A Bogus Interpretation of an Oval Office Conversation is All Over the Internet

Did Nixon Call the Warren Commission a "Hoax?"

The Internet is nothing if not incestuous. Assertions that appear on one web site will quickly be noted and quoted on other web sites with a similar viewpoint. The unsophisticated web surfer might conclude that since everybody has quoted a particular assertion, it must be true.

Which brings us to the claim that President Richard Nixon labeled the Warren Commission a "hoax."

A typical example of this on the web is found on the web site "JFK Murder Solved."

+ One of the most tantalizing nuggets about Nixon's possible inside knowledge of JFK assassination secrets was buried on a White House tape until 2002. On the tape, recorded in May of 1972, the president confided to two top aides that the Warren Commission pulled off "the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated." Unfortunately, he did not elaborate.
This particular web site doesn't bother providing a citation, but many sites do provide a citation: a story by the BBC posted March 1, 2002. Traditionally, the BBC has been considered a reputable news organization, and most of the Internet cites of this story do quote it correctly. The story discusses the release of a large batch of Nixon Oval Office tapes, and says:
In the . . . conversation, Nixon gave new fodder for conspiracy theorists who question whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the only shooter involved in the assassination of President John Kennedy.

Referring to the report by the Warren Commission, "it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated," Nixon said. He did not elaborate why he questioned the report.

So if the BBC story was accurate, Nixon did believe the Warren Commission was a "hoax" and -- it is implied -- that there was a conspiracy. If one assumes that presidents are privy to the "inside scoop" and have secret knowledge about assassinations that isn't available to ordinary citizens, this might in fact be real evidence of a conspiracy.

The BBC story, remember, simply describes what Nixon said. It's the reporter's interpretation. The problem comes when one runs down the actual words that Nixon used. The web site of the Cable News Network has a partial transcript that includes the relevant passages. The context is the shooting of 1972 shooting of presidential candidate George Wallace by Arthur Bremer.

NIXON: Why don't we play the game a bit smarter for a change. They pinned the assassination of Kennedy on the right wing, the Birchers. It was done by a Communist and it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated. And I respectfully suggest, can't we pin this on one of theirs?

. . .

Presidential Aide CHUCK COLSON: Ah, he is obviously demented.

NIXON: Is he a left-winger or a right-winger?

COLSON: Well, he's going to be a left-winger by the time we get through, I think.

NIXON: Ah, good. Keep at that. Keep at that.

The relentlessly partisan Nixon is primarily concerned with who will be blamed for the Wallace shooting, and he credits the left with a successful "hoax" in blaming the right for the Kennedy assassination.

Note that Nixon is correct about a leftist campaign to blame the right. Left-leaning conspiracy authors like Harold Weisberg, Sylvia Meagher, and the highly visible Mark Lane had fingered the groups hated by the left: the CIA, the FBI, Texas Oilmen, and anti-Castro Cubans.

Nixon's mention of the "Birchers" might seem a bit odd. Perhaps Nixon was simply using this as shorthand for "the right," or perhaps he was referring to the fact that, in the first hour or two after the assassination and before Oswald was known to be a suspect, the common response was to assume that Dallas right-wingers did it.

But one group that was not blamed by Nixon for any "hoax" was the Warren Commission. Apparently, a BBC reporter ignorant of the issues surrounding the assassination misinterpreted Nixon's comments.

Internet Incest

Internet conspiracists, having happened onto a juicy morsel, are not inclined to question stories or seek out primary sources. Rather, it just gets repeated. One can get a feeling for this process by clicking on the following links to do searches for the use of this factoid.

Search Google for the "Nixon/Warren Commission hoax" factoid.

Search Bing for the "Nixon/Warren Commission hoax" factoid.

Search Yahoo for the "Nixon/Warren Commission hoax" factoid.

Note that a few of the "hits" will be pages that accidently have all of the words in the search but don't actually repeat this factoid. Further, at least one relatively reputable conspiracy-oriented site (www.history-matters.com), having been suckered, now posts a correction. But the vast majority of the search engine hits will be web pages that credulously accept the bogus quote.

This page is based on posts by Michael O'Dell on alt.assassination.jfk

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