I love a good conspiracy, I love a story that’s told well, and I love digging into topics that are twisty. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was a pivotal moment in world history. A shot “heard around the world” just sixty years ago. A shot that many people believe did not come from one gun, held by one man, on an upper floor of a book depository. Conspiracy, twisty, and the potential for a great story.
I have never been super interested in this as a conspiracy, but I was looking forward to digging into it considering November 2023 was the 60th anniversary. I also have a few friends who are very well-informed on the topic, who helped me round out my thoughts with this review. Thank you to those friends, you know who you are.
This podcast, from iHeart, is hosted by Rob Renier and Soledad O’Brien. It has the makings of a podcast that should be great. These are two people who know how to tell stories and conduct interviews, who know how to use their voices to move an idea into the public consciousness.
This podcast is a very pretty house of cards. The show sounds great, a “studio quality” if you will. The ambiance is set as a solid audio noir- the mystery and the conspiracy set against the tapping beats of an old spy movie. It’s gorgeous to listen to, but all that to say: it just doesn’t come across smoothly. Who Killed JFK? Is told across ten episodes and over five hours of audio, and it can’t seem to string it all together in podcast form. Even when listening to multiple episodes in a marathon, the hosts don’t tie everything together so that someone unfamiliar with the story will easily follow.
Our hosts know how to talk to each other, to conduct interviews, and to tell a story. Their backgrounds make that evident. They can’t seem to do this one in a scripted, audio-only form. This podcast is missing the mark on how to work the words without a visual component. Who Killed JFK? is written in such a way that makes me feel like it wasn’t greenlit for a visual format, so they decided to try audio without the full understanding of what that would take for this particular saga. There are a lot of characters with familiar and unfamiliar names to follow. My friends who know the players and the characters intimately were confused when listening to this podcast. I usually know within the first episode if a podcast will make me take notes. For this one, it wasn’t until a few episodes into the series that I felt that came across as a requirement for comprehension.
The way this podcast circles back episodes later isn’t effective, the script reading is over-worked vocally, and leaving the “Who Killed JFK” to the final episode does not work. Overall, I think the story would have been more effectively told if they started from the ideas in the final episode, and worked their way back to their conclusion. Having been released weekly, with no option to marathon it, this podcast expects too much of the listener’s memory. Even with a few episodes being marathoned - it doesn’t do a great job of tying the story together from episode to episode.
Finally, one of the “reasons” for this story being told by these people now, why it’s “important today” honestly felt disconnected from the rest of the podcast. The hosts explain that they’re telling this story, sixty years later, to pass the story on to the youth and to remind us not to trust the government as skepticism is an important part of democracy. The commission investigating this pivotal moment in history was a coordinated lie by our government. What could be happening now?
Well, I’m relatively young and I’ve lived through the last decade. We have a great wave of youth running for office and being active voters and organizers. Overall, I think the youth are trying their best to protect democracy in a world where they’re looked down upon as entirely too “cynical”. The voices on this podcast have a disconnect with what I’m seeing happening. The “next generation” moment feels tacked on like an afterthought.
If you want to tell the story with the sixtieth anniversary, say that. If you want to figure this out to heal your psyche from seeing this tragedy unfold, say that. There doesn’t have to be a bigger moral picture to hammer into the next generation. Your memory, your fascination, and your passion for something can be what you give us. The rest will follow.
Listen to Who Killed JFK Here