by Sabina Clarke
Ed. note: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963), there are still questions about that epic event as to whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin and whether he was an assassin at all. Following is the second of a two-part series by Chestnut Hill freelance writer Sabina Clarke:
“Brothers…The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years,” a 2007 New York Times bestseller by journalist David Talbot on Kennedy’s “beleaguered and heroic presidency” preserves a slice of history that otherwise might have been lost to us forever. Based on extensive research, recently declassified government documents and interviews with Kennedy administration insiders, Talbot weaves a gripping narrative. Here is the rest of the interview with Talbot that began in last week’s issue of the Local:
SC: I admired the courage of the comedian Mort Sahl, who joined New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation into JFK’s assassination.
DT: Mort Sahl is a total hero. He was making about a million dollars a year in the ‘60s. He was at the top of his profession. He threw it all away. He put his career on the line trying to find out who killed JFK
SC: I was bothered by the way Bobby Kennedy treated Mort Sahl and Jim Garrison.
DT: I agree. There were lots of unpleasant things about Bobby Kennedy. Not only as a younger man when he gets the reputation for being ruthless, but even when he’s older and grappling with the assassination. He’s a flawed man, a weak man in some ways who was haunted by guilt that he may have had some responsibility for his brother’s death. I think this explains why he is in a sort of fog for a long time after the assassination. I think people like Mort Sahl shamed him because here was someone who was risking his career.
SC: Why do you think Bobby Kennedy brushed off the work of assassination researchers like Jim Garrison?
DT: I think the subject was too painful for him. He was ashamed by what they were doing that he wasn’t doing. It made him feel uncomfortable. I think Bobby knew it was the CIA and the mob. He was deathly afraid that Jim Garrison’s investigation was going to screw things up—which is exactly what it did.
SC: Do you think the CIA was involved in the plot to kill Kennedy?
DT: I think they were compromised. I think the plot to kill JFK involved the top national security people in the country. I think it went even higher than the CIA.
SC: Do you think LBJ was involved?
DT: He clearly knew what happened as soon as it happened, and he was clearly prepared to benefit from the plot. I think that he was plagued by guilt until the end of his days. He didn’t want to go there, but he did go there. He kept asking people trying to figure out just what happened. LBJ is one of the most curious men in American politics. There is no way he couldn’t know what happened. I don’t think he was necessarily involved in the plot or had prior knowledge even, but I certainly think he figured it out right away. Instead of really trying to solve the crime, he covered it up with the Warren Commission. So, he is a very tainted character. But I don’t think he is one of the prime conspirators. I think the people who put the operation together, once it was decided that it had to go forward—were Allen Dulles and Richard Helms of the CIA.
SC: What do you think of Frank Mankiewicz, Bobby’s press aide, who didn’t go along with the Warren Commission and was subsequently ostracized by the Kennedys?
DT: Frank Mankiewicz is a consummate Washington insider who could have gone along too and not done anything, but he shook things up and came out publicly and supported Oliver Stone’s movie, “JFK.” So, I have enormous respect and fondness for Frank
SC: What did you think of Ted Sorenson, JFK’s speechwriter?
DT: He’s a beautiful speechwriter but kind of a strange, remote man. He’s certainly not willing to question these darker things about the assassination. I think he was in love with John Kennedy. It was almost romantic. He devoted his life to him. I think he was married to Jack Kennedy. For him, it was such a terrible loss in every way. I don’t think he has ever been able to recover from that.
SC: Do you think the Secret Service was involved in the plot to kill JFK?
DT: I think they were compromised. I think John Kennedy was killed by a plot that involved the top national security people in the country. I think it went even higher than the CIA
SC: I was fascinated by your portrait of Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post.
DT: Bradlee is older now and I wanted to do this in a way that was respectful and not brutal. But no one, I think, had asked him these tough questions before, and he wasn’t prepared for it. He thought this was going to be another walk down memory lane. But to his credit, I think the old journalist in him came through, in a sense, because he was trying to grapple with it in an honest way, without coming right out and telling me, “Look, I sold out. I was a coward.” He essentially said that his career was more important. That whole generation of journalists has a lot to answer for — Bradlee, maybe the most. He is like the pompous men who live in the Washington bubble for so long that they can’t see right from wrong. They lose their moral bearings. Bradlee was a hero to me when the Washington Post broke the Watergate Scandal. I was in college and because of Watergate; I wanted to go into journalism. But the biggest story that Ben Bradlee had was bigger than Watergate; it was the assassination. It was on his watch, and he could have done something, and he chose to do nothing. JFK was his best friend, he claimed. Instead, he wrote a very saccharine book about his friendship with JFK. Not only did he betray his friend by not lifting a finger trying to find out what happened to him, but he betrayed his profession and the country as well.
SC: Who do you think killed Bobby Kennedy?
DT: I think the same people who killed Bobby Kennedy killed John Kennedy. It is just remarkable that you could kill the President, and then his brother runs for the presidency, in part, to find his brother’s killers, and then he is murdered by the same people.