In the news today, the internet is salivating over a mysterious box containing drawings of extraterrestrials as ancient mythological figures. The drawings by Daniel Christiansen date from the 1930s to the 1980s and are obviously influenced by pulp science fiction illustrations. Christiansen illustrates material related to Chariots of the Gods and The Spaceship of Ezekiel and yet somehow we are meant to see this as independent confirmation of ancient astronauts, according to internet posters, because Christiansen claimed to have encountered an alien and… believed really hard in ancient astronauts? Frankly, I can’t fathom why the art, made largely after Chariots (1968), almost entirely after the Bible-UFO movement of the 1950s, and absolutely after “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926) should be evidence of anything.
But let’s talk instead about the latest cable television attack on the concept of credibility.
The Travel Channel has a new series called America Declassified in which a group of journalists investigate “mysteries” of American history, with a focus on conspiracies. So far this does not have anything to do with ancient history, but the first episode (which aired Sunday night) did feature a prominent appearance by conspiracy theorist, ancient astronaut believer, and Ancient Aliens pundit Jim Marrs, proving that it doesn’t matter how extreme your ideas, or how racist or anti-Semitic you are in expressing them, cable TV is happy to have you as long as you’ve been on before. (See also: Glenn Beck, working on a new deal to bring his online channel to cable for 24 hour conspiracy theorizing.)
The program had conservative Fox News pundit and former CIA officer Mike Baker investigate JFK assassination conspiracies with an assist from Marrs. Baker, interestingly, isn’t just a Fox News pundit but also the president of Diligence LLC, a company that benefited financially from its strategic partnership with firms working with the U.S. government during the occupation of Iraq in 2003. (Baker left the firm in 2004 and rejoined in 2009.) As Baker investigates government conspiracies, I’m going to guess that few will involve anything so provable as where U.S. government money goes when it enters the world of “private contractors.”
The program offered nothing new but instead rehashed old ideas about where a second shooter could have stood. Lacking the courage of their convictions, the producers failed to bring Baker’s segment to anything resembling a conclusion, causing me to wonder exactly what the point of the segment (one of three in the hour) was supposed to be. It existed entirely to imply sinister conspiracies without presenting much, if anything, in support of them. Among the conspiracies, the show claims that witnesses who contradicted the Warren Commission report were “mysteriously” killed—by whom they do not say. The show then contradicts its own narrative of all-powerful conspiracies by interviewing a witness who contradicts the Commission’s findings and yet somehow is still living. (She claims she did not see Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository stairwell right after the shooting, when he should have been descending the stairs. Memory, being as fallible as it is, makes it impossible to know if she remembers events in the right order—For example, Pres. George W. Bush thought he remembered seeing the first plane hit the World Trade Center on TV early on September 11, 2001, even though such footage wasn’t available until much later.)
Baker was overly taken by a plaque on the Texas School Book Depository stating that Lee Harvey Oswald “allegedly” shot Kennedy from the sixth floor. He implies—but does not assert—that this is the conspirators’ confirmation that the official story is a lie. If that were the case, they had a funny way of doing it. (Conspirators love leaving clues in broad daylight for those “with eyes to see.”) The plaque was put up on March 29, 1981 and was written by a known individual—Shirley Caldwell. The wording reflected the discomfort of the state of Texas with identifying any site in Dallas with the assassination; there had been a massive battle to get Texas and Dallas to put up any sort of historical marker in Dealey Plaza in the 1960s and 1970s. The plaque used a legalistic wording reflecting the fact that Oswald had never been formally convicted in a court of law and therefore was only alleged by the government to be the assassin.
The show depicts the plaque after its recent vandalism. Someone has been carving around the word “allegedly” ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination. The plaque was restored and repainted this week.
All of that is neither here nor there because the outrageous part of the show was the inclusion of ancient astronaut theorist Jim Marrs alongside actor, comedian, and UFO and conspiracy buff Richard Belzer as “experts” on the Kennedy assassination.
Let me remind you that Jim Marrs recently asserted that ancient astronauts founded the conspiracy responsible for controlling world governments and that the New World Order worships ancient aliens as gods. We are supposed to trust Marrs’s views on the Kennedy conspiracy after he concluded that the evidence for a global cult of ancient-alien-worshipping politicians is “compelling…almost overwhelming,” including his allegation that aliens orchestrated 9/11?
Is there anything that disqualifies someone from appearing on TV?
So, we have the Travel Channel, owned by Scripps Networks Interactive, which operates UKTV in conjunction with BBC Worldwide, a company funded through the British government. It is showing a program starring a man who makes money selling intelligence and security services to world governments, including America’s, but is at the same time investigating conspiracies involving those governments. He then interviews a man who believes that an alien-Jewish conspiracy is planning to institute socialism after the collapse of civilization next year. Together, they are supposed to have reopened the Kennedy assassination.
Oh, and Jim Marrs is published by HarperCollins, a division of News Corp., which until this spring was also owner Fox News Channel, Baker’s favorite media outlet and the way he catapulted to fame. Today, Fox News is part of 21st Century Fox, but both companies still answer to Rupert Murdoch.
Then, to tie it all up in a ribbon, the production company behind the show, Indigo Films, is responsible for such other gems as Psychic Espionage, Secret UFO Files, Roswell: Final Declassification, America’s Psychic Past, Vampire Secrets, and America’s Loch Ness Monster. It’s no stretch to say that the independently-owned company makes much of its money from “alternative” and “conspiracy” programs it sells to cable channels, including History, Travel, and Discovery. In fact, you might even call these conspiracy programs an industry of their own.
Yup, that’s about par for the course on cable television—but this is one conspiracy I’d like to see exposed: how government and corporate money funnels to interrelated publishing and broadcasting groups that in turn hire the same few pundits and authors to feed us the same few conspiracy theories every few months for a steady, regular profit, and in turn impoverishing public discourse.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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