What the hell happened to Oliver Stone? When I was growing up in the 1980s, he was one of the most respected directors in Hollywood, producing hits such as “Platoon,” “Wall Street” and “Born on the Fourth of July.” But in more recent decades, he has become a dollar-store Leni Riefenstahl, churning out sickening tributes to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and Vladimir Putin.
His shift toward demagoguery and dishonesty seems to have begun in 1991 with “JFK,” quite possibly the most deceitful film ever produced by a major Hollywood studio. It posited a vast conspiracy to kill President John F. Kennedy by everyone from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the CIA to Lyndon B. Johnson. The only person who was innocent of the crime, the movie seemed to suggest, was the actual assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
“JFK” sparked so much interest in Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theories that Congress in 1992 passed legislation to release all government documents pertaining to the assassination. The latest batch came out last week. More documents remain to be released, but what has come out so far has done nothing to shake the conclusion reached by all credible investigators that Oswald was the lone gunman.
Yet Stone would like to pretend otherwise. Last month — on Nov. 22, naturally — Showtime aired his latest nonsense, “JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass.” Stone himself pops up on camera to proclaim that “conspiracy theories are now conspiracy facts.” In truth, they remain the same old fictions — ones that, according to historian and journalist Tim Weiner, began with a KGB disinformation campaign.
Stone simply can’t stop spreading lies about the JFK assassination. He again claims that a single bullet could not have struck both Kennedy and Gov. John Connally of Texas (sitting in front of the president in the limousine), that someone slipped a substitute bullet to the Warren Commission, that Kennedy’s autopsy reports were falsified, that pictures of Oswald holding the assassination weapon were retouched, that Oswald was a right-wing CIA asset and not a pro-Castro Marxist, etc. The mind reels.
He even plays a clip from “JFK” depicting his hero — New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (played by square-jawed Kevin Costner) — as a fearless truth-seeker. In reality, Garrison was an abusive, out-of-control prosecutor who in 1967 charged an innocent man with conspiring to murder Kennedy, only to have a jury find him not guilty in less than an hour. A federal judge later described Garrison’s conduct as “outrageous” and “inexcusable.”
Stone makes no attempt to show opposing views; he simply snows the viewer with a blizzard of disinformation. There is no hint in this dishonest “documentary” that all of his claims have been thoroughly debunked in Gerald Posner’s “Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK” (1993) and Vincent Bugliosi’s massive “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy” (2007). Stone is counting on his audience to be too lazy and gullible to crack open either tome. Anyone who goes to the trouble to fact-check his claims will see them reduced to cinders.
Stone, for example, denies that only three bullets were fired. But if there were more bullets, where did they go? How did all traces of them disappear? How is it that no one saw a second gunman, much less the “three teams” of “professional riflemen” posited in “JFK”? And why, as per Bugliosi, did at least 75 percent of the witnesses at Dealey Plaza hear only three shots while just 3.5 percent heard four?
Naturally, Stone sees the absence of evidence as proof of a monumental coverup. Never mind the sheer impossibility of concealing such a widespread conspiracy, involving hundreds if not thousands of people, for more than half a century. Why would so many government officials conspire to murder a popular president?
Stone’s theory is that Kennedy was a peacenik who was going to end the Cold War and put the military-industrial complex out of business. He never tells viewers that, on the day before his death, Kennedy gave a speech in Fort Worth boasting that he had increased the defense budget “by over 20 percent.” The military-industrial complex was prospering quite nicely, thank you, in the early 1960s. By contrast, defense spending fell in the early 1990s, after the end of the Cold War, by 23 percent. It’s a wonder that the military-industrial complex allowed Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to live.
We have a major problem in America with “truth decay.” Most Republicans, for example, believe that former president Donald Trump was the victim of a “deep state” that framed him for collusion with Russia and stole the 2020 election. How could they possibly imagine something so outlandish? In part, because conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination have habituated so many Americans to accept that their government is capable of such heinous deeds. And no one has done more to inject such toxic fantasies into the body politic than Oliver Stone.
When we assess the debased state of modern America, therefore, we cannot focus only on conservative cranks. Leftist loonies such as Stone have a lot to answer for, too.