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 shows divide over increasing money for transit

WASHINGTON (AP) — A slight majority of Americans prefer living in a single-family house in the suburbs or a rural area with more land, even if it means driving long distances to get to work or run errands, according to a poll by The Associated Press-GfK.

However, a significant minority, 44 percent, would choose an apartment or smaller house in an urban area that comes with a short drive to work or the opportunity to use public transportation, bike or walk. The split also has a political aspect: Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents prefer suburban or rural living, while 55 percent of Democrats prefer urban areas.

The share of Americans who prefer suburban or rural living — 53 percent — is identical to the share who say the government should increase spending to build and improve roads, bridges and interstate highways. About 1 in 3 think current spending levels are about right, while just over 1 in 10 would like to see less money spent on roads.

Many states are struggling just to maintain current spending levels, and Congress has been unable to come up with a long-term plan to pay for highway aid that closes the gap between current spending and federal gas tax revenue.

Americans are more divided over building and improving public transportation such as rail and bus systems. Four in 10 say spending on public transportation should be increased, but just as many say current spending is about right. Only 18 percent say transit spending should be cut.

Contrary to the widely held notion that the millennial generation is flocking to cities and giving up their cars, younger people are not significantly more or less likely than older people to prefer urban living with a shorter commute and access to public transit, the poll found.

Matthew Wild, 33, an airline pilot living in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, said he favors increasing spending on both public transit and highways. The region’s freeways “take a real beating” from the traffic and need to be maintained, he said, but no new lanes should be added.

“We definitely don’t need to be expanding freeways anymore,” Wild said. “We’ve maxed out.”

He cited a highway near his home that was recently widened and now is as full as ever. He does, however, strongly support building more light rail transit locally and high-speed rail between California cities.

Wild said he’d much rather take a convenient local train than fight traffic in his car. He currently takes trains only a few times a year because there are no direct routes from where he lives to the places he wants to go, and indirect routes take too long, he said.

“The big problem with L.A. is that, given the lack of public transportation, sitting in traffic in your own car is still faster than taking public transit,” Wild said.

Jane McEntire, 62, who lives in Cartersville, Georgia, on the northwest fringe of the Atlanta metropolitan area, says traffic is horrible and getting worse.

Even so, she’d rather keep spending on roads and cut spending on public transportation. She says she’s lost confidence in the ability of state and local transportation officials to make improvements and not fritter money away on wasteful projects.

She is particularly incensed that officials used federal transit aid to build a slow-moving streetcar line in downtown Atlanta that is used primarily by tourists.

“I think they look really cute, but as far as usefulness — no,” she said. “When you have federal dollars that are coming into a state that are available and you spend it on these cars in Atlanta that go six or eight blocks back and forth … Why didn’t they take that money and spend it on something to help commuters?”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online from April 23 to 27 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

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


AP-GfK Poll: Many approve Iran deal; Most don’t trust Tehran
WASHINGTON (AP) — Many Americans like the idea of the preliminary deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program but very few people really believe Tehran will follow through with the agreement.

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that just 3 percent said they were very confident that Iran would allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, remove plutonium from the country and shut down close to half of its uranium-enriching centrifuges as the preliminary deal says would be required. Nearly seven in 10 people said they were not confident, while 25 percent said they were only moderately confident.

The U.S., Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China are aiming to finalize a deal with Iran by June 30 that puts limits on Iranian programs that could be used to make nuclear arms. In exchange, economic sanctions on Iran would be lifted over time. Tehran denies any interest in such weapons but is negotiating in hopes of relief from billions of dollars in economic sanctions.

The next round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers will start Tuesday in Vienna.

Although more than half of Americans polled say they approve of making the deal, few people — 16 percent — are actually paying close attention to the complex Iran negotiations that have angered Israel and unnerved Gulf nations who are concerned about Tehran’s rising influence and aggressive behavior in the region.

The Senate last week passed legislation that would give Congress time to vote to reject any deal before sanctions are lifted. President Barack Obama would retain the right to veto lawmakers’ disapproval.

Israel’s strong objections to the deal could make a difference to many Americans. If forced to choose, a majority say it’s more important to maintain the U.S. relationship with Israel than to strike a deal with Iran. But respondents are divided along party lines, with nearly six in 10 Democrats saying the Iran deal is more important while seven in 10 Republicans believe ties with Israel are more critical.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been one of the harshest critics of the deal with Iran. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran’s missile capabilities and its support for violent militant groups.

More broadly, the poll found that Americans are increasingly interested in the U.S. role in world affairs, with 60 percent saying it’s an extremely important issue, up from 52 percent less than five months ago. Slightly more people also approve of Obama’s handling of the issue, increasing from 38 percent in December to 42 percent in the latest poll. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the issue.

But overall, Americans are more likely to trust Republicans than Democrats to handle protecting the country.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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