A journalist revisits John F. Kennedy’s legacy.
Beginning in 1960, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Sloyan wrote for the Washington bureau of United Press International, which gave him, he writes, “unimaginable power and influence.” Like many other journalists at the time, he saw Kennedy as a strong leader, “cool but daring.” In his debut nonfiction book, Sloyan revises that view, portraying Kennedy as a craven politician—“devious, ruthless…more pragmatic than principled." The author examines Kennedy’s last year, when Cuba, the incendiary civil rights movement and Vietnam dominated his agenda. Angry and disillusioned, he aims to reveal how Kennedy “duped me and other journalists into misleading readers, librarians, schoolteachers, historians, and filmmakers.” Basing this exposé on tapes Kennedy made using microphones he hid in the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office (a recording system he manipulated at will), as well as oral histories, interviews and historians’ accounts, Sloyan argues that Kennedy lied blatantly to burnish his image. Although journalists reported that he triumphed over Nikita Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis, the author asserts—as did Michael Dobbs in One Minute to Midnight (2008)—that he secretly acquiesced to the Soviet leader’s demand for missile exchange: Russia would remove missiles from Cuba if the U.S. took theirs out of Turkey. Like Gus Russo in Live by the Sword (1998), Sloyan details Kennedy’s attempts to have Castro assassinated, but Russo’s account is stronger. He attributes Kennedy’s reluctance to support civil rights to his need for Southern votes: He refused to fulfill his campaign promise to end housing segregation, “ignored civil rights leaders on judicial appointments in the South, where justice was brutal for blacks,” and targeted Martin Luther King, Jr. for intense surveillance, with the goal of blackmail. Sloyan devotes most of the book to Vietnam, where he lays the murder of Ngo Dinh Diem at Kennedy’s feet, as did Ellen Hammer in A Death in November (1987).
Despite new sources, Sloyan fails to offer a fresh assessment.