Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Bhutto Assassination and the JFK Minutiae

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has been the top global headline, for obvious reasons. But one aspect of the story, interest, and coverage has been somewhat baffling: the specific manner of her death.

No one disputes that shots were fired at Mrs. Bhutto and her vehicle. No one denies that a suicide bomber then attacked killing twenty more people. But much of the focus has been on the exact nature of Mrs. Bhutto's death, and analyzing autopsy, eyewitness, and video evidence relevant to answering that question. This report from CNN is a good example of how much of the media, particularly television, is dealing with the issue. Here's another:


Ok, so what? She was killed in the attack, which everyone admits was complex and multicomponent. Does it matter much if she was killed by a bullet or a shockwave or shrapnel from the explosion? The CNN and other reports suggest that it is a matter of transparency, and makes the government and/or ISI look guilty. There is some truth to that, but other coverage goes beyond that noting that government officials immediately destroyed evidence at the crime scene, starts talking to sources pointing the finger at the Pakistani military, looks at who is most likely involved, or puts the whole Pakistan mess in a larger context. I want to thank Cernig in particular for coverage of this event.

So what's with the fixation on video of the shooter, on the autopsy results, etc.? Yes, part of it is that it catches the Pakistani government out in potentially conducting a cover-up (and for the record, that sounds likely to me). But I have to wonder if some of this comes from the grand-daddy of all assassination memepools in the modern era, the one that gave us an entire subculture devoted to analyzing every detail, the one that gave us the term "lone gunman," the notion of a government assassination investigatory committee, the murder that has come to dominate the identity of its victim, JFK. Have we been taught to look for the grassy knoll, the movement of the head back and to the left (note that in the Bhutto case, this is mirrored by attention to her head and scarf, the movement of which are evidence for a bullet impact)?

Maybe we have, and maybe its a good thing. When another government is involved, the mainstream press is at least open to not simply acting as court stenographers, and what would be called a conspiracy theory if suggested about a domestic event can be propagated without ridicule. This time, the right-wing isn't using the conspiracy theory slur, just attacking Bhutto herself as feudal and corrupt. As Jodi Dean notes in Aliens in America, conspiracy theorizing is a rational response to decentralized information flow.

Update: I'm not the only one making the connection, either the general analogy, or looking at the media treatment. That last one is a good read, as in this excerpt

Now, notice that no one in the mainstream press is screaming, “Conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory!” in response to the suspicion that Pakistani intelligence agencies might have been behind the Bhutto killing. On the contrary, the mainstream press is actually treating such a conspiracy as a viable possibility.

Yet, whenever someone suggests that U.S. intelligence agencies might have been involved in the JFK killing, the immediate attitude of the U.S. mainstream press is exactly the opposite: “Conspiracy theory! Conspiracy theory!”

UPDATE: I call it a "laser"

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