Conversations with Kennedy. Benjamin C. Bradlee. W W. Norton & Company. November 1984. 256 pp. ISBN#: 9780393301893.
Conversations with Kennedy begins by describing how Bradlee and Kennedy met, explains some early gaps in their brief friendship, and discusses the relationship that Bradlee was always the first to examine with caution. For a journalist when is the line between professional journalism and friendship crossing and how does that affect the “story” one is writing and presenting to the public? Kennedy, on the other hand, believes that with a biography or autobiography, one truly gets to know “who the man is,” really is; and it’s clear he saw Bradlee’s reporting and writing for Newsweek in the same vein. Whatever way one sees such a friendship, it’s clear Kennedy trusted Bradlee, gave him numerous “scoops” and consulted with him on just about every possible topic that occurred to or around Kennedy or was on the current “map” of articles around the world.
In some ways, this reviewer couldn’t help thinking while reading about these conversations that the image of Camelot gets a beating in some of these stories. For Kennedy, it appears herein, in how he scorned those who excoriated him in the press or those who said one thing and then did another in reality. In fact, his motto of not getting mad but “getting even” is often repeated throughout these talks.
For example, Kennedy is furious when the price of steel is raised during a time of economic insecurity, first by one company and then by all the others the following day. Or when Kennedy gave scoops to papers that were meant to be released on a timed basis and then the writer would leak it to the press immediately.
Perhaps there was some competition between Kennedy and his wife, as Kennedy seemed annoyed at times at the way Jackie could do no harm in the eyes of the press while reporters were always nitpicking away at him on a daily basis. Several times Kennedy comments on Jackie’s excessive shopping habits, although she always defended herself. But in other places, cost seems to mean nothing to either of them.
There is little of substance about the Cuba debacle but that’s probably because that crisis loomed long before this memorable friendship began. It is quite clear who Kennedy trusted in his Cabinet and whom he tolerated; the same goes for members of the Senate who are itemized throughout these talks. The last chapter of this book is notable for its accurate depiction of the acute depth of mourning by all who clearly were more than fond of this complex, intelligent man, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Conversations with Kennedy is an interesting read, giving a glimmer of “who the man really was,” but without much in-depth substance. One element that must be recognized is the extensive, panoramic presentation of issues and events that Kennedy had to be aware of and on top of as to how he thought about each one. Bradlee is to be respected and esteemed for maintaining his opinions about issues and frankly speaking them to Kennedy, often with unhappy feedback from the President. No, it’s not a great book but it is a fascinating one, exposing the inner circles and opinions therein being shared and eventually winding up in Presidential policy or impact. Recommended reading!