Saturday, June 28, 2008


A few years ago, an investigative journalist called Shane O'Sullivan appeared on the BBC's flagship news programme, NEWSNIGHT, and presented evidence that two CIA operatives had been present in the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. This feature length documentary spends an hour putting flesh on the bones of that circumstantial evidence. In a series of interviews, Sullivan posits the theory that Sirhan Sirhan, who has never been able to remember the shooting, was in fact a Manchurian Candidate, programmed by the CIA to kill the man who, according to them, screwed them over during the Bay of Pigs invasion. The claim is far-fetched, but it's testament to O'Sullivan's detached tone that it started to gain traction with me. However, an hour into the documentary, O'Sullivan, ever the good journalist, destroys his own story by presenting contrary evidence. So in the end, we're back to where we started. We have a lone gunman in prison and a bunch of conspiracy theories with no evidence to back them up.

So, has O'Sullivan pulled the rug out from under his feet? Is the documentary still worth watching? The case in favour of still watching the documentary is that it still lays out the events of the shooting and provides a useful primer for those of us who have a vague idea of what happened, would recognise the name "Sirhan Sirhan", but nothing more because, frankly, these events occured before we were born. The second reason to watch the documentary is that it provides a classic example of how investigative journalism and conspiracy theories work. The ease with which you can build up a case on a few photo IDs is alarming, and the ease with which you can demolish it also a useful lesson.

The case against watching the doc is part of the wider case that we are far too fixated with the mechanics of how JFK and RFK died. The more important thing is to understand why they were so hated by vested interests - the mafia, the unions, the CIA, big business. Whether any of those four actually pulled the trigger is almost moot. The key fact is that they all felt threatened. In other words, let's understand where power lies, and how RFK wanted to unravel it.

Having said that, I can make another argument for renting the DVD of RFK MUST DIE, and that is to watch the extensive extras showing RFK on the campaign trail and his speech upon the death of Martin Luther King Junior. We now sit at a point where many people around the world - not just radicals - have lost faith in the idea that America represents and upholds liberal democratic virtues. Bobby Kennedy was running for President against a similar tide of disillusionment. Understanding why he connected with so many people is fascinating and translates directly to the current electoral race. It's wonderful to revisit that footage and to be inspired by him once again. And to that extent, the DVD extras on RFK MUST DIE serve as a complement to Emilio Estevez' brilliant film, BOBBY, released earlier this year.

RFK MUST DIE is an extended documentary investigation by journalist Shane O'Sullivan. of a thRFK MUST DIE: was released in the UK and US earlier this year and is available on DVD.

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