing on mob figures who confessed to being part of a conspiracy to kill the president. Summers is publishing a sequel to “Conspiracy,” incorporating material released since 1980, while Bugliosi has a “Parkland” paperback to accompany the movie release.

 And “Case Closed” will soon appear for the first time as an e-book. Despite the mountains of documents released since its publication, and a mountain of criticism of his conclusions, Posner says there is no plan to update it, other than perhaps including a new foreword.

 ”I moved on to other subjects,” he says.

 On Nov. 22, 1963, John Kelin was a 7-year-old second-grader in Peoria, Ill. He says the Kennedy assassination is “my earliest clear memory in life.”

 But he didn’t really give the case much thought until 13 years later, when as a sophomore at Eastern Michigan University he attended a lecture by Mark Lane. It was the first time he saw the Abraham Zapruder film that captured the moment when Kennedy was fatally wounded.

 ”Using slow motion and freeze frame, Lane made sure that all of us sitting in that hot, poorly ventilated auditorium understood that Kennedy’s head and shoulders were slammed backward and to the left, and that Lee Harvey Oswald’s alleged shooting position was behind the presidential limousine,” Kelin wrote in a book, “Praise from a Future Generation,” about early critics of the Warren Report. “In a way, that lecture was the genesis of this book.”

 Kelin bristles at references to a conspiracy theory “industry,” preferring to think of himself as part of a grass roots response to the government’s “severely flawed, unsatisfactory explanations for what really happened in 1963.”

 His publisher, Wings Press, has “made intimations” about releasing a digital edition of “Praise” for the 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, Kelin has written another JFK book — a fictional account of how he came to write the first one.

 ”It’s kind of a satire of the present-day research community,” he says, “with a love story thrown in to try to broaden the interest level.”

 The title: “Conspiracy Nut.”

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AP writer David Porter in Newark, N.J., also contributed to this report.

 

Breed is a national writer, based in Raleigh, N.C. He can be reached at features(at)ap.org. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AllenGBreed

 

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Note: The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted April 11-15, 2013 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications.  It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points, it is larger for subgroups.

Online: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

AP-GfK Poll: Americans support menu labeling in restaurants, grocery stores

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than half of Americans say they already have enough information at restaurants to decide whether they are making a healthy purchase. But they want even more.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in December, most Americans favor labeling calories on menus in fast food and sit-down restaurants. Most favor labels for prepared foods in the grocery store, too.

The poll was conducted a little more than a week after the Food and Drug Administration announced new rules that will require restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays. Companies will have until November 2015 to comply.

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MAJORITY SUPPORT MENU LABELING

A majority of Americans — 56 percent — favor requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie amounts on menus, while 54 percent favor the calorie postings at sit-down restaurants and 52 percent favor the labels at prepared food counters at grocery stores.

Slightly fewer approved of requiring the calorie postings in other dining locations. Forty-nine percent of Americans supported posting calories on coffee shop menus and 44 percent approved of the postings on vending machines and at movie theaters. Forty-three percent favored calorie postings in amusement parks. All of those establishments will be required to post calorie amounts under the new FDA rules.

Only about 1 in 10 Americans oppose labeling requirements at each of these places. The remainder said they neither favor nor oppose each requirement.

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WOMEN, DEMOCRATS MOST SUPPORTIVE

Women are more likely than men to say they favor labeling requirements at restaurants and prepared-food counters, though a majority of men support the labeling at fast food restaurants and around half support it at sit-down restaurants. College-educated respondents are more likely than those without a college education to favor labeling requirements at all of the establishments.

The support appears to be relatively bipartisan. Democrats are significantly more likely to support the calorie postings than independents or Republicans, but a slim majority of Republicans still support calorie postings at restaurants.

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PEOPLE CARE ABOUT CALORIES, SUGARS, FATS

The idea behind the rules is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger if they know it has hundreds of calories — and, in turn, restaurants may make their foods healthier to keep calorie counts down. The menus and menu boards will tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition, noting that individual calorie needs may vary. Additional nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request.

When they’re judging whether a food item is a healthy choice or not, 55 percent of Americans say how many calories it contains is very or extremely important to them. Same with sodium levels.

Sugar and fat were slightly more important to health-conscious diners — 61 percent said sugar was very or extremely important when deciding on healthy purchases and 59 percent said the same about the amount of fat.

Only 36 percent of Americans said they feel the level of vitamins and minerals is extremely or very important when making healthy purchases, and even fewer — 23 percent, less than a quarter — said the same about whether an item is organic. Women and people living in urban areas were most likely to make organic food a priority.

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AMERICANS ARE ALREADY INFORMED

Even though a majority favors more calorie labeling, most Americans say they already have enough information to decide whether they are making healthy purchases at restaurants.

Sixty percent say they now have enough nutrition information at sit-down restaurants and 56 percent say they do at fast food restaurants. That number drops to 48 percent at prepared food counters in grocery stores.

Around a third say they don’t have enough information to decide if they are making a healthy purchase in any of those places.

When it comes to the grocery store, 75 percent of people say they have enough information to make a healthy choice. Unlike restaurants, where nutritional information is often a mystery, nutrition facts panels have been required on packaged foods since the 1990s. The FDA included prepared foods at supermarkets in the menu labeling rules as grocery stores have increasingly sold restaurant-like offerings.

The menu labels were required by Congress as part of health overhaul in 2010. The FDA has said they are just one way to combat obesity, since Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home.

Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner of foods, said the agency knows there is strong interest from the public in the labeling.

“It’s not a magic wand, but it will help people make better choices about their diets,” he said.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

 

 


AP-GfK Poll: 5 things to know about the economy

By JENNIFER AGIESTA and EMILY SWANSON

WASHINGTON (AP) – Few issues in a presidential campaign come close to being as meaningful as the economy. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll offers a look at how the public feels about this issue, which touches nearly every aspect of American life. As the 2016 candidates get set to kick off their campaigns, here are five things to know about public opinion on the economy.

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THE ECONOMY ISN’T A MONOLITH

The economy, writ large, has been America’s top policy priority for the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency, despite the slowly building recovery and the recent skyrocketing stock market. But focusing on this overall concern masks a distinction that matters to many Americans. Though negative perceptions of the economy overall are down compared with four years ago (57 percent describe it as “poor” compared with 83 percent who did in November 2010), Americans’ ratings of their own finances are actually a bit worse than they were back then (38 percent describe their household’s finances as poor, up from 30 percent in 2010). Young Americans, under age 30, have an exceptionally negative take on their finances, with nearly half describing them as poor.

Along the same lines, while a majority of Americans say the stock market and big businesses have mostly recovered from the Great Recession, just 16 percent think small businesses have, 27 percent say the job market where they live is mostly recovered and only 34 percent say their family is largely back to normal.

EDUCATION, LOCATION, INCOME LINKED TO IMPRESSION OF ECONOMY

For some in America, the economy is humming along. Majorities of college graduates, urban residents and people with incomes of $100,000 or more say the economy is in good shape. By contrast, just 28 percent of rural residents, 35 percent without college degrees and 35 percent with incomes under $50,000 say it’s in good shape. Half of those with incomes under $50,000 and 42 percent of rural residents say they and their families haven’t yet recovered from the Great Recession.

Rural residents feel the labor and real estate markets in their area have been particularly hard hit: 45 percent say their local real estate market has only recovered a little or not at all, while 53 percent say the same about their local job market.

EXPECTATIONS ARE SOMEWHAT BETTER

The poll finds an uptick in Americans’ hopes for their own finances and the nation’s finances in the coming year. In the new poll, 34 percent say they expect their household’s financial situation to improve over the next 12 months, better than the 27 percent saying so in October. And 38 percent think the overall economic situation in the country will improve in the coming year, up from 31 percent in October. On both measures, the share saying things would worsen dropped significantly. Still, 48 percent see stagnation ahead for themselves and 42 percent see sluggishness for the economy more broadly.

INCHING TOWARD RECOVERY

That expectation of stagnation may be because that’s what most Americans think the economy is doing now. Asked how the economy had changed in the last month, 60 percent said it stayed about the same. Nearly a quarter think it improved, while 14 percent say it’s gotten worse. Those figures are slightly rosier than in October, when 24 percent said things had worsened. But the majority saying things are staying the same has held over two years of AP-GfK polls, with one exception during the partial government shutdown in October 2013 when the share saying things got worse spiked to 45 percent.

LITTLE FAITH IN WASHINGTON TO IMPROVE THINGS

Who can turn things around? Very few think it’s Washington. Two-thirds of Americans say it’s unlikely that the newly elected Republican majority in Congress will be able to improve the economy in the next two years, and 6 in 10 say Obama won’t be able to either. Three in 10 say they don’t even trust either party to handle the economy.

But Americans don’t completely discount that Washington can help: 52 percent say the government generally did a decent job helping the country recover from the Great Recession. A scant 10 percent, however, say that Washington did a “very good” job lifting the economy out of recession.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: -http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com