When DA spoke of JFK, he misspoke for Dallas

When DA spoke of JFK, he misspoke for Dallas

09:39 AM CST on Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dallas Morning News, Steve Blow

“Irresponsible” is a strong word, and I hate to use it. But it’s the word that came to mind after Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins’ news conference this week.

I’m talking about the casual way he pumped up conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

And let’s be clear right at the start. Let’s say what the district attorney should have. Absolutely nothing revealed from the DA’s “treasure-trove” sheds the slightest new light on the president’s murder.

Video

Dallas County DA unveils JFK documents – Video/editing: Richard Michael Pruitt
02/18/2008

Instead of saying that, however, Mr. Watkins blithely brushed aside questions of truth or relevance. “But what we do know,” he said at the news conference heard around the world, “is that this will open up the debate as to whether or not there was a conspiracy to assassinate the president.”

Well, yes. If the district attorney in Dallas, Texas, predicts that newly discovered material will reignite conspiracy theories, it most surely will.

And true to that irresponsible, ill-informed prediction, how about this headline? “John F. Kennedy ‘assassins’ plot revealed.’ ”

A plot revealed? Good grief. Not even close. Yet that’s the story Great Britain got Tuesday from London’s Daily Telegraph.

The Web site for an Iranian news service showed a bit more restraint: “Plot to assassinate JFK revealed?” it asked.

The International Herald Tribune, the English-language newspaper read around the world, headlined its story: “Conspiracy buffs may feast on JFK documents.”

And for this worldwide blitz of misinformation, we have our very own district attorney to thank. If he or his staff had done just a smidgen of research, that news conference would have never been called.

This whole matter got off to a bad start. The DA’s staff went in search of Kennedy material because it had heard that the gun Jack Ruby used to kill Lee Harvey Oswald might be in an office safe.

Wrong. A 30-second Google search would have revealed that the gun was held for years by Ruby’s executor and ended up being sold into private hands.

Furthermore, a similar Google search would have immediately shot holes in the ballyhooed “transcript” of an alleged conversation between Ruby and Oswald.

Mr. Watkins unveiled it Monday like a stunning new find. The truth is that it has been sitting in the Warren Commission report all these years – thoroughly discredited as the fevered imagination of a Dallas lawyer with a big drinking problem.

It’s Warren Commission Exhibit 2821. You can look it up.

“It was thoroughly debunked at the time,” said Kennedy assassination expert Gary Mack, curator of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.

Do you suppose Mr. Watkins might call a news conference to say: “Never mind.”

Don’t count on it.

I hate to criticize Mr. Watkins. I think he has done a good job as district attorney. I admire his willingness to do things differently.

But he has to realize that his words now carry the weight of his office – including his half-baked views on the Kennedy assassination.

He told me Wednesday that he has never believed Oswald acted alone. “I believe in conspiracies,” he said. “I think that’s just too simple of an explanation.”

But he also admitted that he has never studied the matter. “Just all the stuff I see on TV,” he said. “I never have delved into it. I just think there’s got to be more to it than that.”

Let’s hope he’s not prosecuting crimes based on hunches rather than investigation.

Precisely because he knows so little about the assassination, Mr. Watkins said he chose not to state the obvious at the news conference – that the transcript is clearly bogus. “I never believed it,” he said. “People just don’t talk like that. But I didn’t want to give my opinion of it.”

Mr. Watkins is still fairly new to the job. And maybe there’s a good lesson for him here:

When you don’t know much about a subject, don’t call a news conference to announce it.

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