Monday, December 26, 2005

Provost pooh-pooh

The spineless dismissals of Gary Webb's CIA/Crack stories I mentioned in previous posts (1, 2) remind me of another such dismissal: Columbia University provost Alan Brinkley's 1997 trashing in TIME of Seymour Hersh's book The Dark Side of Camelot.

The review is titled "One Historian's View: Shoddy Work", but the shoddiness is hard for Brinkley to explain. In the book, Hersh describes evidence that Kennedy colluded in election fraud, plotted to assassinate foreign leaders, supported anticommunist leaders he knew were cruel tyrants, etc. But this material apparently passes muster, because Brinkley doesn't mention it. Instead, he fixes on a far greater fault: that many of the unsavory facts Hersh collects are substantiated have been reported before!

Finally, he finds an error--sort of. We learn that while Brinkley does not dispute Hersh's description of Kennedy's personal life, he feels Hersh "fails most conspicuously" to support his conclusion that this put the nation at any risk.

Some readers might agree with Hersh that a president occupied with frequent, surreptitious marital cheating, aided by government security staff and mob connections, might create an environment where dishonesty and inattention were encouraged and give criminals influence in American politics. But thanks to Brinkley, who doesn't bother to mention Hersh's explanation, these readers won't read the shoddy book at all and won't have to decide for themselves.

(Not that I think sex is bad for presidents. The Israel-Palestine conflict would probably be in a better place if even more world leaders had oral sex while talking on the phone about the conflict.)

Too bad provost Brinkley didn't have a chance to read Columbia alum Charles Kaiser's brilliant book The Gay Metropolis, in which Kaiser quotes a friend of Kennedy's from the 1950s who talks of a particularly enjoyable three-person yacht ride in the Meditterranean with Jackie and then-senator Jack.