Here is a fundamental rule by which you can judge every conspiracy theory. If there is only a video, it is not worth trusting.
Videos are powerful in their ability to convey ideas rapidly. The script writer has a tremendous advantage over the viewer. He can pick and choose from his film clips, and then he can add narrative. Because the viewer is not in a position to verify the quality of the sources, he is much more likely to accept the theory proposed by the script writer and the artistic specialist who conveys the message of the script by visual and audio images.
I suppose the best example of this is Oliver Stone’s movie, JFK. It is disjointed. It offers little evidence. You cannot be certain what part of it is true and what is not. It has sections of the movie resting on dialogue. There is no way to know if any of the dialogue is accurate. In short, I would not trust that movie under any circumstances.
If the video is accompanied by a carefully annotated script, with footnotes for every aspect of the script, I might pay attention. If I could verify everything in the script, and then if I could verify the documents verifying everything in the script, I would give a video careful consideration. But without my ability as an historian to verify everything proposed in the movie, and without my ability to verify the accuracy of the documentation, I would not trust the video. I would not tell anybody that he ought to see the video. I would not promote the video. I might spend the time to verify it personally. I might do the groundwork necessary to do it. But I would not promote the video unless the video had a very narrow task, namely, to show that whatever is said by official experts not to have happened, did in fact happen.
A video that shows that something happened, when the official position is that it did not happen, is a worthwhile tool. This is because of the old rule: a single positive refutes a universal negative. In other words, a visual image that was not doctored that shows that something took place is a way of calling into question any official theory that something could not have taken place and did not take place. For that kind of conspiracy video, I have no strong objection. But there would have to be verification of the reliability of the video image. It is possible in the world of Photoshop to doctor an image.
THE SCRIPT DOES NOT COME FIRST
A video exposé should begin, not with the script, but with a theory of historical cause and effect. This theory must then be supported by a carefully crafted book or website. Then the video producer hires someone to produce a script. The script should come in two forms. One is used for the production of the video. The other is for confirmation by specialists. It is released as a PDF. The video has to have back-up support from verifiable, publicly accessible documents. The critics of the video should not be able to tear it apart. It is easy enough to tear apart a footnoted book. It is extremely simple to tear apart a video, if the video proposes a theory of how a particular event took place. The plausibility of the theory is the heart of conspiracy theory. The visual images and the script are not the heart of it. The script and the images are used to verify the theory. The theory must be written. It must be footnoted. In the footnotes there must be analyses of why crucial documents are reliable, and why attacks on it are unreliable.
Historical training is basic to the construction of a conspiracy theory. If the conspiracy book is the first effort of the individual, it had better be a tremendous book. It had better have taken years of research, and the person who did the research had better have an instinctive grasp of what constitutes valid historical evidence. This usually takes years of training in graduate school. There are some exceptions, but those exceptions invariably involve years of self-training, and then years of investigating a particular problem.
WHY A VIDEO?
Then why produce a conspiracy video? There is only one good reason: to promote the book. Any other reason has to do with moneymaking or ego-inflating. The video may be to excite people. It may be a good tool to get a mailing list. It may be to impress your peers. All of this is irrelevant unless the video is used to promote the book, or at least a comprehensive website that functions as a documented book. The video’s task is to get the idea across to people that something is rotten in the Establishment’s Denmark. The video gets the idea across in a rapid way, and presumably in an aesthetically effective way. In other words, the video is mostly rhetoric, but very little logic. It is not a substitute for footnotes. It is not a substitute for an annotated bibliography. It is not a substitute for appendixes showing why the key documents are reliable, and why attacks on the key documents are not reliable. The video is not a substitute for professional historical research.
Any time someone tells you to watch a video, and who does not also tell you where to buy the printed documentation, or where to go online to find PDFs of original documents, is wasting your time. I cannot stress this more heavily. A stand-alone conspiracy video is not worth your time. It does not possess the support necessary to believe it.
If a video stands alone, the producer expects the true believers to send links to all their friends. But the true believer cannot articulate why the video is true. If he does not understand the use of documentation, if he does not understand the use of historical narrative, if he does not understand the rough-and-tumble world of historiography, then he is incapable of defending whatever the theory of the video is. If you cannot defend the video, point by point, document by document, do not send out links to the video. Again, I am referring to a video that is only a video.
(To read the rest of my article, click the link.)