Conspiracy Theory Unsanctioned Premise
This is the second installment an ongoing series.
The phrase “conspiracy theory” passed into common usage following the 1964 Warren report on the assassination of JFK.
The phrase was amplified in the heavily manipulated, non-social, media of the time as a form of ridicule. Later, it came to be applied to any theory that contradicts received, official, orthodox, or approved analysis, information, or justifications.
For a story to be labeled a conspiracy theory, it is totally beside the point whether it actually involves a conspiracy.
For example, when extensive evidence was brought to light showing that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, various actors in the government, intelligence community, and mass media all had incentives to support the claim that it did. They didn’t conspire; they didn’t have to. They just had to refrain from pulling the brake on the train and go along for the ride. Those who mentioned the actual available evidence were labeled conspiracy theorists, marginalized, and shouted down. Eventually, everyone was forced to concede that Iraq had no WMD and that the evidence of this was freely available it all along. Baghdad was already in ruins.
Conversely, if an official, approved, or orthodox organization embraces a notion, it can never be labeled a conspiracy theory.
An example might be the idea that the Soviet Union had conspired with thousands of artists, writers, actors, broadcasters, and journalists to infiltrate literature, news, government, civic organizations, and entertainment during the Cold War. That theory led to the persecutions and blacklists of the McCarthy Era. That was never referred to as a conspiracy theory, because it was held by a sizable faction of the US government, including law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Congressional hearings and criminal charges were made based on it. Many lives were ruined.
This is not to say that there are not actual conspiracy theories.
Some of those theories are probably correct (i.e., conspiracies do exist). But most of the time, the phrase is used as a pejorative without any precision or accuracy. It is far more accurate to use a phrase that makes it clear that the idea being discussed is challenging to a belief considered authoritative.