The CIA’s Influence Over the Media: Use of the Conspiracy Theorist Slur

In April of 1967, a CIA official sent a memorandum dispatch to agency chiefs and stations. This memo described a strategy for discrediting critics of the Warren Report, the official account for the assassination of President Kennedy released in 1964. At the time of the memo, polls showed that 46% of Americans did not think that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, in contradiction to the official finding. To counter such criticisms, the memo proposed labeling critics as “conspiracy theorists” and proposed that the CIA’s “propaganda assets” in media begin to use the slur and other, related techniques to marginalize critics.

Classified as Secret but finally released in 1998, the memo stated, “Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit circulation of such claims.”

The memo instructed media assets to discredit those questioning government reports by saying the critics should be depicted as “wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, hasty or inaccurate in their research, or infatuated with their own theories.”

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