What Did Otto Otepka Know About Oswald and the CIA?
This article was originally published in Probe magazine, which I co-edited with Jim DiEugenio.
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By Lisa Pease
Otto Otepka once told journalist Sarah McClendon that he knew who had killed JFK, but would say no more on the subject.1
What might he have been in a position to know?
As head of the State Department’s Office of Security (SY), Otto Otepka was responsible for issuing or denying security clearances for State Department personnel. He took his job very seriously. In 1958, Otepka was awarded for Meritorious Service by no less than John Foster Dulles. The award lauded Otepka’s “loyalty and devotion to duty” as well as his “sound judgment, creative work and unusual responsibilities”, adding that Otepka “reflected great credit upon himself and the Department and has served as an incentive to his colleagues.”2
Not a McCarthyite
Otepka has often been unfairly portrayed as a right-wing clone of Senator Joe McCarthy. But the record does not support this caricature. In fact, Otepka crossed swords with Joe McCarthy in 1953 over Wolf Ladejinksy, a State Department agricultural expert who had once been employed by a Soviet trade agency. Despite such an obvious affiliation, Otepka’s evaluation cleared Ladejinsky of McCarthy’s unfair charges. Otepka himself has stated,
I thought my whole record would prove I was not a McCarthyite. I had never approved of Senator McCarthy’s tactics. Everyone in the security field knew that.3
November 5, 1963, Otto Otepka was unceremoniously fired from State based on charges that were unfounded.
How did Otepka fall so far from grace? And could it have had anything to do with his investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald?
Otto Otepka’s troubles started in December of 1960. Otepka’s biographer William Gill clearly believes that Otepka’s problems stemmed originally from Otepka’s continued denial of a security clearance for the former OSS veteran Walt Rostow. Otepka had denied him clearance twice before, and in December of 1960, Dean Rusk, newly appointed Secretary of State, visited Otepka in person to ask what Rostow’s chances would be of getting cleared at that time. Otepka was unable to give Rusk any reason to believe Rostow would ever receive clearance, and Rusk subsequently placed Rostow in the White House as a member of Kennedy’s personal staff, specifically as McGeorge Bundy’s second in command on national security matters.
Walt Whitman Rostow was the brother of Eugene Rostow. In Professor Don Gibson’s article about the creation of the Warren Commission, (Probe,
May-June 1996) Gibson revealed Eugene Rostow’s primary role in the formation of that body. Eugene’s call was made less than two and a half hours after Oswald was killed. Walt Rostow also shared something in common with the CIA’s legendary Counterintelligence Chief, James Angleton. He did not believe in the Sino-Soviet split.4
Rostow was no communist, but in fact a hawkish Cold Warrior.
Walt Rostow was one of Kennedy’s “counterinsurgency” experts. “He made counterinsurgency seem profound, reasonable, and eminently just,” said author Gerald Colby in his book Thy Will Be Done
. Walt Rostow—like Dean Rusk, Roswell Gilpatrick, Edward Lansdale, Paul Nitze, Harland Cleveland, Roger Hilsman, Lincoln Gordon, Adolf Berle, McGeorge Bundy and Henry Kissinger—came to work in the Kennedy administration directly from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s Special Studies Project. This group had been hand-chosen by Nelson Rockefeller to assist him when he himself was seeking the Presidency. Author Colby called this “Nelson’s Secret Victory”, pointing out that while Kennedy knew many powerful people, they were mostly politicians, not men with experience in foreign affairs. The Rockefeller family network, and Nelson’s group in particular, provided a large assortment of bright, qualified men. However, with such a homogenous group surrounding him, Colby noted, “there was no one to advise the young president on the wisdom and efficacy of such covert operations as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA’s secret war in Indochina, Project Eagle, or Lumumba’s murder.”5
Otepka’s biographer doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between Kennedy and this group. He insinuates that Bobby was behind Walt Rostow’s rise and Otepka’s fall. Bobby was originally the true believer in counterinsurgency as a means for conducting limited warfare and thus saving a greater number of lives than in outright war, which at that point in time seemed to mean nuclear war. But Bobby became disenchanted himself with both Rusk and Rostow and their type of counterinsurgency. Colby includes the text of one of Bobby’s speeches as released to the press, in which was written, “Victory in a revolutionary war is not won by escalation, but by de-escalation.” Kennedy did not actually speak these words when the speech was delivered, but the words were widely quoted by the press.6
Was the denial of clearance for Rostow the trigger for Otepka’s eventual downfall? Or could it have been a letter that went out a few weeks earlier? In a letter dated October 25, 1960, Hugh Cummings of State’s Intelligence and Research Bureau wrote a letter to Richard Bissell at CIA, requesting information on defectors to the Soviet Union. Number eight on the list of eighteen names was Lee Harvey Oswald. In the book Spooks
, Jim Hougan writes that,
According to Otepka, the study on defectors was initiated by him because neither the CIA nor military intelligence agencies would inform the State Department which defectors to the Soviet Union were double agents working for the United States.7
Although Otepka remained in the dark, within the CIA there seemed to be fewer questions as to for whom Oswald worked.
When State’s request came to CIA, Bissell turned the request over to two places: James Angleton’s Counterintelligence (CI) staff, and Sheffield Edwards’ Office of Security (OS) staff. In OS, Robert Bannerman, himself a former SY official and a colleague of Otepka’s, told his people to coordinate their response with CI. Evidently, Bannerman knew that Angleton’s CI staff, as opposed to the Soviet Russia Division (SR), would have the answers State needed. Paul Gaynor, of OS’s Security Research Staff (SRS), also seemed to have special knowledge that Angleton would be the appropriate person to handle this request. He passed Bannerman’s request for a coordinated response for State to Marguerite Stevens of SRS.
John Newman, in Oswald and the CIA
, describes the unusual nature of Gaynor’s framing of this request:
This request, as Gaynor relayed it to Stevens, however, was worded in a peculiar way, as if to dissuade her from doing research on seven people. Bannerman specified that he wanted information on American defectors other than Bernon F. Mitchell and William H. Martin, and five other defectors regarding whom Mr. Otepka of the State Department Security Office already has information. One of the “five other defectors” that Stevens was not supposed to look into was Lee Harvey Oswald.8 [Newman’s emphasis]
Readers of Probe
will remember from the last issue how CIA told the Headquarters offices of the FBI, State and INS that the CIA had already given information (re Oswald’s Mexico City trip) to the field offices of the same entities, which proved to be a lie. Is this a similar lie? Did
Otepka have the information already? No, according to Otepka. In addition, we know now that Angleton’s CI/SIG chief, Birch D. O’Neal, prepared his own response regarding these “defectors”. And 10th on the list was Oswald. And more importantly, Oswald’s particular entry was marked SECRET.9
And again, as described in the last Probe
, SIG—the Special Investigations Group—contained Angleton’s private handful of his most closed-mouth associates.
It’s significant that both Bannerman and Gaynor knew that the appropriate area for responding to inquiries about Oswald was Angleton’s CI staff. It’s interesting too how Gaynor relayed a response to a subordinate, Marguerite Stevens, in a manner that did not indicate to her that someone else in CIA had information on Oswald.
Another significant element in CI/SIG’s response was that it included a known lie. Oswald was listed as having “renounced” his citizenship.10
Although Oswald had attempted renunciation, he had not followed through and was still considered by both governments a citizen of the United States. Newman muses of this assertion, “Was CI/SIG truly incompetent or spinning some counterintelligence yarn?”11
The latter seems more likely, in light of other events.
The Opening of Oswald’s 201 File
Late November, 1960, Angleton’s staff sent Bissell their proposed response to State, which Bissell signed and forwarded. Yet we are to believe that, despite this obvious flurry of attention, just a few days later, on December 9, 1960, CI/SIG’s Ann Egerter opened a 201 file in the name of Lee Henry
Oswald. Newman has stated that he thinks this name might have been the result of a simple mistake. While this response seems strained for a file that was restricted,
as this one was, this explanation is even more weak in light of the recent attention focused on one Lee Harvey Oswald preceding the opening of this file. In fact, Egerter herself directly related the opening of the file to State’s request for information when deposed by the HSCA. Does this make any sense? It seems more like Egerter was trying to hide the CIA’s knowledge of Oswald, than preparing to divulge more of it.
Newman raises an interesting issue by quoting a memo from the man who later took Angleton’s position, George T. Kalaris. Kalaris gave a different version of why the 201 file was opened at that time, which states flatly:
Lee Harvey Oswald’s 201 file was first opened as a result of his “defection” to the USSR on 31 Oct 1959 and renewed interest in Oswald brought about by his queries concerning possible reentry into the United States.12
One of Oswald’s own letters supports Kalaris’ assertion. Oswald wrote to the American Embassy in Moscow in early 1961:
Since I have not received a reply to my letter of December, 1960, I am writing again asking that you consider my request for the return of my American passport.13
Newman quotes from an ABC Nightline
broadcast from 1991, in which ABC claims that the KGB had intercepted this letter and that the original still exists in Soviet files. Newman further points out that only some extraordinary source or method could have relayed this information to the CIA so quickly for them to open the 201 file by December 9th. Even if Oswald wrote on December 1st, how did the CIA, continents away, learn the contents of a letter in the cold war Soviet Union within eight days? And more importantly, what would that indicate about the level of interest the CIA really
had in Oswald, to be monitoring him so closely? In addition, Newman points out that,
Throughout Oswald’s stay in the Soviet Union, an Agency element which appears regularly on cover sheets for Oswald documents is CI/OPS, which means “Counterintelligence Operations.” If Oswald was a dangle, this might suggest that it was a counterintelligence operation run by Angleton.
Whatever the truth of the opening of the 201 file and the true purpose of Oswald’s trip to the Soviet Union, Otepka’s request for information sparked a chain of communications to Angleton’s unit, which then lied about Oswald in response. And Otepka’s life irrevocably changed. From December 1960, whether due to his refusal to clear Rostow, his poking into Oswald, or some other reason, Otepka started being taken off any “sensitive” security cases. It seemed Otepka’s reputation for meticulous attention to detail and thoroughness was making him a problem in SY. Why? Who was threatened by a man doing a good job?
An incredible, three year campaign unfolded against Otepka. Because of his stellar record, no one dared fire him. But all kinds of efforts were spent trying to make him want to quit, starting with his removal from the most sensitive cases in December, 1960. The first public attack began when stories appeared in the press that State—and specifically Otepka’s security area—would be undergoing a “reduction in force.”14
Shortly thereafter, Otepka was called before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS), of which Senator James Eastland was Chair and Senator Thomas Dodd a vocal member. Otepka had gotten to know Jay Sourwine, the subcommittee’s Chief Counsel. Informally, Otepka had shared some of his concerns for what he saw as a loosening of the clearance procedures with Sourwine. Sourwine and the subcommittee quickly began, with Dodd presiding, to hold what came to be known as the Otepka hearings. In the subcommittee’s subsequent report, the members concluded that the release of the news stories was meant to cause Otepka’s voluntary resignation.
Since this effort failed, other steps had to be taken. Otepka’s superior in SY tried to entice Otepka into taking a position in a different division. But Otepka refused, and none too soon, since that division was dissolved a mere two months later.15
Next, Otepka was shifted into a position that was essentially a demotion. Still, Otepka hung on, trying to do the job he felt needed to be done.
Otepka had found that Rusk had appointed a number of officials to State under a blanket waiver that effectively backdated security clearances for the new officials. Otepka tried to raise his concern with his superiors, and urged them to go to SISS. But SY just wanted Otepka to look the other way.
In 1962, John Francis Reilly took control of SY. From the very beginning, he too seemed to be on a mission to get rid of Otepka. Otepka’s biographer relates this encounter, just weeks into Reilly’s term:
Smiling broadly, [Reilly] asked, “Where’s your rabbit’s foot?” Mystified, Otepka raised his eyebrows in question. Reilly laughed and, maintaining his air of benevolent affability, he explained that Otepka had just been selected to attend the National War College. This was an honor usually reserved for Foreign Service officers marked for higher things. Being human, Otepka was naturally pleased. Reilly seemed genuinely delighted that such good fortune had befallen a member of his staff and just for a moment, Otepka was taken in. He accepted the appointment with thanks, and perhaps with a sense of relief that he could escape, at least temporarily, from the strained atmosphere that prevailed in SY. Reilly shrewdly asked him to put his acceptance in writing.
That same day, May 7, Otepka wrote Reilly a memorandum formally expressing his willingness to attend the War College for ten months beginning in August. However, he could not resist adding, tongue in cheek, that the appointment had come as something of a surprise to him because the State Department had repeatedly assured him, the Congress, and the public that he would be kept in a responsible position in the Office of Security. Reilly returned this memo with the request that Otepka delete his comments on the Department’s premises. Otepka complied.16
Reilly, however, overplayed his hand. His overdone praise made Otepka a bit uneasy, and he decided to do a little checking on his own. What he found was that his appointment had not been entered with the regular nominations, but was entered as a last minute emergency-type nomination. Otepka then asked Reilly if by accepting, he would still be able to return to his post at State. Reilly admitted he would have to fill Otepka’s spot, and there would be no place to which Otepka could return. With that, Otepka rejected this “honor” and chose to remain in place.
Less than a week after Otepka’s refusal, Reilly placed his first spy, Fred Traband, in Otepka’s office. More would follow. Reilly also brought in a National Security Agency (NSA) alumnus, David Belisle, to work with Otepka. Belisle brought with him a new “short form” procedure to rush through people’s security clearances. Otepka was appalled, but powerless. Belisle took away Otepka’s card-file index, the product of years of work. Otepka was removed from the FBI’s after-hours call list, which was another demotion. For a short time, Otepka was seriously thinking of quitting. Ironically, it was his buddy, Jay Sourwine, who talked him out of it. Ironically because it was this very relationship that most contributed to Otepka’s eventual downfall.
Sourwine started working on Otepka to get him to divulge what was really going on behind the scenes at State. But as usual, being a by-the-book person, Otepka insisted on following protocol. If Sourwine wanted him to testify before SISS, the subcommittee would have to formally request his testimony. And then, Otepka insisted on getting clearance from his superiors before testifying. Was Sourwine truly interested in helping Otepka, or was he part of a plot to entrap Otepka into saying something that would finally provide the justification for Otepka’s ouster?
In mid-February, 1963, Otepka was formally notified that his appearance was requested before SISS. Otepka testified to the subcommittee on four different occasions. At the very first hearing, Sourwine asked the question relating to the cause of Otepka’s appearance before the committee in the first place. He asked if Otepka had been subjected to any “reprisals” from State because of his previous testimony. But Otepka was wary of saying anything that could make his already uncomfortable situation at SY worse, and defended both State and their treatment of him. Otepka defended his own actions, but would not point an accusatory finger at anyone else. Sourwine continued to press the matter with more subtle questions, until he got Otepka to talk about a case where Otepka conceded to being pressured to put through two security clearances where he didn’t feel one was justified. Otepka’s refusal to clear the persons delayed the formation of the committee to which these people had been appointed for over a year. And in the end, through Otepka’s persistence, they were both dropped from the committee.17
One of Otepka’s biggest heresies, however, was disclosing to the Senate subcommittee that, despite the subcommittee’s earlier report and recommendations from the earlier Otepka hearings, State had continued to process under blanket waivers nearly 400 people in the roles of file clerks and secretaries. As author Gill put it, “it is often easier for an obscure clerk or a trusted secretary to waltz off the premises with a top-secret document than it would be for an official at the policy-making level who is afraid he is being watched.”18
This greatly alarmed the senators, but Otepka added one more piece of information. There was an effort underway to reinstate Alger Hiss to the State Department. Knowing what we know today, one might wish that effort had been successful. But at the time, all that was known was that Hiss had been convicted of perjury and had been accused of espionage.
Shortly after the third or fourth appearance, Otepka began noticing trouble on his phone line. Chatter could be heard sometimes, other times calls wouldn’t go through, and sometimes there would be an amplification effect. Otepka was being bugged. And not just though the phone. Listening devices were installed in his office. What could someone possibly fear that Otepka might be discussing to warrant such intense surveillance?
And then there was the night Otepka had been working late, stepped out for dinner, and then returned to work some more. Imagine his surprise when, around 10pm, David Belisle and another NSA spook entered his office, thinking he was gone for the night. Belisle made the flimsy excuse that he had been concerned by a cleaning woman he claimed to have seen entering Otepka’s office. But Otepka had been sitting there for some time, and called Belisle on this lie.19
When Otepka’s regular secretary fell sick, one Joyce Schmelzer was placed in his office with orders to spy on Otepka. One of her tasks was to gather the burn bag each night, mark it with a big red “X”, then call to alert another SY member that Otepka’s burn bag was on the way down. The trash was searched regularly for any incriminating information that could be used against Otepka.
For weeks, his house was under surveillance. His wife, tired of seeing the man in the car parked across the street every night, called the local police. After the police forced the man to identify himself (he worked for a private security firm), the man never reappeared.
Was Otepka keeping people with carefully constructed communist-like backgrounds from being placed, on behalf of intelligence agencies, in State for official cover? It would seem his offenses must have been extraordinary to warrant such high-level harassment. Was someone out to discredit Otepka in case he later spilled the beans on one particularly sensitive case?
Someone had even drilled a hole into his safe, and with a mirror determined the correct combination, and then plugged the hole again. What could someone possibly fear that Otepka might be discussing to warrant such intense surveillance? According to Otepka, the only sensitive material in the safe was his half-finished study of American defectors in the Soviet Union, with a yet to be completed determination on one Lee Harvey Oswald. When Hougan asked Otepka specifically if Otepka had been able to figure out if Oswald was an agent of the US or not, Otepka answered, “We had not made up our minds when my safe was drilled and we were thrown out of the office.”20
Amazingly, the people involved in harassing Otepka did little to cover their tracks. It was an open secret that Otepka was being tapped. And Otepka still had many friends in State, who told him who was responsible for many of these activities. Meanwhile, Reilly was trying to undermine Otepka’s support on SISS. He told all kinds of lies about what Otepka had done on various security cases and directly contradicted Otepka’s testimony before the subcommittee. Otepka was appalled. The Senate subcommittee was in quandry about who to believe—Otepka, or his SY superior. Sourwine told Otepka he would need something other than his word. He would need documents. Again, one should consider what followed in regards to the question of whether Sourwine was engaging in some form of entrapment.
Preparing the Defense
For ten days, Otepka gathered his evidence. He prepared a 39 page brief with 36 attachments to support his own testimony and directly refute that of Reilly’s. Of the attachemtns, 25 were unclassified; six were marked “Official Use Only”, three were marked “Limited Official Use”; and two were marked “Confidential.”21
Otepka was careful that none of what he divulged to the Senate subcommittee was information that in any way could compromise the national security of the United States. And even the two marked “Confidential” were mere transmittal memorandums for more sensitive attachments, and Otepka did not turn over the attachments.
The piece d’resistance in this affair was the manipulation of evidence taken from Otepka’s own safe. Sensitive documents were “found” in his burn bag one night, with the classification tags illegally clipped off. Otepka claimed, and the State Department never denied, that the evidence seems to support the contention that the documents were planted in his bags for the sole purpose of discrediting him. The day after these documents turned up, SISS called several SY members to the Hill to discuss the bugging of Otepka. The first man called was the spy Reilly had planted in Otepka’s office from the beginning, Fred Traband. Traband was so unnerved at being called, however, that, while denying knowledge of the tapping, he told the story behind the burn bag operation. The next man, Terry Shea, not only acknowledged the burn bag story, but added that Reilly had personally searched Otepka’s files and safe. The rest continued to deny any participation in or knowledge of the tapping of Otepka.
House of Cards
On June 27, 1963, Reilly unceremoniously shunted Otepka out of his office into a new, make-work position reviewing and updating policy manuals. Otepka was ordered to turn over the combination to his safe (which still held the unfinished Oswald study) and was sent to another office on another floor. He was denied access to his former records. Many of Otepka’s staff were purged from their positions at this time as well. On his new office wall, Otepka hung these words from Prime Minister Churchill:
Never give in. Never, never, never, never! Never yield in any way, great or small, large or petty, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force and the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.22
Adrift without direction, Otepka took some time off, and then made the mistake of stopping by his old office for a look. Belisle heard about this and admonished Otepka to stay away. Otepka’s wife was surprised, when calling her husband at his office, to hear “Mr. Otepka is no longer here.” And Otepka’s phone was rigged so that he could receive no incoming calls himself. His buzzer was disabled. When a call for Otepka came in, a phone would ring in another location, where a secretary would have to answer the call, and then walk to his door, knock, and tell him to pick up the line, before he could receive the call. This also ensured no privacy, since anyone could be listening on the other end of his calls. One of the men involved in tapping Otepka, Elmer Hill, had his wiretap lab across from Otepka’s office.23
At the end of July, the other shoe dropped. Otepka was informed by the FBI that he was being formally charged with espionage. Years later, it was discovered this move was ordered by Rusk himself, and the order hand-delivered by Reilly to the Department of Justice. This, for turning documents over to a Senate subcommittee. He was also charged with having clipped security classifications from documents, something Otepka did not do.
In our last issue of Probe
, we told of another whistleblower, Richard Nuccio, and how he was punished for giving information to the congressional body legitimately designated to receive such. Peter Kornbluh, writing for the Washington Post
, quoted a 1912 law which stated that “the right of employees…to furnish information to either House or Congress, or to a committee or member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied.” Otepka himself cited this same law to the FBI in defense of his own actions.
Meanwhile, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee was going to bat for Otepka. They hauled before them what the committee later called the “lying trio” of Reilly, Belisle and Hill.24
All three were found to have committed perjury when they denied knowledge of the tap on Otepka.
The Long Shadow of Walter Sheridan
In an interesting and relevant side story, the tapes made from the bugging of Otepka’s office were passed to a man that was unidentified in the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee’s hearings. Jim Hougan, while researching a strange case of bugging on Capitol Hill, found a man, Sidney Goldberg, who claims that the man in the corridor was none other than Walter Sheridan.25
Walter Sheridan was the former NSA and FBI man who did so much to sabotage Jim Garrison during his investigation into Kennedy’s assassination. According to a source of Goldberg’s, Hougan wrote that Sheridan “disposed over the personnel and currency of whole units of the Central Intelligence Agency.”26
In addition, the same source claimed that Sheridan was behind the preservation of Belisle’s job with State when Belisle’s role in the bugging of Otepka was revealed. Belisle was not fired, but was transferred to Bonn, Germany. Sheridan denied having any role in these events. But is Sheridan to be believed, in light of the lies he put forth during the Garrison investigation?
Despite the support of the committee, Otepka was on the way out. He was met at work on September 22, 1963, with a note saying “You are hereby notified that it is proposed to remove you from your appointment with the Department of State….”27
Otepka was outraged at the charges:
“I was not particularly disturbed by the charges regarding my association with Jay Sourwine or the data I’d furnished him for the subcommittee,” Otepka later recalled. “But I was shocked and angered to find that the State Department had resorted to a cheap, gangland frame-up to place me under charges for crimes it knew I had never committed.”28
One would think that finally, Otepka’s ordeal would be over. One would be wrong. He had been fired from his career position at State. Yet even after this, Otepka was warned that his home phone was probably tapped! And just a few days later, the man who had originally divulged who was behind the tapping of Otepka, Stanley Holden, suffered a mysterious “accident.” Holden was a good friend of Otepka’s, and had himself been under surveillance. His face and tongue had been so badly cut that stitches were required. His own explanation of being hit in the face by a heavy spring did not seem to explain his wounds, and the rumor went around that he had been beaten up by those who didn’t like him talking.
In a last ditch effort to preserve Otepka at State, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee wrote a brief letter, signed by every subcommittee member, which strongly urged Rusk to reconsider the decision to force Otepka out of State. But Otepka’s fate had already been sealed. On November 5, 1963, Otepka was finally formally ousted from the State Department. Just seventeen days later, Kennedy would be assassinated. And the killing would be pinned on the man Otepka was trying to investigate when he was removed from his office.
1. Sarah McClendon, Mr. President, Mr. President!
(Santa Monica: General Publishing Group, 1996) p. 82
2. William J. Gill, The Ordeal of Otto Otepka
(New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1969), p. 56
3. Gill, p. 232
4. Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done
(New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1995), p. 553
5. Colby and Dennett, p. 343
6. Colby and Dennett, pp. 542-543.
7. Jim Hougan, Spooks
(New York: William Morrow & Co., 1978) p. 371
8. John Newman, Oswald and the CIA
(New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995), p. 172
9. Newman, p. 172
10. Newman, p. 172
11. Newman, p. 173
12. Newman, p. 176
13. Newman, p. 177
14. Gill, p. 117
15. Gill, p. 123
16. Gill, pp. 161-162
17. Gill, p. 235
18. Gill, p. 238
19. Gill, p. 243
20. Hougan, p. 371
21. Gill, p. 254
22. Gill, p. 280
23. Gill, p. 285
24. Gill, p. 289
25. Hougan, p. 128. Hougan wrote of a wiretap that was discovered that ran from Capitol Hill to the Esso building, terminating not in the basement, where most lines terminate, but on the top floor behind a locked door to which the phone company didn’t even have access. The floor was leased to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, and the room was marked as a “restricted area”. Goldberg had a source that claimed Walter Sheridan was the ultimate recipient of this tap. In addition, Bernard Fensterwald appears in this story. When he heard that Goldberg was on the trail of the tap, he walked into Goldberg’s office and offered to help. Fensterwald convinced Goldberg to sign a statement that wasn’t true under the guise that this would help him. The situation became a nightmare for Goldberg. Fensterwald also played a role in protecting the tap. The tap was brought to the attention of Senator Long’s Ad-Prac committee by Bernie Spindel, a famed wiretapper himself. Spindel claimed government agents were constantly working on the tap. Fensterwald then committed a “blunder”: he requested information on the cable from the telephone company. This had the effect of sending a warning to whoever was bugging the hill. Because such requests took several days to process, the buggers had plenty of time to remove the tap that was under investigation. Why would Fensterwald, a sophisticated lawyer who sat on a committee specifically involved with wiretapping issues, make such an obvious mistake?
26. Hougan, p. 128
27. Gill, p. 291
28. Gill, p. 293
Dan Hardway rebuts Shenon's assertion that RFK put Allen Dulles on the Warren Commission
Dan Hardway gave me permission to share this with the world. I’m more than
happy to. Dan Hardway was one of the key investigators into the CIA’s role in
the JFK assassination for the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the
1970s. Hardway also has one of the finest minds I’ve met in this case and a
genuine dedication to getting at the truth of what happened.
= = = =
This link is to a JFKFacts published excerpt from my response to Phil
Shenon's assertion that RFK nominated Allen Dulles to serve on the Warren
Commission. The little bit JFKFacts printed is excepted from the following
fuller response to that assertion, just so you may know. Sapere aude.
David Talbot, in his brief Facebook response to Phil Shenon’s article in
Politico Magazine, “Yes, the CIA Director was Part of the JFK Assassination
Cover-Up,” denied the claim that Robert Kennedy was responsible for Allen
Dulles being on the Warren Commission. Shenon had said: “[President] Johnson
appointed Dulles to the commission at the recommendation of then-Attorney General
Robert Kennedy.” Talbot responded, “Shenon also repeats the old canard that RFK
urged President Johnson to appoint former CIA director Allen Dulles to the
Warren Commission. This bogus story apparently originated with Lyndon Johnson
himself, who alleged in his 1971 memoir that Bobby recommended both Dulles and
John McCloy, another Republican pillar of the Wall Street-national security
world. Johnson, of course, was one of the most notorious fabulists who ever
occupied the Oval Office. And his hatred of Bobby Kennedy, who by 1971 was
conveniently dead, was one of the core passions of LBJ's life. The notion that
Johnson would huddle with his arch enemy to make such a politically delicate
choice as the makeup of the Warren Commission is absurd. So is the idea that
Bobby himself would recommend two men who were political enemies of his late
brother -- two men with whom JFK had strongly clashed over national security
policy. In truth, as close CIA associates of Dulles later revealed, such as
Richard Helms, Dulles himself arm-twisted his way onto the Warren Commission,
where he and McCloy soon established themselves as the dominant players. This
is one more example of Shenon's gullibility when it comes to covering
In addition to David’s very valid points about the antipathy between Johnson
and RFK which, if anything, David understates here, and Johnson’s slim
acquaintance with the truth, I would like to point out a couple of additional
reasons to reject the idea of RFK being behind Dulles’ appointment to the
Warren Commission. As David says, this story’s first public appearance was in
LBJ’s memoirs as an unsupported allegation. (The Vantage Point, p. 27) An
earlier telephone transcript of a telephone call between LBJ and Abe Fortas, in
December of 1966, has Johnson saying “We even asked the Attorney General to
name people he wanted. He recommended people like Allen Dulles and John
McCloy.” The context of the conversation, however, is about countering
criticism of the President that they think may be coming from Nicholas
Katzenbach, President Johnson is telling Fortas that he needs to talk to
Katzenbach and telling him what to say to him. (See http://web2.millercenter.org/…/conversations/1966/lbj_wh661…
to hear the recording of the conversation.) The statement is in the context of
their continuing disputes and animosity.
It should be noted that no one who was close to Robert Kennedy has ever
confirmed his input into the selection of the members of the Warren Commission,
let alone his nomination of Allen Dulles and John J. McCloy. In addition, there
is only one contemporaneous document that can be cited as in any manner
supporting that assertion. The document is a Memorandum from Walter Jenkins,
LBJ’s top administrative assistant who had worked for him since 1939. The brief
memo is dated 11/29/63. It reports: “Abe [Fortas] has talked with Katzenbach
and Katzenbach has talked to the Attorney General. They recommend a seven man
commission – two Senators, two Congressmen, the Chief Justice, Allen Dulles,
and a retired Military Man....” A hand written note at the bottom of the page
says “orig. not sent to files.” The memo also bears the a stamp that indicates
it was received by Central Files on April 20, 1965. It is unlikely that this
document could ever be used as evidence on several grounds. The statement that
RFK approved Dulles is, at best triple hearsay – allegedly, RFK told Katzenbach
who told Fortas who told Jenkins who wrote the memo. The document also does not
bear standard indicia of credibility in that, as it notes, the original was not
preserved in the normal course of business, and a copy was not recorded until
seventeen months after the original had been written. The memo asks LBJ to
respond to three questions. I have not been able to find a copy of any
Interestingly enough, LBJ also met with J. Edgar Hoover on November 29,
1963, at 1:39 p.m. They discussed the composition of the Commission Johnson was
considering, as Hoover reported in a memorandum:
“ He then indicated the only way to stop it is to appoint a high-level
committee to evaluate my report and tell the House and Senate not to go ahead
with the investigation. I stated that would be a three-ring circus.
“The President then asked what I think about Allen Dulles, and I replied
that he is a good man. He then asked about John McCloy, and I stated I am not
as enthusiastic about McCloy, that he is a good man but I am not so certain as
to the matter of publicity he might want. The President then mentioned General
(Lauris) Norstad, and I said he is a good man. He said in the House he might
try (Hale) Boggs and (Gerald R.) Ford and in the Senate (Richard B.) Russell
and (John Sherman) Cooper. I asked him about Cooper and he indicated Cooper of
Kentucky whom he described as a judicial man, stating he would not want (Jacob K.) Javits. I agreed on this point. He then reiterated Ford of Michigan, and I indicated I know of him but do not know him and had never
seen him except on television the other day and that he handled himself well on
television. I indicated that I do know Boggs.”
There was no discussion here of the Attorney General nor of any
recommendations he may have made. They went on to discuss other matters,
including some discussion of the Attorney General, but did not discuss anything
about the Attorney General and his alleged suggestions regarding the
composition of the Commission.
Jim Lesar and Dan Alcorn have called my attention to another recorded
telephone call between LBJ, RFK and Allen Dulles on June 23, 1964. This is truly
a remarkable, fascinating conversation, especially considering the strained
relationships between RFK and LBJ and RFK and Dulles. Those considerations make
some of the conversation’s subtleties ambiguous at best. Of particular note are
the references to the Warren Commission and its on-going work:
At 5:23, Dulles says to RFK, "What is the timing on this? (The proposed
Dulles trip to Mississippi). I'm on this other Commission you know, and we are
trying to finish up our work, you know, and I wouldn't want the Chief Justice
to think I'd run out on him." Is he concerned that this is a move by RFK
to get him less involved in the final deliberations of the Committee? Missing a
perfect opportunity to remind RFK that he is on the WC by his nomination, Dulles
here says nothing about it. Note the proximity of this assignment to the
untranscribed WC Executive Session of 6/29/64, https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html…
, which followed not
long after the Executive Sessions in may where the remarkable conversations
about the possibility of LHO being a government asset happened. Dulles was
present at the meeting, apparently arriving back in D.C. from Mississippi in
the early morning hours of 6/26/64. (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMK1xGA0XYc
At 7:03 Dulles asks RFK, "Why did you pick me for this?" RFK
responds, "Because I know you," to which Dulles responds with a long
hearty laugh, adding, "I've been a little mad at you, you know, oh a
little bit on this Bay of Pigs book, but I might forget that very
easily.(laughing)" RFK: "Well, anyway..." Dulles: "I don't
stay angry long." RFK: "Fine." and turns the conversation back to
Mississippi. You can hear the irritation in RFK's voice at this point. He never
joins Dulles's laughing. “This Bay of Pigs book" that Dulles refers to
was, most likely, Haynes Johnson's The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders' Story of
Brigade 2506, which was published in May, 1964– the month before this
conversation. Given the long prior relationship between RFK and Haynes Johnson,
Dulles may have considered the book to be part of his ongoing propaganda battle
with RFK over the Bay of Pigs that started with the post-invasion press
maneuvering and the Taylor Commission. It is another indication of continued
antagonism between RFK and Dulles, further weakening the case for believing
that RFK would have nominated Dulles to serve on the Commission charged with
investigating his brother’s murder.
At 8:43, Dulles to LBJ, "You remember that I'm on this, that you put me
on this Commission that I'm working on with the Chief Justice and the others...
and that is reaching a point where I would not want to neglect that work...for
anything." The ellipses represent LBJ interjections of affirmation and
understanding. Johnson then assures him that he will have access to a
presidential jet and that he would be going down to Mississippi and back very
The most remarkable thing about the conversation is that nothing is said
about RFK involvement in selecting Dulles for the Warren Commission. When
talking to RFK, Dulles did not say anything about serving on the Commission at
his request or nomination. In speaking with LBJ, he points out that he is
serving on the Commission by LBJ's appointment, but does not say anything to
him about his appointment being in any way connected with RFK. Also, the
exchange between Dulles and RFK, quoted above would seem to indicate that the
relationship between the two men was, even at this point, strained at best. You
have to hear the voice tones to really appreciate this. And this context, at
the 2:00 minute mark, Dulles opening his conversation with RFK by expressing
his condolences about, apparently, Ted Kennedy's illness, is downright strange.
Over all, the predominant subtext seems to be that Dulles's main concern is
that this is designed to divert him from his involvement with the Warren
Commission's final deliberations. Hence, the need to reassure him of the
minimal role he is to have in Mississippi, the expeditious travel arrangements,
and the time assurances. From the LBJ/RFK side, it is apparent that they have
agreed in advance to ask Dulles to do this. But, on the other hand, there is
absolutely nothing in this conversation to indicate that they had agreed
previously on his appointment to the Warren Commission by LBJ. Indeed,
listening to the whole conversation, especially that between RFK and Dulles
about the reason for his selection to go to Mississippi strongly militates
against believing that RFK had been involved in Dulles appointment to the
But don’t take my word for it, listen to the conversation yourself at http://millercenter.org/presidentialreco…/lbj-wh6406.15-3868
David Talbot comments, in regard to this conversation:
“This is indeed a fascinating conversation, which I'm just now absorbing. I
completely agree with your analysis. I would add how unnerving it is to hear
Dulles tell Bobby how sorry he was about his brother (meaning Teddy, of course,
not JFK...but still).
“I would also add this as general context: At this point in his life, Bobby
is still in major turmoil and uncertain of how to proceed in his political
career. He suspects the assassination came from within the CIA's plot against
Castro, but he probably hasn't focused on Dulles yet, who after all was
supposedly out of the CIA by the time of the assassination. (RFK was likely
unaware of the extent to which Dulles was STILL involved with CIA affairs, as I
report in my new book.) And Bobby, though he and LBJ hated each other, was
still figuring out whether he should stay in the Johnson administration -- and
even had hopes that Johnson would pick him as his running mate in '64. (This
conversation about Mississippi took place in June of that year, while Bobby
didn't announce for the Senate until Aug. 25, after Johnson had made clear he
would not pick him.) So everything is up in the air for Bobby at this stage.
“The one thing he remained focused on during this period as attorney general
was civil rights, since he knew that would be a big part of his brother's and
his legacy. And my guess is Bobby thought that by sending a heavyweight like
the former director of the CIA down to Miss would put the fear of God in the
locals. At this point, they hadn't even found the bodies of the young civil
rights workers, and I'm sure RFK wanted to send a strong message to the
governor et al that they better cooperate if they knew what was good for them.
“Despite Dulles's concerns about being pulled away from his Warren
Commission work, Bobby clearly had no respect or concern for that (he knew by
then it was going to be a whitewash.) I doubt that sending Dulles to Miss was
an attempt to deflect him from his commission work (since he was only going to
be gone a couple of days). But it certainly showed that RFK considered this
civil rights crisis more important than whatever Dulles was doing on the
commission, whose conclusions RFK regarded as foregone.
“And finally, yes, I find the uncomfortable little exchange about "the
Bay of Pigs book" very telling. As Dan says, the ideological battle over
the telling of the Bay of Pigs story remained a huge point of contention
between the Dulles and Kennedy camps. Dulles clearly hated the Haynes Johnson
book (Johnson in fact told me he was the target of CIA spleen after the book
came out). And he was so disturbed by the way Schlesinger and Sorensen wrote
about the BoP (as a fast one pulled on JFK by the CIA) the following year, that
he put a great effort into telling his version of the operation in an article
for Harpers (which he finally abandoned). Dulles clearly knew that Haynes
Johnson was a Kennedy confidante and his book reflected that. Here, in this
conversation, Dulles tries to laugh off the fact that "I've been a little
made at you on this Bay of Pigs book." But, he goes on to say, I don't
stay mad long. Hah! This was a man who nursed grudges long and hard and never
“RFK's response to Dulles is terse and equally telling. He knows the subject
is a minefield and he moves swiftly on.
Another taped conversation relevant to this question is also available at http://web2.millercenter.org/…/lbj_k6311_05_16_dulles_trunc…
This is the call President Johnson made to Allen Dulles on November 29, 1963,
to advise him that he would be on the Commission. This is one of the shortest
calls that LBJ had to make to the potential members of the Commission. Unlike
others who were reluctant to serve, Dulles expressed no reluctance, the call
only lasted approximately a minute and thirty or so seconds, but Johnson
appears to try to repeat the arguments he made to others anyway.
In this call to Dulles, neither Dulles nor LBJ mention Robert Kennedy or his
possible involvement in Dulles selection. The conversation opens with LBJ
apologetically advising Dulles: “I have some unpleasant news for you.” Dulles
says, “Yes.” LBJ goes on, “We are going to name very shortly a presidential commission
made up of seven people ... as a study group to go into this FBI report ... in
connection with the assassination of our beloved friend, and you’ve got to go
on that for me.” Dulles responds, “Because I can really serve you,” and LBJ
interrupts saying, “I know you can, I know you can, not any doubt about it.
Just get ready now to go in there and do a good job. America’s got to be united
in this hour.” At this point the tape becomes somewhat garbled and hard to
understand as Dulles says something about his “previous job.” LBJ’s response is
very garbled for me to understand well, but LBJ can be heard to say “you always
do a good job as I found out long ago.”
It is generally considered that Dulles, in raising his previous job, is
expressing a concern that his service as the director of the CIA would
disqualify him from service on the commission. Many consider that he did so
based on a concern that it could serve as a basis for adverse propaganda. On
the other hand, it could be that he knew, especially considering the
circumstances of his departure from the job, that he had a serious conflict of
interest that should prevent his serving. The nature of the basis of his
concern is not apparent from the conversation. No one at the time, however,
raised Dulles apparent conflict of interest.
Is there a countervailing theory as to how Dulles got on the Warren
Commission? In his 2007 book, Brothers, David Talbot says that Allen Dulles
lobbied to be appointed to the Warren Commission. He also reported that
Dulles’s biographer, Peter Grose, concluded that there is “no evidence that the
younger Kennedy played any role in the composition of the commission.”
David Talbot returned to this issue in his recently published book, The
“The Dulles camp itself made no bones about the fact that the Old Man
aggressively lobbied to get appointed to the commission. Dick Helms later told
historian Michael Kurtz that he ‘personally persuaded’ Johnson to appoint
Dulles. According to Kurtz, Dulles and Helms ‘wanted to make sure no agency
secrets came out during the investigation.... And, of course, if Dulles was on
the commission that would ensure the agency would be safe. Johnson felt the
same way – he didn’t want the investigation to dig up anything strange.
“William Corson, a former Marine Corps officer and Navy intelligence agent
who was close to Dulles, confirmed that the spymaster pulled strings to get on
the Warren Commission. He ‘lobbied hard for the job,’ recalled Corson....”
The Devil’s Chessboard, pp. 573-574. Secretary of State Dean Rusk also
lobbied LBJ to appoint Dulles to the Commission.
Interestingly enough, I have not been able to find a recorded conversation
between LBJ and John J. McCloy regarding his service on the Warren Commission.
Talbot, however, finds it “preposterous” that RFK would have sought to have him
or Dulles placed on the commission investigating his brother’s murder:
“Like Dulles, whose former agency Bobby immediately suspected of a role in
the assassination, McCloy was a Cold War hard-liner. McCloy had resigned as
JFK’s chief arms negotiator at the end of 1962, in frustration with what he
felt was Soviet intransigence. But it was McCloy himself who was the obstacle.
Several months after Kennedy replaced him with Averell Harriman ... the two
superpowers reached a historic agreement to limit nuclear arms testing.”
Michael Kurtz’s characterization of the motivations behind LBJ appointing
Dulles to the commission is given some support from statements made in
Robarge’s article on McCone. Robarge reports that, while there is “[n]o
documentary evidence indicat[ing] whether McCone ordered the circumscribed
approach [to providing the Warren Commission information] on his own or at the
White House’s behest .... the DCI [McCone] shared the administration’s interest
in avoiding disclosures about covert actions that would circumstantially
implicate CIA in conspiracy theories and possibly lead to calls for a tough US
response against the perpetrators of the assassination.” [Emphasis added.]
Unfortunately, Robarge does not say where he found the expression of the
administration’s interest, or how it was expressed or communicated. He just
rules out it being done in a documented order from the White House. Later, in
the same article, he says, “McCone and Dulles both wanted to draw attention
away from CIA and encourage endorsement of the FBI’s conclusion soon after the
assassination that a lone gunman, uninvolved in a conspiracy, had killed John
Kennedy. The DCI could rest assured that his predecessor would keep a dutiful
watch over Agency equities and work to keep the commission from pursuing
provocative lines of investigation....” Indeed, in keeping with the interests
they shared with the Johnson administration. Dulles proved true to his comment
to LBJ on November 29, 1963, the he could really serve him. He, indeed, very
effectively protected the administration and the CIA’s interest in preventing a
real investigation of the murder.
In view of all this, it is my opinion that there is no sufficient proof that
RFK had anything to do with Allen Dulles being on the Warren Commission. There
is, however, evidence that RFK’s deputy at the Justice Department, Nicholas
Katzenbach, was lobbying for the appointment of a Presidential Commission.
Early after the assassination, LBJ was expressing a desire for a Texas Court of
Inquiry to handle the investigation into the assassination. It appears that the
idea for a Presidential commission came from Washington pundits, such as the
CIA connected Joseph Alsop, and from Nicholas Katzenbach. Katzenbach’s interest
in such a commission was first expressed by J. Edgar Hoover in a call to Walter
Jenkins on November 24. That same day, Eugene Rostow, Dean of Yale Law School,
called Bill Moyers and reported the same thing. On November 25, Katzenbach
delivered his famous memo on the subject to Bill Moyers. It is this memo that
“It is important that all of the facts surrounding President Kennedy’s
Assassination be made public in a way which will satisfy people in the United
States and abroad that all the facts have been told and that a statement to
this effect be made now.
“1. The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did
not have confederates who are still at large; and that the evidence was such
that he would have been convicted at trial.”
These actions on Katzenbach’s part, taken while RFK was largely
incapacitated by his grief in the days immediately following the assassination,
do not lend substantial credence to the idea that RFK nominated McCloy and Dulles
to serve on the commission. Indeed, there is no mention of such a nomination in
any of the contemporaneous documentation presently available on Katzenbach’s
= = = = = = =
Thanks again for this work, Dan. Yours in the pursuit of truth.
Of C. David Heymann, lies and truths
I wrote this a while back for the CTKA.net site, but given that a new book from the author has been published, it's worth a reprint here.
- - - - - -
As a researcher into a controversial subject – the assassinations of the sixties – people often ask me this question: How do you know which sources to believe and which to disbelieve?
My answer is this: When you read an author for the first time, check every single fact you don't already know from elsewhere. If a nonfiction book isn't even footnoted, it's not worth your time other than as a source of leads you'll have to check out on your own. Leads are not data. They are only possible data.
Hearsay, what someone said when they were not under oath, when nothing was at risk for them personally, I also treat as a lead, not data. Personally, I don't trust interviews much because people often misremember things, or enhance or embellish the truth, sometimes without realizing it. And some will simply lie for their own reasons, and none of us is so good that we can "just tell" who is lying or not. But by interviewing people you can sometimes get a lead on data for which there is some sort of a verifiable paper trail. And that can be valuable.
If the book is footnoted, check out the footnotes. And I mean, really check it out – don't just see if there is
a footnote. Go to the library, go to the book referenced, go to that page number, and see if the note is correct. Was the correct reference on that page? Or did the author miss it? (Sometimes book pages change from one printing to the next so check a few pages on either side of the reference in case it's nearby.)
Most important, check to see if what is in the footnoted text is accurately represented. I've gone through people's footnotes and found sometimes, to my dismay, that the author misread the original text or is deliberately misrepresenting it.
What about things you can't check out, like interviews with people? Then two additional considerations come into play: the credibility of the person being interviewed, and the reliability of the interviewer. Did either person have a reason to lie? Did either person work for an intelligence service, a career which requires one to lie well? Have they lied or misquoted people in the past?
It is with these considerations in mind that I read C. David Heymann's latest book, Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story.
If I had to describe the book in a single word it would be this: puerile. But because this book has gotten so much media attention, I will say more than one word. And because the book depends nearly entirely on hearsay, I have to examine the overall credibility of the author, as well.
When I started reading the book, I tried to look up certain items to find Heymann's source. There were some footnotes, to be sure, but never for the items that interested me. Instead, he sourced the book generally, chapter by chapter, to a list of interviews conducted by Heymann and his researchers. Lacking access to those, the only way for me to evaluate the credibility of Heymann's claims of a so-called love affair between Bobby and Jackie was to evaluate the credibility of Heymann himself.
I've been researching Robert Kennedy for years. Early on, I picked up Heymann's book RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy.
At the time, I knew nothing about Heymann. I was writing about Robert Kennedy's ride to the Ambassador Hotel – a moment of no particular consequence. I just wanted to get the time correct and to quote something ironic that had been said on the drive.
Here is what Heymann wrote for this episode:
At six-fifteen, Kennedy and Dutton were driven by John Frankenheimer from Malibu to the Ambassador Hotel. ... As Frankenheimer cruised along the Santa Monica Freeway, attempting to make the thirty-minute trip in half that time, Bobby said, "Hey, John, take it slow. I want to live long enough to enjoy my impending victory."
The footnote for the above said this:
"At six-fifteen": Schlesinger, RK, p. 980.
If you go to page 980 in Arthur Schlesinger's book Robert Kennedy and his Times,
you find nothing but a page of footnotes with no reference to those events. But a page number mistake is easy to make – and it was easy enough to find the correct page. So I wasn't going to be too hard on Heymann for such a simple error. I looked up "Frankenheimer" in Schlesinger's book to get the correct page (p. 913), and found this text:
About six-thirty Frankenheimer drove him to the Hotel Ambassador. He sped furiously along the Santa Monica Freeway. "Take it easy, John," Kennedy said. "Life is too short."
Schlesinger sources this quote to Robert Blair Kaiser's book R.F.K. Must Die!,
page 15. Schlesinger's quote of what Kennedy said exactly matches the original in Kaiser's book, whereas Heymann's strange misquote added a touch of arrogance ("my impending victory"). Heymann evidently improvised his version, and moved the time he explicitly footnoted up fifteen minutes for no apparent reason. Add that to the wrong page number, and for this inconsequential item, Heymann managed to make three mistakes. That's way too high an error ratio for me. If he could make three errors on something so simple, what would he do with things more controversial or complex? At that point, I put away Heymann's book, realizing it would be worthless to my research.
Had I read further, I would have seen Heymann fabricating events from whole cloth. For example, on page 361 in his RFK book, Heymann wrote something wildly untrue:
[I]n May 1997, Gerald Ford publicly admitted that in 1975, while president of the United States, he had suppressed certain FBI and CIA surveillance reports that indicated that JFK had been caught in a crossfire in Dallas, and that John Roselli and Carlos Marcello had orchestrated the assassination plot.
Gerald Ford never said any such thing. What Gerald Ford did
say in 1997 was in response to a document that surfaced showing it was his edits that changed the wound from Kennedy's "back" to the "back of the neck," a change of verbiage that managed to move the wound up five inches to support the single bullet theory. Never mind that the shirt (which was fitted and could not have bunched up five inches, as some have suggested) showed a bullet hole well down the back and definitely not in the "back of the neck." Here is the passage from the 1997 AP report regarding Ford's public comment:
Thirty-three years ago, Gerald R. Ford took pen in hand and changed – ever so slightly – the Warren Commission's key sentence on the place where a bullet entered John F. Kennedy's body when he was killed in Dallas.
The effect of Ford's change was to strengthen the commission's conclusion that a single bullet passed through Kennedy and severely wounded Texas Gov. John Connally – a crucial element in its finding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman.
A small change, said Ford on Wednesday when it came to light, one intended to clarify meaning, not alter history.
"My changes had nothing to do with a conspiracy theory," he said in a telephone interview from Beaver Creek, Colo. "My changes were only an attempt to be more precise."
So Heymann is freely mixing a real event (Gerald Ford's public comment) with a fictional one (admitting to participating in a cover-up and naming Roselli and Marcello as the conspirators).
How could Heymann be so wrong? Heymann wouldn't deliberately lie, not in a nonfiction book, right?
Wrong. Heymann not only would, he does, and provably so, right on the book's dust jacket. Under Heymann's picture, Heymann is described as a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. Finding that impossible to believe, I decided to check it out. As I suspected, Heymann was never nominated for any award by the Pulitzer Prize committee.
The Pulitzer Prize committee goes to some trouble to ensure that nominees, called "finalists," are listed on their Web site. Heymann is not there.
Was it possible that Heymann pulled one over on his editor? I had to find out, so I contacted his current editor, Emily Bestler, at Atria Books, a subsidiary of Simon and Schuster. It never occurred to me that an employee of a Simon & Schuster property would knowingly perpetrate a fraud regarding one of their writers. How naïve I was.
When I queried Bestler about the fact that he was not listed as a Pulitzer Prize nominee on the Pulitzer Prize committee's site, Bestler explained that his previous publishers had submitted his books for nomination.
Now, I don't know about you, but no one in Hollywood would dare call themselves an Academy Award nominee just because their agent submitted their reel to the Academy. They'd be laughed out of the business. The agent and actor would both lose all credibility.
The same should be true in the publishing world. You can't seriously claim to be a nominee just because your book, along with thousands of others, was sent to the Pulitzer committee. That's patently ridiculous. Any author anywhere on the planet could then send in their book and claim the same. Is this the industry's dirty little secret? Is this a widespread practice?
I emailed the Pulitzer Prize Web site asking what the Pulitzer Prize committee does when someone claims to be a "nominee" when they've only been submitted for nomination. Claudia Weissberg, the Web Site Manager for the Pulitzer Prize committee, wrote back:
Occasionally when we see misapplication of the term "nominated", we send a straightforward message informing an author about the misstep and usually get compliance. Also, when people contact us to confirm such a claim, we try to set them straight. Unfortunately, our staff of four is too busy with other things to regularly police the situation.
So the next time you see someone claiming to be a "Pulitzer Prize Nominee," don't believe it until you first confirm it for yourself. (Search www.pulitzer.org
. If the author was truly a nominee or an award winner from the year, they will show up in the search, and the date and name of their nomination or prize will be listed. Gus Russo, author of Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK,
has also misused that term, claiming to be a nominee when he, too, was merely an entrant.) You would think some "truth in advertising" statute should apply here to protect consumers. Whatever else it is, it's simply dishonest, on any level, and shame on Heymann and Bestler for participating knowingly in a deliberate deception. Shame on Atria Books. Shame on Simon and Schuster for misusing the prestige of the Putlizer Prize to sell some books.
Why do I spend so much time on this false claim? Because if one is willing to lie about themselves to enhance the sales of their book, what else might they be willing to lie about?
That question should be foremost in mind when reading Heymann's book Bobby and Jackie
because we, the readers, are not in a position to check the factual accuracy of his most sensational claims. First of all, the most outrageous claims are not footnoted specifically, but sourced generally to people who are now dead. We can't go question them to see if Heymann quoted them accurately. So how can we check this out?
We have to go back to Heymann's past work, and hear from people he has quoted in the past, to assess his accuracy with people when they were living. As it turns out, credibility has long
been an issue for Heymann.
In his book Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton,
about the famous Woolworth heiress, Heymann inaccurately accused a doctor in Beverly Hills of overprescribing drugs for Ms. Hutton. The accused doctor was provably only 14 years old at the time and incapable of prescribing drugs for anyone, and sued Random House. Random House hesitated. They were not eager to destroy a book that had all the markings of a bestseller. After all, the film rights had already been optioned for $100,000.
Heymann blamed the mistake on one of his researchers, and was upset when Random House held him, the author who had received the $70,000 advance for the book, accountable.
Shortly after the doctor's suit, Ned Rorem, an author and composer, pointed out that Heymann had lifted a passage from one of Rorem's own books and attributed it to Hutton. That was enough, for Random House. The publisher recalled the book and destroyed all copies.
Heymann was so depressed at this episode, which threatened to destroy the only career he'd ever loved, that he attempted suicide. He then changed his mind, sought emergency medical treatment, and headed to a Manhattan psychiatrist.
How was it that Random House didn't review the book for accuracy? The publicity director said Random House relied on Heymann's assurances of accuracy. (Emily Bestler, his current editor, told me the same thing, that she never questioned him about his sources, never did any independent verification. "He's the expert," she said in all seriousness, the irony of which you will understand by the time you finish this review.)
Heymann's troubles with the Hutton book were still expanding. As reporter Curt Suplee described in his Washington Post
article "The Big Book That Went Bad" (Feb. 8, 1984), "Meanwhile, the unthinkable got worse. Another author cried foul; some of Hutton's longtime chums claimed they had never seen her keep notebooks; several people quoted in the book either denied that they had been interviewed or disowned the quotations. And in Los Angeles, some old Hutton hands openly doubted that Heymann – who says he conducted six weeks of intermittent interviews with the enfeebled heiress during 1978 – ever met her at all."
Heymann said he made no tapes of these alleged conversations, but that he could prove his presence there in a court of law if he had to. (In a separate interview, Heymann said the only person who could verify he conducted the interviews with Hutton was his wife.) No one put that claim to the test, although Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau's office did investigate Mr. Heymann for fraud. (No indictment was ever issued from Morgenthau's investigation.)
A handwriting expert determined that the so-called "diary" (a collection of notebooks and scribblings on random pieces of paper) was not from Hutton. Regarding the authenticity of the handwriting, Suplee noted, Heymann displayed "photocopies of letters Hutton wrote decades ago in an idiosyncratic, loopy script; and apparently more recent sheets of embossed letterhead stationery on which incoherent, broken sentences are printed in big block letters. How could both be written by the same hand? 'They were written many years apart,' Heymann says. 'I didn't question it.'" Sadly, neither did his editors. Fortunately for history, however, some reporters did.
David Johnston, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times,
said the Times
contacted several of Heymann's alleged sources in an attempt to verify Heymann's work. Most of the sources were long dead, but a few were still alive.
Of the nine people contacted, all nine seriously disputed Heymann's accuracy.
Seven of the nine said they never spoke to Heymann or his researchers. Heymann told the Times
he had taken their anecdotes from Hutton's notes and that neither he nor his researchers had contacted those people. Heymann claimed to Suplee, however, that these people had spoken with his researchers, which contradicts his earlier statement that he had gotten the anecdotes from the disputed journal entries. The eighth person said that, while part of what was quoted was true, nearly a page-worth of quotes attributed to that person were false. The ninth said he had been contacted by an aide of Heymann's, but refused to be interviewed. (Los Angeles Times,
Dec. 24, 1983)
Johnston also noted that one lengthy anecdote in the book involved a physician who didn't exist. Heymann explained that he used fictitious names in the book "in five or six cases." The book, however, contains no disclaimer indicating that any fictitious names were used. And in a later interview with the Washington Post,
Heymann changed the number of fictitious names used to two. "That's not such an unusual ploy, is it?" Heymann asked the reporter. But, of course, it is. Nonfiction is supposed to be truthful in all aspects, with no made-up names, or, if necessary, with pseudonyms clearly identified as such.
When asked if he had alerted his editor at Random House to the fact that he had used false names, Heymann said, "Yeah – it would have been impossible otherwise." According to Suplee in the Post,
"a company spokesman denies that Heymann said anything about fictitious names or mentioned that he would be using researchers for the preponderance of the interviews." "Clem was not forthcoming," said Heymann's agent Peter Matson, "about the way he was working."
Heymann even dared blame his editor for not
insisting on the use of a pseudonym for the doctor who ended up suing. "It seems to me an experienced editor would have said, 'why use this guy's real name? Why not use a pseudonym?'" (Wash. Post,
Feb. 8, 1984)
Philip Van Rensselaer, a one-time escort of Hutton's, told the Post
he was thinking of suing Heymann for plagiarism, saying Heymann had copied dozens of sentences from his own biography of Hutton. Heymann had quoted a news article from Van Rensselaer's book without verifying its accuracy. Van Rensselaer had actually embellished the news item, itself a violation of journalistic standards. Yet Heymann had quoted it verbatim as if it was an actual news item, showing how poor a researcher he is.
It's odd, in retrospect, that Random House was so incurious about Heymann's accuracy, given that his two previous works by that time had already been challenged for accuracy. Had they actually bought Heymann's claim that, after any nonfiction book is published, "eight out of ten people will deny what they said"? That may be the standard for a Heymann book (and with good reason, if they didn't, in fact, say what was quoted), but he presents no evidence to support that claim on behalf of other nonfiction authors.
Random House's spokesperson told the Post
that Random House had been unaware of the problems with Heymann's earlier books. The Village Voice
had given Heymann's 1980 book American Aristocracy: The Lives and Times of James Russell, Amy and Robert Lowell
a "Most Mistakes Medallion" for the huge number of inaccuracies in that volume.
One of Heymann's earliest books was on the poet Ezra Pound, who happened to be a close friend of none other than the CIA's former counterintelligence chief James Angleton. Heymann claimed he had interviewed Pound just before his death, which would have been at least four years before Heymann's book was published. Time
magazine lauded Heymann's book, calling it "The most harshly realistic portrait of the poet so far produced." But in 1983, a noted Pound scholar, Professor Hugh Kenner of John Hopkins University, accused Heymann of claiming someone else's interview with Pound as his own. Heymann dismissed the charge, claiming Kenner was retaliating against Heymann for a negative review Heymann had given to Kenner's book. Both offered to take and pass a lie detector test supporting their view in this matter. (Wash. Post,
Dec. 21, 1983)
In the wake of the problems resulting from the serious examination of his Hutton book, Heymann moved to Israel where, according to Heymann, he joined the Mossad. The Hutton book was eventually republished by Lyle Stuart (after Heymann rewrote nearly a third of it) and was made into a television miniseries.
Since Heymann was never really punished for his lax standards, if not outright dishonesty, is it any surprise the errors and misrepresentations continued in subsequent works?
When Heymann's book A Woman Named Jackie: An Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis,
came out, Mike Wilson of the Miami Herald
did an in-depth review, similar to what the Los Angeles Times
and Washington Post
reporters had done with the Hutton book. Wilson opens his review with this:
C. David Heymann has called his book "A Woman Named Jackie" "a search for the real Jackie Kennedy."
Sometimes, it seems, the author didn't search farther than his own bookshelf.
Wilson goes on to quote a passage from Kitty Kelley's earlier biography of Jackie, and compares it to Heymann's. It's not a direct copy, but it's a very similar passage. He does this again with a passage from Ralph Martin's book and compares it to Heymann's passage, which is even more similar than the first example.
Wilson also noted that Heymann lifted material from one of Jack Anderson's columns. "No question about it. It's obvious. That's outrageous," Wilson quotes Anderson as saying. (Heymann's publicist Sandra Bodner tried to explain this away by suggesting the story was perhaps told to Heymann by Anderson's source in exactly the same words.)
Wilson notes some of the key allegations in the book, but adds, "much in the book is not new. And much, Heymann's sources are saying, is not true." For example, Larry O'Brien challenged several remarks in the book, telling the Miami Herald
he had never said those things. And worse, Heymann has O'Brien essentially lying, saying something O'Brien couldn't, wouldn't have ever said because he'd already said the opposite in his own book! (Heymann claimed O'Brien said he refused to speak to Lyndon Johnson on the plane back from Dallas after Kennedy had been assassinated. But in O'Brien's own book he noted he spoke to Johnson twice on the plane – once on the ground in Dallas and a second time in the air.)
The first time I cracked Heymann's book on Jackie open, I randomly turned to a page where a name caught my eye. Heymann quotes "James T. Angleton, director of covert operations for the CIA" talking about Mary Meyer. Surely he meant James J.
Angleton, director of counterintelligence
for the CIA. But it's no wonder he got the name and title wrong. When I checked the footnotes, there was no source for the Angleton quote listed, and, according to the footnotes, Heymann sourced no interview with Angleton for that chapter. So whom was he quoting? What source gave him that Angleton quote about Meyer? How could his editor, Allan Wilson, have missed the fact that there was literally no source for that quote? That wouldn't pass muster in a History 101 course. I had expected more from publisher Lyle Stuart, Heymann's post-Random House sponsor.
Heymann does get Angleton's full middle name correct in his book The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation's Capital.
Unfortunately, according to Washington Post
reporter Roxanne Roberts, the book had little to recommend it. Roberts opens with this line:
There are lies, damn lies, and statistics ... and autobiographies, biographies and books by C. David Heymann.
As with so many before her, Roberts describes Heymann's work as "unfettered by live subjects," noting,
This makes it harder to determine what is true and what is not, assuming one cares about those things. "When you write about people who are dead, you're libel-proof," author Kitty Kelley says. "They can't sue and neither can their families. It just breaks your heart sometimes."
When Heymann wrote Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor,
he told the press that "discussions will continue" with Liz Taylor about whether she would approve the biography as official. But Taylor's representatives responded they had never been in touch with Heymann and that she would definitely "not be participating" in his project. (Wash. Post,
Aug. 15, 1989)
You would think Heymann would have learned some serious lessons about checking facts, not relying on researchers, verifying everything, and heeding the notion that extraordinary claims deserve extraordinary evidence. You would be so wrong.
Heymann came under the scrutiny of New York Observer
reporter Andrew Goldman when, in the wake of John Kennedy Jr.'s death, Heymann put out the story that John hadn't wanted to fly to Martha's Vineyard, but that his wife made him do it. (See Goldman's article detailing challenges to Heymann's credibility with several of his books here: http://www.observer.com/node/41806
In the wake of John's death, Heymann had told Cindy Adams, a New York gossip columnist, that Heymann had just spoken to John a few weeks before his death, and that John had complained about having to drop his wife's sister off in Martha's Vineyard the day his plane went down.
Curiously, this is the same Cindy Adams I wrote about years ago, who wrote a biography of the Indonesian President Sukarno during the period in which the CIA was trying to overthrow him, and the same Cindy Adams who interviewed the Shah of Iran in his last days – the man the CIA had installed as the leader in Iran after overthrowing Iran's democratically elected leader Mossadegh in 1953. Cindy wrote that Heymann was a frequent source of hers.
Cindy's story put Heymann in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post,
and got him interviews on Chris Matthews' MSNBC show Hardball,
Heymann claimed to have had a ten-year relationship with John. But, as with the Hutton stories, people close to John found that impossible to believe. No one at John's magazine George
knew of any association. John's appointment secretary had no appointments with Heymann listed.
The only person Goldman could find to in any way corroborate an acquaintance between Heymann and John was Heymann's girlfriend, who claimed only to have seen a man from behind as he departed whom Heymann told her had been John.
Even Cindy Adams came to believe Heymann had lied to her, and issued a probable mea culpa to her readers, having been assured by the Kennedy clan that Heymann had never spoken to John (New York Post,
July 29, 1999). Indeed, it is hard to believe on the face of it that John would have spoken one word to the guy who had trashed his parents in print.
So who is Heymann? What drives him? His father was a German Jewish novelist, who fled the Nazis with his wife and came to New York in 1937. There, the family entered the hotel business, and Heymann sometimes worked behind the desk. Suplee quotes Heymann as saying, "When I looked at these people coming and going, I always made up imaginative stories of how fascinating their lives were."
After the Hutton episode, Heymann expressed a desire to write a novel based on his experiences with the book "to examine myself as if I were a biographical subject."
Did he really join the Mossad? If so, why does he openly acknowledge it? Isn't that, like the CIA, the kind of organization you cannot admit to being a member of?
And now we come, at last, to the book I started out to review: Heymann's Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story.
I submit that even the title is false, because Heymann doesn't even attempt to paint a love story. He paints a lust story, and a lopsided one at that. And really, the title should have been: Heymann and the Kennedys: A Hate Story.
That would have been a more honest description of the book.
Heymann goes after nearly all the Kennedys, starting with the father, who he accused of being an "ardent admirer of the Third Reich," a gross misrepresentation of Joe Kennedy's views. Joe was an ardent pacifist, who feared that another world war would bring socialism not just to more of Europe, but to America as well. For his reluctance to go to war, or, as historian Will Swift puts it, for his willingness to explore every avenue for peace, he was branded an appeaser. And for that, people made the leap that an opponent of war was a friend of Hitler, when in fact that is an unjustified leap. Those of us who opposed George W. Bush's war in Iraq did not do so out of any admiration for Saddam Hussein. It's a ridiculous meme about Joe Kennedy that has persisted for reasons beyond the scope of this book review.
Heymann goes after John Kennedy, portraying him in such sexual terms one wonders when the guy had a chance to govern. He even claims Kennedy's youthful glow in the debates was due to his having had sex just prior to the debate, saying "The results of the exercise were obvious to anyone who watched the debates. Kennedy looked refreshed and composed on camera, whereas Nixon seemed nervous and out of sorts." And pre-debate sex is his only possible explanation? Whatever else Kennedy was, he was ambitious as hell and believed in preparation. It's just not credible that he would have allowed a moment of pleasure to interfere with the most important political moment of his career.
Heymann sources this episode to "a longtime congressional and senatorial aide to JFK," Langdon Marvin. Author David Pietrusza, in his book 1960 – LBJ Vs. JFK Vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies,
challenged Marvin's credibility on this episode, which first appeared in Heymann's book on Jackie.
Pietrusza notes that in the original account, Heymann's version in the Jackie book claims the sex happened at the Palmer House in Chicago. Pietrusza notes that the Palmer House is nowhere near the studio in which the debate was filmed. He also noted that the route there would have taken Kennedy "perilously close" to Nixon's "Pick-Congress" headquarters. As Pietrusza puts it, "There are risks, there are John Kennedy risks, and there are risks not even a Jack Kennedy would take."
Pietrusza also questions Marvin's assertion, conveyed by Heymann, that just prior to the debates, Jack Kennedy had sex with a stripper in New Orleans while her fiancé, Governor Earl Long, held a party in the next room. The problem with that is that the debate was filmed September 26, Long had left office in May, and had died September 5. So either Marvin or Heymann's account of what Marvin said is simply not credible.
Pietrusza notes that Marvin did have a motive to attack the Kennedys. Marvin was an aviation consultant. But for whatever reason, Bobby Kennedy wrote the following to reassure airline industry representatives who expressed concern about Marvin having a role overseeing their industry. Pietrusza quotes the following letter from Bobby Kennedy:
I assure you that Langdon Marvin will not be a part of the administration. He will not have a job of any kind and will play no role, directly or indirectly, in the policies of the administration.
Your sentiments regarding Mr. Marvin are exactly in accord with mine, and I assure you that, when I say that Langdon Marvin will have nothing to do with the government for the next four years, I mean what I say.
As Pietrusza summarized, "Langdon Marvin's story is a good story. Repeating it uncritically is not very good history."
Heymann paints Jackie as, forgive the words, a royal bitch. There is no nuance. There are no other colors. He has her throwing fits at publishers, threatening to sue, demanding payments from the Kennedys for her wardrobe and expenses after John's death, and, of course in the centerpiece to the book, sleeping with Bobby. Of course, Heymann has no direct source for that. He has all kinds of innuendo, but not one credible account from anyone who can verify their quote to show that the two were in love or had any sexual contact of any kind.
One of his racier episodes, where he claims a witness spied Bobby with his hand on Jackie's naked breast at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, has already been disputed by Andrew Goldman in his review of Bobby and Jackie
in the Daily Beast
(July 24, 2009). The witness in question is Mary Harrington, who, according to Goldman, died a year before Heymann ever quoted her. Heymann has Harrington supposedly watching the two on the grass from Harrington's third-floor window next door to the Kennedy estate.
The problem with this, Goldman notes, is that, according to Ned Monell, the listing agent for the Kennedy residence when it was sold in 1995, the entire property was walled. The only place, therefore, from which Harrington could have been staying would have been a beach shack which was 10 feet lower than the Kennedy house. And given that heavy vegetation surrounded the house, she couldn't have seen anything on the lawn at all.
Many of Heymann's sources for the affair between Bobby and Jackie are people saying they heard it through the grapevine, so to speak. Here's a typical factless piece of innuendo:
Film producer Susan Pollock had a friend who occupied a suite opposite Jackie's at the Carlyle. On several occasions, the friend saw Bobby and Jackie return to the suite late at night, then leave together in the morning. "You can look at people and tell if they've been intimate," said Pollock. "My friend could tell. In any case, their affair was an open secret. Everyone knew it."
What standards of proof does this meet? That is sheer speculation. And of course, there's a very innocent explanation for overnights. Bobby had taken over the responsibilities of father for his brother's two children. He read to them at bedtime. He took them to school in the morning. It makes sense he'd spend the night. Anything else is unproven speculation.
Only a few claim to have any direct knowledge. And while Heymann starts off quoting someone as saying that, while Bobby wasn't faithful to Ethel, he treated his paramours as "second or third wives," Heymann then has Bobby and John having sex with their respective females in the same room, being open with friends about it, and coming on to people like Joan Braden, the former wife of the longtime CIA media operative Tom Braden. And this from the same Bobby Kennedy Heymann quotes, via another source, as having said "nothing you saw or heard leaves this office. Is that understood?"
I had previously read another equally disgusting book, Nemesis,
by Peter Evans. That, too, was a book designed to make Jackie look like a bed-hopping whore, selling her body to Onassis in exchange for protection for her children. Not surprisingly, in Bobby and Jackie,
Heymann borrows liberally from Evans work. What did surprise me is that Evans found fault with Heymann. He implied Heymann concocted, in his Jackie book, a quote Heymann attributed to Christina Onassis. It seems even Evans has standards which Heymann cannot meet.
One episode seems inspired more by news that surfaced while Heymann was working on his book rather than by his interviewee, who died in 1998, ten years earlier. In 2008, a story surfaced in the New York Post
(April 14, 2008, not April 15, as Heymann has in his footnote) about an alleged FBI tape showing Marilyn Monroe in a "perverted" sex act with a man whose face is never seen. Evidently, Hoover tried to prove, unsuccessfully, that the man was John or Robert Kennedy.
Heymann claims that Clark Clifford told him about this tape. Clifford ala Heymann even has Jackie asking Clifford if he's seen a 'certain film' of a sex act between Bobby and Marilyn, looping her into this ridiculous scenario as if to give credibility to that having been Bobby. First, Jackie would have been too discreet to ever ask such a question if she had seen such a film. Second, Clifford died in 1998. I find it hard to believe Heymann would have sat on that salacious tidbit for ten years. He would have put it in one of his earlier books.
Missing from the book is any hint of the loyalty the Kennedy operatives had to the family. He quotes Kenneth O'Donnell, who would have practically taken a bullet for the Kennedys, saying things that, even if true, he would never share. Heymann quotes from him liberally, which is extremely odd, since O'Donnell died in 1978, many years before Heymann wrote about any of the Kennedys.
Did he interview him and then sit on that material for years and years? If O'Donnell had talked of an affair in 1978 just before he died, why did it take Heymann nearly 30 years to write that up? And how did he remember something O'Donnell said in 1978 for his 2009 book that he had presumably forgotten for his 1989 book about Jackie? In his 2009 book, Heymann quotes O'Donnell as saying he thought Bobby loved Jackie, but that he understood the "limitations of their romance." If O'Donnell had really said that, why didn't Heymann mention that in his book on Jackie, where he briefly quotes several people as having "suspected" there was an affair between them? If he has O'Donnell confirming it, why didn't he surface that earlier?
Pierre Salinger, who is dead, is liberally quoted talking openly about an affair. That makes no sense. Salinger was so trusted he was the President John Kennedy's press secretary. Only the most closed-mouth, trusted associates are considered for such a sensitive role in any administration. John Greenya, in his review of Bobby and Jackie for The Washington Times
(August 11, 2009), challenges this point too. Greenya knew Pierre Salinger very well, as they spent over a year together working on Salinger's book P.S. A Memoir.
In the hundreds of hours we spent in conversation, over the phone and in person, he never sounded the way he sounds in this book. And for him to tell Kennedy stories out of school, which he allegedly did to Mr. Heymann, strikes me as completely out of character.
And I simply cannot believe he would use a crude, locker room term in talking about Mr. Kennedy, the man he devotedly served as press secretary.
And that's another point I want to make. I've been studying screenwriting for some time now. Good writers know that people don't all speak the same. Every person has a different vocabulary, with different idioms that give them away. But in Heymann's book, everyone sounds the same. They all talk like crass older men with a chip on their shoulder. They all talk in grammatically perfect, short, clipped sentences. Most interviewees aren't writers, and don't talk like that. They wander. They get off topic. You have to bring them back. This would be indicated by an ellipses in the quote. But when Heymann interviews people, they seem to speak in ready-for-publication phrases.
Also missing from the book is any sense of the historical context. Bobby was running for the Senate, and later the presidency. J. Edgar Hoover had already tried and failed to link Bobby to Marilyn Monroe. If it was an "open secret" that Bobby and Jackie were having an affair, there's not a chance in hell that Hoover wouldn't have found out about it and run to one of his media assets, like James Phelan, with the story of the century. He would have had files on their affair, and maybe even photos.
Photos. That's another funny thing. In many research books, people include not just photos of people, but of documents. Howard Hughes books contain photos of his handwriting. JFK books include photos of CIA and FBI files. But Heymann books contain photos of no documents whatsoever. Even ones he mentions in his text. For example, at one point, Heymann mentions a letter from Bobby Kennedy to Katherine Graham. The letter sounded plausible to me, like something Bobby might actually have written. How hard would it have been to put a photo of that in the book? I asked his editor, Emily Bestler, why, given the past charges against Heymann's credibility she hadn't asked for that item to be shown. Bestler said the author was responsible for all the content, and that she didn't recall that particular item from the book, but that if she'd seen it, she would probably have asked for it to have been included. I then asked her: So what was her role as editor, if not to help shape the content? Was she really more of a proofreader? I could tell that offended her by her abrupt change of voice. She said she edited the book for flow. Well, it flows fine. It's an easy read. There were no typos that I noted. Clearly, she did her job well. But to me, that's what a copy editor does, not a book editor. A book editor should challenge one for sourcing and demand to see backup for anything not verifiable elsewhere. That's what people expect when they see a big name publisher. They expect credibility.
My takeaways from this experience?
- I would never believe anything Heymann writes unless I could confirm it elsewhere.
- "Pulitzer Prize nominee" is a deliberately misused term.
- Editors at major publishers do not fact-check nonfiction books. They simply trust the author. You should not. Believe nothing in a nonfiction book that you can't independently verify yourself. Check all footnotes. A pattern of honesty or deception will quickly present itself. Judge all else in the book accordingly.
I feel compelled to note that about 80% of the data in this article was compiled over a two-day period, using only the Internet (with access to past issues of newspapers via a couple of online databases) and copies of a few of Heymann's previous books. It's just beyond belief that someone would sign on to be this guy's editor and not do at least that much due diligence to find out if he's credible. Especially when he claims to be a Pulitzer Prize nominee – and is provably not.
Believe it or not, I'm not mad at Heymann. While I dislike intensely what he's written, I can imagine the situation from his point of view. In his mind, he's a crafty guy who figured out a way to make a great living, while breaking, to my knowledge, no enforceable laws to do so. That he broke all laws of decency and historical faithfulness, if you put yourself in his shoes, is beside the point. In his mind, he may well be P. T. Barnum, reveling over the number of suckers born a minute. Or worse, he may actually think he did a good job with the historical record! Hey, if no editor ever holds you accountable, how do you know you are failing?
Whatever the reality inside his mind, in the actual world, Heymann's work should never have been published without a proper factual, not just textual, review. For that, the blame really must be shouldered by the enablers: the editors who functioned more as proofreaders than as shepherds of content; book reviewers who were too lazy to check to see whether what he wrote was true (with a few notable exceptions); and fellow authors who recycle his writing and spread it around in their own books like a virus, infecting the historical record for future generations.
What can you do? You know I never like to leave you without a course of action. Why don't you write to his current publisher, Atria Books, and ask them to make available his audio recordings of the interviews he claims to have made for this book? That would be a real service to the historical record, assuming the voices are authentic and unaltered, and that the tapes even exist.
In his notes at the end of Bobby and Jackie, Heymann wrote, "Much of the interview material, including tapes and transcripts, has been placed in the author's personal archive, located in the Department of Special Collections, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York, where it is available for viewing and/or listening." That's funny, because when the Miami Herald went after Heymann for his book on Jackie, Heymann's publicist at the time, Sandra Bodner, said that, unless someone sued Heymann, he would not play his tapes for anyone. So who told the truth? Heymann, or his publicist? Can you hear the tapes, or would you have to sue for the privilege?
Ask Atria Books and find out. You can reach his editor, Emily Bestler, c/o:
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
"I always wanted to write fiction," Heymann told a Washington Post
reporter in 1989. You have the power to determine if his wish came true.