Happy Birthday, RFK

20 11 2011
Robert Kennedy with daughter Kathleen

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOB

Had he lived, Robert F. Kennedy would be 86 years old on November 20th. We thought it might be interesting to honor him this year not with a few selected quotations by him, but rather quotations about him.

How was Bobby Kennedy described by the people who knew him best?

Their opinions were not always kind, to say the least. Lyndon Johnson called Bobby “that little shitass” and “a grandstanding little runt.” (Kennedy, who cherished his very own LBJ voodoo doll, called Johnson “mean, bitter, and vicious–an animal in many ways.”)

Joe McCarthy’s chief aide (and longtime RFK nemesis) Roy Cohn referred to Robert Kennedy as a “rich bitch,” saying: “he always had that little smirk on his face, designed to get under my skin, and it did.”

Apparently the feeling was mutual, as the two men once nearly came to blows in the Senate hearing room during the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Jimmy Hoffa, who thought Kennedy “a damn spoiled jerk,” described his first meeting with him in 1957: “I can tell by how he shakes hands what kind of fellow I got. I said to myself, `Here’s a fella thinks he’s doing me a favor by talking to me.'” Hoffa later bragged that during the Rackets Committee hearings, “I used to love to bug the little bastard.”

As Bobby himself once said, we are not here “to curse the past or to praise it,” so we thought it appropriate to include the bad with the good when selecting quotes from others on what they thought of Robert Kennedy. Opinions varied, at times so wildly, you’d almost never believe that all of these people are talking about the same man.

The full truth about RFK, as ever, lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes.

I think that’s why he still fascinates us. Even after all these years, the real RFK is (to borrow from Churchill) “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” He’s a puzzle, difficult to solve, and yet we never seem to want to stop trying.

AS THEY REMEMBER BOBBY

“The major difference between Bobby and his brothers is that Bobby always had to fight for everything.”

— Bobby’s wife, Ethel Skakel Kennedy

“He was the smallest and thinnest, and we feared he might grow up puny and girlish. We soon realized there was no chance of that.”

— Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (mother)

“Jack is too soft and forgiving. You can trample all over him and the next day he’ll be waiting for you with open arms. But when Bobby hates you, you stay hated.”

— Joseph P. Kennedy (father)

“Bobby was the most generous little boy.”

Jack Kennedy’s lifelong best friend, Lem Billings. (To which Joseph Kennedy Sr. gruffly replied: “I don’t know where he got that!”)

“All this business about Jack and Bobby being blood brothers has been exaggerated.”

Bobby’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“Kennedy was not arrogant, but he had a sarcasm that could be biting.”

Frank Hurley, Bobby’s classmate at Portsmouth Priory

“How would you like looking forward to that high whining voice blasting into your ear for the next six months?”

Jack Kennedy, on hiring his younger brother Bobby to manage the 1960 campaign.

“Jack thought Bobby was too serious, a severe figure, and tried to lighten him up. At the same time, he thought Bobby was…the sacred one. He felt protective about him.”

 — Chuck Spalding, longtime friend to both JFK and RFK.

“I don’t know what Bobby does, but it always seems to turn out right.”

–President-elect John F. Kennedy, shortly after winning the 1960 presidential election

“Up until the Bay of Pigs, Jack had more or less dismissed the reasons his father had given for wanting Bobby in the cabinet as more of that tribal Irish thing. But now he realized how right the old man had been. When the crunch came, family members were the only ones you could count on. Bobby was the only person he could rely on to be absolutely dedicated. Jack would never have admitted it, but from that moment on, the Kennedy presidency became a sort of collaboration between them.”

— Lem Billings, lifelong friend to the Kennedy brothers

“Everybody bitches about Bobby, and I’m getting sick and Goddamn tired of it. He’s the only one who doesn’t stick knives in my back, the only one I can count on when it comes down to it.”

— President John F. Kennedy

“You knew that, if you were in trouble, he’d always be there.”

— Former first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis on RFK

“He had a better sense of what was important, and what was not, than anyone I ever met. Once he realized something was significant, he became the most deliberate, most thoughtful, most intense man.”

— John Nolan, Kennedy’s administrative assistant at the Justice Department.

“His most tenaciously maintained secret was a tenderness so rawly exposed, so vulnerable to painful abrasion, that it could only be shielded by angry compassion to human misery, manifest itself in love and loyalty toward those close to him, or through a revelatory humor.”

 — Richard Goodwin, speechwriter, longtime friend and advisor to JFK, RFK, and LBJ

Bobby and Jack

 

“I always say—don’t try to psychoanalyze Bob. Look at what he said and look at what he did. He meant what he said, and what he did was incredible.”

 — Ed Guthman, Robert Kennedy’s special assistant for public information in the Department of Justice and his first senatorial press secretary.

 

“I remember once John F. Kennedy talking about his younger brother. He was talking about the time when they were both a lot younger, and Bobby was small and jumping off the family sailboat. JFK said, and I quote, “It showed either a lot of guts or no sense at all, depending on how you look at it.” I think you can say that about Bobby’s entry into the 1968 presidential race. It either showed no sense at all, or a lot of guts. I think there were some of both of those factors present.”

— Ted Sorensen, policy advisor, legal counsel and speechwriter for President Kennedy.

“In every presidential election since 1968, we continue to listen for echoes of Robert Kennedy’s speeches which urged us to turn away from war, embrace peace, share the wealth and the resources of the land with the less fortunate, embrace the ideal of social justice for all, and put aside the divisions of race, age, wealth, militarism and the narrow partisanship that have come to divide us– and divide us still.I believe we will look at what he was about, what his politics and policies were about, what his motivations and commitments were about, thereby enhancing the record of his life and times for those who will come to this place to continue the quest. Today, we remember the man, who for many of us changed our lives, the man who changed the country and, had he lived, would have changed it again and again.” 

— Bobby’s trusted friend and advisor John Seigenthaler

“The reason we should revive Robert Kennedy as a hero for our times, for the 21st century, is because he presents us with a flawed, complicated hero of great compassion, and leadership. His was not a leadership that sought to merely bear witness to the truth but rather one that sought results and shaped them in the anvil of action.I think that there’s nothing our politics needs today more than the image, the model, the example, and the inspiration of Robert Kennedy’s life.Throughout the Cuban Missile Crisis Robert Kennedy did what he had done as a young man. He asked moral questions: is it right or is it wrong? When I first met him, I didn’t like his answers. He was more of a Cold Warrior with a Joe McCarthy view of the world, than I was. What changed in Robert Kennedy, in my opinion, was that his view of the world became broader and deeper. The child that was compassionate, the child that was religious, the child that asked moral questions, was the man who in the Cuban Missile Crisis had the courage to ask the moral question, “Could we have a first strike and live with our conscience if we did?” In the face of the geo-politicians in that room, he asked those questions. That was not easy to do, and he did it….And then lastly, in this election right now, the clear, important message from a country divided down the middle is that we want the next President of the United States to find common ground in the way that Robert Kennedy did. He attempted to reach out to left and to right, and beyond all ideological barriers to find a common ground, to get things done.I would recommend to the next President of the United States that he immerse himself in the story of Robert Kennedy. I would say begin with Maxwell Kennedy’s beautiful book and then go on to Ed Guthman’s collection of speeches. Can we revive in our time some of what we had? …”a transcendent yearning for the possibility of redemptive change?” We all, I think, have that yearning. I think the American people have it. And the story of Robert Kennedy can drive us to try to realize that possibility.”— Harris Wofford, special assistant to President Kennedy, chair of the sub-cabinet group on civil rights.

 

Happy Birthday, Bobby Kennedy. This world misses you.

Advertisements




“The Kennedys” Miniseries Disappoints Critics, Viewers

5 04 2011

Television review: ‘The Kennedys’

Despite several strong lead performances, it turns out that even an eight-part miniseries can’t do justice to the story of one of the country’s most dynamic, if flawed, political families.

April 01, 2011|By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic

 

The main problem with “The Kennedys,” the rumor-plagued, eight-part series that was rejected by the History Channel, which had commissioned it, before landing at ReelzChannel, is not one of politics or even accuracy but of scope. It is impossible to tell the story of this iconic family even in eight parts, even by limiting the timeline, as creators Stephen Kronish and Joel Surnow have done, to the years between the beginnings of World War II and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. There is too much back story, too many important events, and too many Kennedys.

Kronish addresses the last of these problems by simply cutting the family in half. “The Kennedys” that the title refers to are Joe Sr. (Tom Wilkinson), Rose (Diana Hardcastle ), John F. (Greg Kinnear) and his wife, Jacqueline (Katie Holmes), Bobby (Barry Pepper) and his wife, Ethel (Kristin Booth). Fourth daughter Patricia is seen briefly in one of the later episodes, married to Peter Lawford and playing hostess to one of his Marilyn Monroe-studded soirees, while Rosemary, the victim of an early lobotomy, appears briefly in flashback. But Kathleen (who died in an airplane crash in 1948); Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics and was married to Kennedy advisor Sargent Shriver; Jean, who eventually became U.S. ambassador to Ireland; and Edward (Teddy), the longtime Massachusetts senator and onetime presidential candidate, are not only not present, they are never even mentioned.

Which is much more troubling than the various scenes of infidelity (Joe’s and Jack’s), election “rigging” (Joe’s), mob connections (Joe’s) and drug use (Jack’s and Jackie’s) that have apparently raised the blood pressure of Kennedy historians, History Channel execs and various industry watchers for reasons that, while watching the actual episodes, is inexplicable. There is nothing in “The Kennedys” that hasn’t appeared before in reputable books, films and articles in the Kennedy-obsessed “Vanity Fair.”

An argument could be made that a channel called “History” might want to avoid docudramas, which rely on artistic interpretation, but if it was the intention of producer Surnow, a political conservative, to sully the Kennedy name, he certainly went about it in a strange manner. Jack and Bobby emerge splendid, smart and heroic despite their flaws, and even Joe, though portrayed as a ruthlessly ambitious father and truly awful husband, appears in the end guilty of little more than old-time campaign tactics and a once-oppressed immigrant’s dream of joining the ruling class.

Casting went a long way toward balancing the script’s inclusion of the unsavory side of being a Kennedy. Wilkinson can do just about anything at this point in his career, and he illuminates equally Joe’s hubris and desperate fear of failure, while, with his perpetually worried eyes, Kinnear plays a JFK in constant pain — from his back, from his father’s expectations, from his own infidelities. Don Draper certainly never felt this guilty about getting a little on the side.

The revelation of “The Kennedys” is Pepper, most recently seen as the snaggletoothed villain in “True Grit,” who delivers an Emmy-deserving performance, slowly building a Bobby who becomes the family’s, and the Kennedy administration’s, spine of steel, aware of the choices and sacrifices he is making and prepared to make them every time. As attorney general, Bobby is the president’s hammer even as he attempts to be his conscience.

The scenes among these three men alone are worth trying to find out if you get ReelzChannel. Unfortunately, they are too often being moved through historical events as if they were chess pieces and are surrounded by a supporting cast not up to their level. Holmes is pretty as Jackie, but her emotions are confined to happy (“I love him”) and sad (“He cheats on me”), with absolutely no nuance and only the occasional flash of spirit, intellect and inner strength that made Jacqueline Kennedy an icon in her own right. As Ethel, Booth is almost unbearably perky in early episodes, although she mellows as the series unfolds; the scenes between Bobby and Ethel are far more poignant and powerful than those between Jackie and Jack. Hardcastle (married to Wilkinson) can’t do much with a Rose who spends most of the series saying her rosary and making pronouncements about God’s will in a broad Eastern accent — it isn’t until the final episode that mention is made of the crucial role Rose played in the political careers of her sons.

But she is just another victim of the genre’s biggest danger. In attempting to be both sprawling and intimate, “The Kennedys” winds up in a narrative no-man’s land. So the tensions of Bobby taking on organized crime, the riots in Mississippi, the Cuban missile crisis and the strained relationship of the brothers with J. Edgar Hoover and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson are treated with the same time constraints and dramatic emphasis as Joe’s endless “recovery” from his stroke and Jackie’s realization that being a first lady is difficult.

While this “greatest-hits” pace does take the potential sting from the more salacious details — Jack’s infidelities are few and far between, Frank Sinatra is blamed for any mob-related fallout, the pep-me-up shots Jack and Jackie receive do little more than pep them up — it also buries the fine performances of its leading men, who too often seem to be simply marching toward their characters’ inevitable doom.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com





Op-Ed: The History Channel Brings Shame, Shame on the Family Name

27 02 2010

 

The Kennedy Brothers

 

ISN’T ASSASSINATION ENOUGH?

LET THE KENNEDYS REST IN PEACE

Dear Friends —
 
I am taking time today to write and express my extreme displeasure with The History Channel’s planned miniseries The Kennedys. After reviewing portions of the draft script, I was floored by the sheer number of inaccuracies, distortions and omissions of essential facts in this docu-drama.
 
This is not what future generations should be learning about the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
 
As we reach the 50th anniversary of JFK’s inauguration this year, presenting an epic miniseries which is not only grossly inaccurate but clearly designed to assassinate the character of a president who gave his life for this country, is wholly unacceptable to me. 
 
My daily concern as a historian, author and museum curator is the quality of education we are giving our children in the field of history. As a radio/print journalist, Kennedy scholar, and founder of several websites devoted to the Kennedy family legacy, I have devoted 25 years of my life to providing accurate information to anyone who is interested in learning about our nation’s 35th president and his family.
 
So when I see a script like The Kennedys, proposed to air on (of all places) The History Channel, I shudder to think of the potential and far-reaching consequences.
 
When fiction is presented as fact, that is entertainment. It is not history and has no place on The History Channel.
 
I am also highly offended that the same History Channel which brought us such outstanding documentaries as JFK: A Presidency Revealed and Turner’s The Men Who Killed Kennedy would ever stoop this low, becoming little more than a mouthpiece for right-wing rumormongering and propaganda the likes of which we would expect from Fox News.
 
Many of my fellow historians and researchers have joined together to let the History Channel know how we feel. We must try and stop this miniseries from being produced as currently written.
 
Please ask The History Channel to allow JFK’s living decendants, friends and key advisors – as well as credible historians and researchers – to consult on production of The Kennedys miniseries. Then, and only then, can we rest assured that this presentation on the Kennedy family is truly “fair and balanced.” 
 
Please take a few minutes to learn more about The Kennedys miniseries here:

History channel draws flak for planned JFK miniseries

Pittsburgh Post Gazette – Dave Itzkoff – ‎Feb 19, 2010‎

 Also please visit the website http://StopKennedySmears.com to view a short film directed by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films which features interviews with Ted Sorensen, David Talbot, Nigel Hamilton, Rick Perlstein, David Nasaw and other Kennedy historians expressing their shock and outrage at this deeply-flawed production. You can view some excerpts of the script and decide for yourself is this is what you want your grandchildren to know about President Kennedy and his family. 

If Jack Kennedy were alive today, he’d surely sue them for defamation of character and win. But since he’s sadly not here to defend himself, looks like it’s going to be up to those of us who still care to speak up before it’s too late. 

If you agree, I hope you will add your name to the petition at StopKennedySmears.com and tell the History Channel to present real history. 

Thank You,
 
 
New Frontier
Founding Editor

 





Congressman Kennedy Steps Aside

12 02 2010

In other shocking political news today, Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy announced that he will not seek re-election, leaving the U.S. Congress without a Kennedy for the first time since 1947.

Wow. Now that’s what I call “pulling a Lyndon,” allright.

“I shall not seek, nor will I accept…oh to hell with it, I quit, ok?”

After Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the Massachusetts special election for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, is the tide turning in American politics? For better or for worse? Your thoughts?





On Inaugurals: RFK Jr. Looks Back to JFK; Forward to Obama

18 01 2009

John F. Kennedy takes the oath of office, becoming our nations 35th president. January 20, 1961
John F. Kennedy takes the oath of office, becoming our nation’s 35th president. January 20, 1961

 

MEMORIES

On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, the latest issue of Newsweek features recollections of inaugurals past from the likes of Rep. John Lewis, Ari Fleisher, Franklin Graham, and my personal favorite, Karl Rove (who recalls how his first night on the job was capped by a stern warning from a West Wing janitor to “respect the house” — he should have heeded this advice). 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is also interviewed for the article. Here’s what he had to say:

“I was only 7 years old when my uncle became president, but I remember his Inauguration Day better than any other. He didn’t say anything to me that day; there were too many people all over, and they all wanted to talk to him. But our entire family was there to watch him. After the inaugural ceremony and the parade, we were allowed into the White House to see where my cousins would be living. We saw their bedrooms and explored the whole house. We ran through all the halls—outside to the pool and down to the basement and into the bowling alley. That was the first time we were in the house and, as little kids, it felt enormous. It was a really big place. As time went on, my uncle invited us back frequently, about once a month. When I was a few years older, I met with him—just us—in the Oval Office and he talked with me about my interest in the outdoors, about pollution and environmental issues of the time. At one point after that, he arranged for me to interview Stewart Udall, who was the secretary of the interior. To thank my uncle, the next time I went to the White House I brought him a salamander.”

…uh, well…there’s more to that story. For reasons that might be obvious, RFK Jr. left out the best part. So we’ll turn to a 2006 New York Times article to provide the punchline:

“One of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s family mementos is a boyhood photo of himself in the Oval Office with his uncle President John F. Kennedy. Then 9, Mr. Kennedy — who is still known as Bobby — had just given the president a spotted salamander in a small vase. The salamander appears to be dead.

“He does not look well,” President Kennedy told Bobby as they observed the slimy pet. The president is prodding it with a pen, to no avail. “I was in denial,” Bobby Kennedy said, explaining that he had probably doomed the salamander by keeping it in chlorinated water.

Not to attach too much significance to a dead salamander, but, oh, what the heck: the photo distills some Bobby Kennedy essentials — his matter-of-fact presence in royal circles, his boyish chutzpah and a lifelong appreciation for animals (even those he has killed).

Now 52, Mr. Kennedy, is one of the country’s most prominent environmental lawyers and advocates. Clearly he was traumatized by his youthful act of environmental insensitivity and vowed as an adult to become a fervent protector of all the planet’s salamanders. Or perhaps this is overreaching, seeing too much in a simple picture. (Sometimes a dead salamander is just a dead salamander). “

Here’s that famous photo now:

“He does not look well”: Seven year-old Bobby Kennedy Jr. with his clearly amused Uncle Jack (and a very dead salamander) just two months after JFK’s Inauguration, March, 1961.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (and in fact, the entire Kennedy clan) will be in attendance Tuesday when Senator Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation’s 44th president. Joking with reporter Kris Jenner about a “Kennedy invasion” of D.C. next week, Bobby quipped: “I think there’s four million people who are going to be in Washington this weekend, and probably around half of them are Kennedys!”

Without a doubt, the Kennedy clan will have more influence in this White House than with any administration since JFK. Bobby Jr. will likely be a frequent guest in Obama’s Oval Office, engaging in private discussions with the president about the environment. This time though, we think he should probably leave the salamander at home.





Remembering “Citizen Ed” Guthman: He Showed Us How It’s Done

6 09 2008

Ed Guthman 1919-2008

Ed Guthman 1919-2008

 “INNOCENT PEOPLE WERE TERRIFIED BY THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT”

– ED GUTHMAN, 1998 

From accused communists to Freedom Riders to the Branch Davidians, Guthman protected and defended their rights

The late Ed Guthman,  who died last Sunday at the age of 89, was a rare bird the likes of which we may never see again in the world of American journalism. He was far more than just a journalist, he was an activist– using the power of his pen to bring our attention to society’s ills. His hard-hitting investigative pieces often turned up evidence which cleared the wrongly accused – and his gift of wordsmithing could then argue a persuasive case in defense of the so-called “public enemy” – eventually swaying the tide of opinion in the accused’s favor.

In short, he helped us all to see just how wrong we usually were about things.

Whereas the mainstream media gold-diggers of today love to blindly pile on any celebrity or public servant suspected of wrongdoing and rip their reputations to shreds, Guthman possessed that now-rare quality called empathy. He understood well how lives could be destroyed, families broken and spirits crushed by simple misunderstandings, or even by deliberate disinformation campaigns. Guthman held dear every Americans’ right to privacy, to express themselves freely, and their right to be innocent until (gasp!) actually proven guilty. What a concept.

Guthman didn’t just spend his life defending the famous — in fact, most of the people he helped were ordinary folks you’ve probably never heard of — but he had this uncanny way of always choosing the most unpopular person or cause in the room and taking a stand for their right to an honest, competent defense. Whether it was his investigative series which cleared the name of accused communist Melvin Rader during the 1950’s “red scare,” fighting for the rights of African-Americans while serving in attorney general Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department in the early `60s, or standing up for the Branch Davidians (at a time when it was quite unfashionable to do so) in the 1990s, Ed Guthman defended them one and all.

He knew about media witch-hunts, allright. As a byproduct of post-WWII America, he watched (no doubt in utter horror) as the private lives and political beliefs of so many innocent Americans were flung open to public scrutiny and ridicule. He saw names and careers dragged through the mud, sometimes with little or no evidence other than Joe McCarthy’s finger pointed squarely at them. Commie-hunting was America’s favorite pastime in the 1940’s and 50’s, often preferable to baseball, Mom, and apple pie, and it seemed like everybody was getting into the act: neighbors snooped on neighbors, becoming amateur informants in the federal government’s seriously overreaching effort to round `em all up. Few dared to question, lest they themselves wind up being accused of sleeping with the enemy, too.

Enter Ed Guthman, a 29 year-old reporter for the Seattle Timesin 1948. Having returned from the war (he was highly decorated, having received both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star), young Guthman was certainly eager for a good story – and boy, did he get it in the case of Melvin Rader. 

Rader, a mild-mannered University of Washington philosophy professor, had been swept up in the dragnet, accused of being a Red. A paid government witness told a state legislative committee that Rader had attended a secret communist training school in New York state in 1938. In fact, Rader had been with his family at a forest camp near Granite Falls.

Guthman, with the support of his editor and publisher, tracked down information corroborating Rader’s account, exposing the accusations as groundless, and exonerated the professor. His work earned the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished national reporting and was announced by Dwight D. Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University, which hands out the award. It was The Times’ first Pulitzer.

While most journalists toil for a lifetime towards one day achieving that most coveted of awards, for Ed Guthman, winning the Pulitzer Prize was only the beginning of what would be a very long and distinguished career. At age 29, this man was just getting warmed up.

Mr. Guthman left the Seattle Timesin 1961 to work for Robert Kennedy when he was attorney general and then as senator from New York, from 1961 to 1965. Mr. Guthman drew on those experiences to write or co-edit four books about Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968. (Guthman was at the Ambassador Hotel that fateful night and had spoken to Bobby just minutes before shots rang out.)

Last year, Kennedy’s brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, wrote a letter honoring Mr. Guthman for a lifetime-achievement award Mr. Guthman received in Los Angeles. “In those early days at the Justice Department, on Bobby’s Senate campaign, and later at the RFK Memorial, you’ve always been there with your good judgment, unflappable presence and trademark smile.”

THE MAN WHO DEFENDED PUBLIC ENEMIES BECOMES PUBLIC ENEMY #3

Mr. Guthman’s association with the Kennedys also helped land him on President Nixon’s infamous “enemies list.” (Hey, for that alone, the guy deserves a standing ovation.) They say you can always measure the quality of a man by his enemies, and earning the #3 spot on Nixon’s enemies list speaks for itself, does it not?

Colson’s now-infamous memo described Guthman as “a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in `68,” and menacingly added, “it is time we give him the message.”

Well, things didn’t work out quite the way Nixon and his ratfuckers had planned. Guthman was instrumental in exposing the Watergate scandal over the next few years, and this time it was Nixon who “got the message” when his presidency ended in disgrace. Score one for Public Enemy #3.

Guthman got on the wrong side of another president’s administration – a Democratic one this time – in 1993 when he expressed his outrage at the Justice Department (yes, the same Justice Dept. where he once served with Kennedy, which had somehow lost its’ moral compass along the way) for launching a military-style raid on the Branch Davidian church at Waco, Texas.

83 innocent men, women, and children died in the flames of a church set ablaze by incendiary devices which, as it turned out, had been employed against them by federal agents. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in my America, Guthman said, and he called attorney general Janet Reno on the carpet publicly for having the unmitigated gall to proclaim herself a devotee’ of Robert Kennedy’s. (He was joined by another brave stalwart of Kennedy’s Justice Dept., Ramsey Clark, who also served as attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson). Sorry, Mrs. Reno, they bluntly informed her, but Bobby would never torch a church.

In 1993, Guthman was named to a federal panel reviewing the government’s role in the deadly raid on David Koresh’s “compound” (media-speak for offbeat churches these days). The panel concluded that top officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the federal agency that conducted the initial action, had been negligent in overseeing the operation.

“…OF THE GOOD GUYS OF AMERICAN JOURNALISM, ED GUTHMAN IS ON THE FRONT PAGE.”

 – TOM BROKAW

Guthman’s many amazing true life dramas (a Pulitzer waiting to happen for any journalist who might attempt the Herculean task of writing his biography) and accomplishments are far too numerous to list here. We can only give you a few snippets, as we did in his obituary earlier this week, and encourage our readers to do a bit of homework on their own. Take some time to get to know Ed Guthman, and you’ll surely wonder why his name wasn’t a household word. But his name wascertainly well-known around schools of journalism, and that’s where you’ll find, to this very day, another crop of aspiring writers who benefited from Guthman’s mentor-ship.

He taught for many years at USC’s Annenberg School, influencing the minds of countless young reporters, who have since gone out into this dog-eat-dog world armed with the knowledge – and above all else, the empathy  that Guthman always practised in his own craft. He developed in them a thirst for truth, and taught them how to dig until they found it. Then, he inspired in them the courage to publish that truth and stand by it, no matter what the consequences.

Bryce Nelson, a colleague of Guthman’s at both the L.A. Times and at USC, said, “Ed Guthman was a hard-hitting investigative reporter, an editor who believed strongly in the idea of service to his country and his community. … He was a very warm man of great integrity who was totally committed to protecting each American’s rights to freedom of speech and the press guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

Well said, and very true indeed. But of all the tributes to Ed Guthman I’ve heard and read this past week, none can compare to what Tom Brokaw wrote of him a decade ago in his bestselling 1998 book The Greatest Generation, in which Guthman was profiled. Brokaw said: “In any accounting of the good guys of American journalism, Ed Guthman is on the front page…I will always think of him as “Citizen Ed”…”

It seems fitting somehow to conclude this remembrance of Ed Guthman not with my words, or even those of a famous television journalist like Brokaw. Perhaps instead you’d like to read the sentiments of one of those young journalists who rose up, as it were, under Professor Guthman’s wing.

Just this week, I exchanged correspondence with a writer named Michael Stusser, who reads this blog regularly and who posted a comment about Ed Guthman here shortly after his passing. His article about working with Ed (published in Guthman’s old haunt, the Seattle Times), is one of the best tributes to the man I’ve read anywhere. With Mr. Stusser’s kind permission, his original story is reprinted below. Enjoy!

A LIFETIME OF ADVICE, CAREFULLY SCRIPTED WITH A RED PEN

Special to The Seattle Times

Over the years, I searched for a mentor like most folks look for deals on eBay. I clung to Hunter S. Thompson’s every drunken move when he showed up comatose at the Berkeley campus. After co-authoring the “Doonesbury Game” with Garry Trudeau, I begged him to get his nose out of his own book and blurb mine (he passed, saying he was too busy). And for several years I worked under Ralph Nader, hoping that some of his mad civic brilliance might rub off on me, only to find the consumer advocate goes through organizations, interns and ideas faster than Diddy changes nicknames.

Turns out there are two types of mentors in this world: ones you wish for, and ones who actually turn out to be invaluable advisers. Ed Guthman was the latter.

I first met Ed in 1989 as a staff writer for the Commission to Draft an Ethics Code for the Los Angeles city government. Superlawyer Geoff Cowan had been appointed to put together a tough new ethics package after Mayor Tom Bradley — and pretty much everyone else in City Hall — had been using the legislative branch to remodel their houses and buy Ferraris. Cowan’s genius was in recruiting experts in various fields to help his staff come up with the best regulations possible. If you ever wanted something hard-hitting, honest, and well-researched, the guy you brought in was journalist Ed Guthman.

In 1989, I was a 25-year-old graduate of the Coro Foundation with no idea where to begin writing a code of ethics, much less my own moral code. Ed cleared that notion up in a hurry. “Ya get out there, talk to everyone you can, and sort the details out later. Now let me see your interview list.” My list — made up on the spot — had the mayor, his chief of staff, and a couple of shady city council members I’d read about in the paper.

Well, these people were fine and dandy for background, according to Guthman, but only to cover yourself once City Hall found out how tough the new rules were going to be. Ed had our staff meet with the most corrupt lobbyists, real-estate tycoons and sleazy schmoozers in California, Republican or Democrat, in order to discover how the game was really played. Only then could you find a way to close revolving-door loopholes, “gift exchanges” and pay-for-play schemes being used by those in the know. Turns out, people love to talk, and better yet, will actually answer pretty much anything you ask them. Ed knew that, I didn’t.

It wasn’t until almost six months working with Ed that I found out — from my mother (who had watched him win a Pulitzer Prize at The Seattle Times) — about his amazing credentials. Not only did he stand up against McCarthyism in the 1950s (saving an innocent professor’s career), but Captain Guthman was a decorated veteran (yes, a Purple Heart and, though he’d never show it to you, a Silver Star), RFK’s press secretary at the Justice Department, and No. 3 on Nixon’s list of enemies!

In addition to a wonderful social conscience, Ed had a warm heart, a huge laugh (always a pleasant surprise when dealing with an intimidating and gruff fellow) and a work ethic that would make an over-caffeinated mule look lazy. Unless you’re dealing with Donald Trump clichés, professional wisdom often needs to be culled over time. Just once, I longed for Ed to say, “Son, let me tell ya how we broke the Watergate story wide open.” But the man was too modest to tell tales of yore or give straight-on advice, so you had to dig for it.

Show him your work and ask for feedback, and he’d happily provide it, red pen and all.

One rule I learned from Ed was that the moment you’d finished your research and assumed the job was done was precisely the time to make another round of calls. There was always someone you’d forgotten to talk to, an item that needed clarification, or one more line of questioning that would surely arise after sitting on the info for a night and pondering the big picture.

Our Los Angeles ethics code was eventually packaged into a successful citizen’s initiative, leading to the creation of a new watchdog agency. Ed served a term as president and was a board member on the committee from 1991-98. For Ed, the road was a rocky one; he had no patience for the infighting from council members. Luckily, he had another gig to distract him, teaching students at USC how to be journalists with integrity and a backbone.

When I moved back to Seattle, where Ed was born and raised, I picked his brain about whom I should meet with. “Everyone,” was his response, and rather than give me names and numbers from a Rolodex, he spouted off the top dozen or so movers and shakers in the community. “Just call ’em up, tell them you want to talk about what’s going on, and go from there.”

Could I drop his name? “Sure, if you think that’s really going to help.” It did.

I soon found work on another citizen’s initiative, attempting to create a Seattle Commons — sort of a central park funded by taxpayers. I knew the reasons I supported the plan (green space, anyone?), but didn’t quite have a hook for our publicity campaign.

“Go walk the damn thing,” was Ed’s advice. “Have a look around, talk to a few people, see what’s there now, then convince other citizens to do the same.” The suggestion was classic Ed: simple, based on first-person investigation, and not reliant on spin or politics.

A few months back I met a young salesman at the Apple store. He recently asked me to look over a Web site he had created for the Seattle Symphony. “Where’s the information about the musician’s backgrounds?” I heard myself bark. “And make some calls to the two tenors who are still alive or somebody who’ll endorse the damn thing!”

This kid may not be seeking out a mentor, but, thanks to Guthman, it looks like he’s got one.

Edwin O. Guthman passed away last weekend at the age of 89, but his influence on me — and perhaps the next generation — is everlasting.

Michael A. Stusser is a Seattle-based writer, and author of “The Dead Guy Interviews: Conversations with 45 of the Most Celebrated, Notorious and Deceased Personalities in History” (Penguin).

 

Copyright RFKJrForPresident.com. Stusser’s article is copyright 2008, The Seattle Times Company.

 





Ed Guthman (1919-2008)

2 09 2008

* It saddens us greatly to report the passing of a true American patriot – Ed Guthman – at the age of 89.

Ed Guthman and Robert F. Kennedy

Ed Guthman and Robert F. Kennedy

 ED GUTHMAN (1919-2008)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Edwin O. Guthman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was on the infamous “enemies list” prepared by aides of President Richard Nixon and who served as press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy, has died at 89.

Guthman, who had a rare disease called amyloidosis, died Sunday at his Pacific Palisades home, said Bryce Nelson, a family spokesman.

“Ed Guthman was not only a great friend, but a great journalist,” Paul Conrad, a longtime political cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times, said Monday. “He was the only person I ever tore up a cartoon for.”

Guthman was the Los Angeles Times’ national editor from 1965 to 1977, then served for a decade as editorial page editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1950 for his stories in The Seattle Times on the Washington Legislature’s Un-American Activities Committee. His reporting cleared a University of Washington professor of allegations that he was a Communist supporter.

Guthman was press secretary for Attorney General and later Sen. Robert F. Kennedy from 1961 to ’65.

A Kennedy loyalist in his private life, Guthman wrote or edited four books about Kennedy. And he always wore a tie clip that President John Kennedy had given him, according to the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

The Los Angeles Times’ obituary of Guthman provided more details of his work with RFK:

In “We Band of Brothers,” Guthman’s 1971 memoir of his years with
Kennedy, he made no effort to hide his affection for Kennedy,
portraying him as a stalwart friend, an impassioned advocate for civil
rights and a demanding boss, whose wry humor brought levity to many
grim moments.

Guthman recounted the time that he was in Oxford, Miss., with other
Justice Department officials in 1962 when rioting broke out on the eve
of James Meredith’s enrollment as the first black student at the
University of Mississippi.

A hate-filled mob armed with rocks, chunks of concrete and guns was
attacking a force of about 300 federal marshals, who were under orders
not to fire their pistols at the crowd. The marshals sustained heavy
injuries while Guthman and the other Justice Department officials
watched in agony.

That night, Guthman called Kennedy in Washington to report on the
situation. “How’s it going down there?” Kennedy asked, to which the
aide replied, “Pretty rough. It’s getting like the Alamo.” After a
pause, Kennedy quipped, “Well, you know what happened to those guys,
don’t you?”

The president sent in the Army to disperse the mob, and Meredith
walked up the university steps the next morning.

The exchange between Guthman and Kennedy was repeated in many
published accounts of the conflict as a classic example of the
camaraderie between the attorney general and his staff.

“The way I look at it, we were beleaguered and blood-spattered and he
knew it and worried for our safety. And yet when I think of Oxford,”
Guthman wrote, “this is what I remember first: the light remark that
raised our morale and helped us through the night.”

Guthman spent five years in Kennedy’s service, leaving in 1965 after
accepting an offer from Los Angeles Times Publisher Chandler to
oversee the paper’s national coverage.

Three years later, on the night of the 1968 California presidential
primary, Guthman spoke to Kennedy just before the candidate left his
room at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles to make his victory
speech; he was shot moments later by Sirhan Sirhan.

Guthman rushed to the hospital, and when he returned to The Times
early the next morning, he sadly suggested that an obituary be
prepared. Kennedy died the next night.

Ed Guthman in more recent years

Ed Guthman in more recent years

In 1971, Guthman was the third name on a 20-name list of political opponents singled out for harassment in a memo sent from Nixon aide Charles Colson to aide John Dean.

The memo described Guthman, then national editor for the Times, as having been “a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ’68.”

He was a journalism professor and senior lecturer at the University of Southern California from 1987 until his retirement last year.

“He exemplifies the ultimate journalist. I’m successful because of what (he) taught me,” CNN anchor and USC alumna Kyra Phillips said during a tribute at the university last year.

Tom Brokaw praised Guthman at that tribute as one of the “greatest generation,” the USC Daily Trojan reported at the time. “I will always see Ed Guthman as citizen Ed Guthman,” Brokaw said.

In the 1990s, Guthman was a founding commissioner and a president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.

He also was one of three outside experts who reviewed — and harshly criticized — the 1993 federal standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, in which about 80 people died.

Born Aug. 11, 1919, in Seattle, Guthman attended the University of Washington and worked as a reporter for the Seattle Star before he was drafted in World War II. He served in North Africa and Italy, was wounded, and received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star.

Guthman is survived by three sons, a daughter and five grandchildren.

(This version DELETES an erroneous reference to amyloidosis being a blood disease.)

From the Associated Press.