James H. Fetzer, Ph.D.
The subject of disinformation appears to be far more deserving of study by members of the assassination research community than it seems to have had in the past. Disinformation involves the dissemination of incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise misleading information with the objective, goal, or aim of deceiving others about the truth. Sometimes the source is accurately acknowledged (this might be called "overt" disinformation), but sometimes it is concealed by providing no identification or by providing misleading identification (call this "covert"). The quantity and quality of disinformation may be difficult to judge, but it should be viewed more or less on a par with acts of lying, but where the motives that usually bring about lying (to preserve a relationship, to conceal an affair, to secure a loan, and such) are displaced by other, often political, motives, aims, or goals. Because this subject has received so little attention, my purpose here in raising the issue is to create the opportunity for further discussion by advancing MY OPINIONS in the hope of encouraging others to offer their own views in order to promote theorizing about disinformation.
The parallel with lying appears to be fairly precise. Individuals commit lies when (a) they make assertions (as though they were true), (b) which they know to be false (c) with the intent to mislead others. It is easy to come up with cases of false assertions that nevertheless do not qualify as "lies". Assertions that reflect simple ignorance, for example, do not ascend to the level of lies. Assertions that are sincere, even when they are false, do not ascend to the level of lies. Even false claims that a person knows to be false that are asserted deliberately do not ascend to the level of lies, when there is no intention to mislead. Those, such as comics, who ridicule a public figure by suggesting that they are the south end of a horse headed north, for example, are making assertions that are (literally) false, that they know are (literally) false, yet they do not ascend to the level of lies because there is no intent to deceive anyone.
On the basis of my experience over the several years since I first became seriously involved in assassination research (in 1992, in response to the publication of a series of articles in JAMA), I have speculated that there must be at least five different types, levels or degrees of disinformation. Here are some illustrations of WHAT I TAKE TO BE examples of these different levels, types or degrees of disinformation, from the highest (fifth) to the lowest (first), where simply advancing incomplete, inaccurate, or false assertions might not qualify as "disinformation" at all in the very specific sense that is intended here because of the absence of intention.
Fifth Type: The fifth level of disinformation appears to occur when
a source presents information that has been deliberately
selected to misrepresent, distort or abuse sources with
the intention to mislead. Citing only evidence that is
favorable to one side as if no contrary evidence exists
is known as SPECIAL PLEADING. The key aspect of fifth
degree efforts is creating--usually by writing--entire
new works (books and article), because of which it has
the character of FABRICATING EVIDENCE. Recent examples,
appear to include Gerald Posner's CASE CLOSED, articles
in JAMA, and Seymour Hersh's THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT.
Thus viewed, a work of this kind qualifies as a "hoax".
* GO TO the Overview (regarding the JAMA articles)
* GO TO David Wrone's review of DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT
Fourth Type: The fourth level of disinformation appears to occur, not
when a work (a book or an article) is being written from
scratch, but in creating a highly biased impression of a
study by simply IGNORING its most significant, important,
or relevant features to mislead others about the contents
of the work, which is another form of SPECIAL PLEADING.
Notice that someone unfamiliar with the work--which, in
this instances, is ASSASSINATION SCIENCE--would not be
in the position to realize that they were being duped.
* GO TO the Letter to the Editor in response (1 item)
* GO TO my critique of Gary Mack's "review" (2 items)
Third Type: The third level of disinformation occurs by abusing the
man (AD HOMINEM) in attacking the author or the editor
of a work on irrelevant or misleading grounds that have
little or nothing to do with the position the author or
editor represents. A recent example involved an attack
from someone identified only by an email alias "dxmivi"
on the ground that several of my books are published by
a company owned by the Moonies. This is an outstanding
example of the classic smear by character assassination.
* GO TO the second exchange with dxmivi (2 items)
* GO TO the third exchange with dxmivi (2 items)
Second Type: The second level of disinformation occurs when relevant
available evidence that ought to make a difference to a
a conclusion, hypothesis or conjecture under examination
is simply dismissed or ignored. EVIDENCE IS RELEVANT
when its presence or absence (physical evidence) or its
truth or falsity (testimonial) makes a difference to the
truth or falsity of the point at issue. RATIONALITY OF
BELIEF occurs when we distribute our strength of belief
in proportion to degrees of support supplied by avaiable
relevant evidence. Since this kind of disinformation is
a violation therefore, it may qualify as IRRATIONALITY
OF BELIEF. On the other hand, irrationality of belief
may be displayed in pursuit of RATIONALITY OF ACTION as
a means that is appropriate to attain a particular aim,
objective or goal. Such behavior has the appearance of
tenaciously defending a view REGARDLESS of the evidence.
First Type: The first level of disinformation might equally well be
characterized as apparent incompetence by someone who
assumes the task of offering criticism but for which he
is not well-positioned to provide. This may be due to
any number of factors, including lack of mental acumen,
specific misunderstandings, or lack of familiarity with
relevant evidence (simple ignorance). Since none of us
knows all there is to know about anything--especially in
relation to complex and contentious matters such as the
assassination of JFK--it can be difficult to resist the
temptation to describe those with whom you disagree as
falling into this category. Of course, they might say
the same thing about you. The problem thus becomes one
of sorting things out to arrive at reasonable judgments.
In offering this analysis of different kinds of disinformation, I build on my expertise with regard to critical thinking. But I cannot claim to be an expert on disinformation. My intention here, therefore, is one of promoting more discussion and debate about the nature of disinformation, especially in relation to arguments about the assassination of JFK. All of this, I suggest, should be viewed from an historical perspective. In the heyday of the KKK, for example, the Klan was heavily infiltrated by informants for the FBI. At the peak of the communist scare of the 1940s, there were cell meetings where everyone present was an informant for the government. It would be naive in the extreme to think the assassination research community has not been similarly infiltrated by individuals who have the task of disseminating disinformation. It therefore appears to be a good thing for attention to be devoted to its nature and varieties.
EXERCISE. It might be an interesting exercise to review an exchange
between myself, Martin Shackelford, and Howard Platzman
that occurred over the unmoderated assassination bulletin,
board, alt.conspiracy.jfk, and other nets during the past
several months. This debate reflects how difficult it is
to decide whether someone is disseminating disinformation
or is simply arguing tenaciously for their point of view.
The posts offered here are only part of the entire heated
exchange and are clearly not for the faint hearted. I do
not claim infallibility for any of my pronouncements with
respect to this or any other exchange, but I do think it
is appropriate and responsible to think about these things.
An interesting (and relatively brief) exchange recently appeared between Jack White, Martin Shackelford, and myself about the subject of this page.
An extended (and highly contentious) exchange more recently occurred between Josiah Thompson and myself over a post that previously appeared here.
Any serious student of disinformation may want to pursue these issues by consulting one or more of the following sources: (1) a CIA dispatch on "Countering Criticisms of the Warren Report" dated 1 April 1967 which is reprinted in ASSASSINATION SCIENCE (1998), Appendix M; (2) Philip Agee, INSIDE THE COMPANY: CIA DIARY (1975); (3) Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks, THE CIA AND THE CULT OF INTELLIGENCE (1975), with deletions impos- ed by the CIA; (4) Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks, THE CIA AND THE CULT OF INTELLIGENCE (1983), with deletions restored; (5) Ralph W. McGe- hee, DEADLY DECEITS: MY 25 YEARS IN THE CIA (1983); (6) Philip Agee, ON THE RUN (1987); and (7) Angus Mackenzie, SECRETS: THE CIA'S WAR AT HOME (1997), and other references therein. An especially outstanding source is Richard Sprague, THE TAKING OF AMERICA 1-2-3, which is also on-line.