alarm clock will break and so you'll oversleep. When you do wake up, you will burn your lips, tongue and liver on your coffee. Your car will refuse to start, and when it does you will discover that one of your tires is flat. While changing your flat tire you will be bitten by a black-widow spider. Just as you arrive at the emergency room, the nurses will go out on strike. A small earthquake will then strike, crushing your car in the hospital garage. You will develop gangrene after you leave the hospital without being treated - but not before a bicyclist runs into you as you walk home, knocking you down and breaking your glasses.
Okay, maybe we haven't all had days that were exactly this bad, but sometimes they come close - which is no doubt one reason that many people are so attracted to conspiracy theories. Sometimes the only reasonable explanation for the way things are turning out seems to be that the gods - or devils, or the Trilateral Commission or the far-right wing of the Republican Party - is out to get you.
This is no doubt one of the motivating factors behind Harold Weisberg's Whitewash, an examination of the Warren Report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. What makes Weisberg's approach to this topic at least somewhat different from many of the other exposes on the Warren Report is the care with which he has reviewed the evidence as presented by the Warren Commission.
He makes a number of valid points in this book because of this carefulness. Whether or not the reader believes his overall points in the end will probably have less to do with the care with which he makes his case and the tendency - or reluctance of the reader to believe in conspiracy theories.
Another way of summarizing possible reactions to this book is to say that after reading it most readers will believe that the investigation into JFK's assassination was in fact a slipshod one. That is an answer to one of the questions the Weisberg raises, which is whether the American public was told the entire truth in the Warren Report. But the reader must then ask himself or herself at least two other questions. The first of these is: Was the sloppiness evident in the investigation of the shooting greater than one might expect in comparison to other high-profile cases of the time?
The second - and this of course goes to the heart of the conspiracy that Weisberg argues was present - is why were mistakes made in the investigation and the report? Were they intentional, a way of covering-up what truly happened? Or were they the result of human fallibility combined with a desire to smooth over the agony that the country was feeling by finishing the investigation as quickly as possible? Those who believe in conspiracies will certainly find ample evidence in Weisberg's careful scholarship to back up their beliefs.
And those who do not believe in conspiracies will also find much in his book to reinforce their own beliefs that conspiracy buffs are paranoids who have way too much time on their hands. Both sides will appreciate Weisberg's eye for detail and the logical mind that he brings to the sifting of the massive amount of evidence presented in the Warren Report.
What sets Weisberg's work apart from so many of those who write conspiracy books about the Kennedy assassination is that he did not try to discover new sources, did not go to those who claimed to be witnesses or scour the country for someone who might have accidentally captured the shooting on film.
Instead, he focused all of his considerable energy on the Warren Report itself, on the official narrative of what had happened. In looking at the Warren Report, he points out a number of areas in which the investigation was not as thorough as it should have been, and while he suggests that such incompetence could hardly have been entirely accidental he does leave open the door to the possibility that it was not entirely deliberate.
This is one of the most important points in the book: Mistakes were clearly made in the investigation and it is hard to believe that they were entirely accidental. How could so many mistakes have been made in what was for law enforcement the most important case of the…