The Dark Side of Camelot

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Investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh shows us a John F. Kennedy we have never seen before, a man insulated from the normal consequences of behavior long before he entered the White House. His father, Joe, set the pattern with an arrogance and cunning that have never been fully appreciated: Kennedys could do exactly what they wanted, and could evade any charge brought against them. Kennedys wrote their own moral code. And Kennedys trusted only Kennedys. Jack appointed his brother Bobby keeper of the ...
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Investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh shows us a John F. Kennedy we have never seen before, a man insulated from the normal consequences of behavior long before he entered the White House. His father, Joe, set the pattern with an arrogance and cunning that have never been fully appreciated: Kennedys could do exactly what they wanted, and could evade any charge brought against them. Kennedys wrote their own moral code. And Kennedys trusted only Kennedys. Jack appointed his brother Bobby keeper of the secrets—the family debt to organized crime, the real state of Jack's health, the sources of his election victories, the plots to murder foreign leaders, and the president's intentions in Vietnam. The brothers prided themselves on another trait inherited from their father—a voracious appetite for women—and indulged it with a daily abandon deeply disturbing to the Secret Service agents who witnessed it. These men speak for the first time about their amazement at what they saw and the powerlessness they felt to protect the leader of their country.
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Editorial Reviews

Steve Weinberg
Hersh's relentless reporting led to a high level of factual accuracy in some of the book's high-risk segments, and for me, that level of accuracy provided confidence in the book's larger judgments.
Columbia Journalism Review
Gore Vidal
Hersh is an old-style muckraker. The fact that he's found more muck in this particular Augean stable than most people want to acknowledge is hardly his fault. -- The New Yorker
Steve Weinberg
Hersh's relentless reporting led to a high level of factual accuracy in some of the book's high-risk segments, and for me, that level of accuracy provided confidence in the book's larger judgments. -- Columbia Journalism Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568955452
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 4/1/1998
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 714
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Dark Side of Camelot

By Seymour M. Hersh

Back Bay Books

ISBN: 0-316-36067-8

Chapter One

Author's Note

This is not a book about John Kennedy's brilliant moments, and his brilliant policies. Nor is it a book about the awful moment of his death and why he was shot.

John Kennedy's policies and his life contained many superb moments. After his death, his glamour and wit combined with his successes in foreign affairs and domestic policies-real and imagined-to create the myth of Camelot. But there was a dark side to Camelot, and to John Kennedy.

I began writing this book knowing that it would inevitably move into a sensitive area: When is it relevant to report on the private life of a public man? The central finding that emerged from five years of reporting, and more than a thousand interviews with people who knew and worked with John F. Kennedy, is that Kennedy's private life and personal obsessions-his character-affected the affairs of the nation and its foreign policy far more than has ever been known.

This is a book about a man whose personal weaknesses limited his ability to carry out his duties as president. It is also a book about the power of beauty. It tells of otherwise strong and self-reliant men and women who were awed and seduced by Kennedy's magnetism, and who competed with one another to please the most charismatic leader in our nation's history. Many are still blinded today.

In writing this book, my hope is that I have been able to help the nation reclaim some of its history.

Seymour M. Hersh October 1997


Excerpted from The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour M. Hersh Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, December 18th, welcomed Seymour M. Hersh to discuss THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT.

Moderator: Welcome, Seymour Hersh! Thank you for taking the time to join us online tonight.

Seymour M Hersh: I'm delighted to be here.

Kate from Concord, MA: All of your books have met with a good degree of controversy. Do you revel in that sort of spotlight?

Seymour M Hersh: Sure. I like to make noise. This has been worse than usual, I think because I'm going after an icon. And also, if what I'm saying about JFK is right, then at this point we're looking at 35 years of reporters and historians [who] have been wrong. Which doesn't make a lot of historians and journalists happy.

Eve from Vermont: On a personal note, what was your perception of JFK in the early '60s? Did you vote for him?

Seymour M Hersh: I voted for him. It was my first vote in a presidential election. I was working for the AP out of Chicago. Like many people, I adored him. I thought it was wonderful to have a young man with a beautiful young wife and children as President. I wept when he was murdered. The point is, I really had no idea that things were as bad as they were when I started writing this book.

Kristyn from Atlanta: Few historians have ever covered JFK's maternal grandfather, Honey Fitz. Why do you think the Kennedy saga begins there?

Seymour M Hersh: Well, I was stunned. The point of my book was not to rewrite about what's old, what we know. I constantly try to find what's new. One of the things I was surprised to learn was that he had been kicked out of Congress in 1919 after having won in 1918 for vote fraud. The house of elections set up a special election committee that met for 10 months to determine his guilt. The files were sealed for 50 years. Under the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to get those files. They showed that Honey Fitz was making money on the expansion of Army bases in the Boston area in WWI. Like father, like son-in-law.

Duane from Maine, NY: Have you rethought your possition on JFK, now that the papers found on Marilyn Monroe have proved to be forgeries? Is Judith Exner still dying of terminal cancer?

Seymour M Hersh: One, the papers were false and I did not publish them. Nor were they part of the ABC documentary on my book. I believed the papers at one point and found them not to be real. This happens often in the newspaper business. I acknowledge that this is a high-visibility case, though. Judith Exner is very, very ill. I think it's cancer of the spine now. It's been terminal for a few years now, I think. She's very, very tough. She's alive, but she's not well.

Matt from San Diego: If JFK had been alive today, would he have run for reelection in 1964 in place of Johnson? How do you think the campaign would have played out?

Seymour M Hersh: I think JFK was in trouble in '64. The scandals were getting closer, and some members of the press, such as Walter Winchell the gossip columnist, were getting bolder and bolder in hinting about JFK's reckless private life. I thinkg the Republicans may have gone after him. Maybe not, but I think so.

Paul from Nashville: I think the nation first got a glimpse of Kennedy's Hollywood-size wattage during the televised debate in 1960. Nixon looked like death warmed over, and Kennedy seized the moment with his movie-star smile and hence won the election. America seems to fall in love with charismatic leaders -- like Clinton vs. Dole. Why do you think that is?

Seymour M Hersh: That's a great question. We love beauty. We adore beauty. JFK's father, Joe, the old bootlegger, who owned Hollywood studios in the late '30s, understood spin control 30 years before anyone else did. He spun his senator son as a movie star in 1960 and won. Among those who watched the debate, Kennedy won, but polls show that radio listeners of the debate thought Nixon had won. That fits your point exactly.

Farris from Dallas, Texas: With much respect, I would like to ask perhaps a different question regarding "sourcing" in your book. I am curious to know what documentable actions the former USS agents took to properly report their witnessing/participation of "unexcusable behavior" to their superiors within the Department of the Treasury, and if not, why should we give them any merit or honorable recognition when in fact their reputation and character is as egregious as they have attributed the late president's to be. Especially since they are making accusations against someone who cannot defend themself. Lastly, Judith Campbell-Exner has been reported to be "dying of cancer" for the last 20 years. Could you please inform us of her current medical state? With much appreciation!

Seymour M Hersh: For the record, USS are Secret Service agents. Just this week they put out a circular telling all USS men not to talk. The problem is they were junior officers. Their senior officers did not tell them in advance what to expect. They were on duty a week or two when they [saw] this reckless behavior. The correct thing to do would be for the senior men, in charge, [to] have gone to the President and said, "We don't care what you do, we're not making judgments, but we must know who you're with. We must check them for a criminal background. You cannot be with a prostitute unless we check them out." But that's not for the junior officers to say. They couldn't say that! Your point is well taken and totally appropriate, but for the supervisors, not the junior agents.

Craig Harvey from Bakersfield, California: Do you think [Kennedy's] extramarital activities affected his job as president?

Seymour M Hersh: The point I make in writing about his personal life is simply that there was an extreme amount of recklessness there, and that is why the USS's [willingness] to go on the record with their names is so important. Because it's my contention in the book that you cannot limit recklessness in one area of life. There was a good deal of recklessness in his foreign policy. His obsession with Fidel Castro and his reckless intent from the day he was sworn in to the day he was assassinated with the murder of Castro. In my telling, it led into the missile crisis, which in my account was not a great victory for America.

Richard from Ithaca, NY: Do you have the support of your newspaper and journalism colleagues? Do they stand behind you?

Seymour M Hersh: I'm laughing. Not derisively. No, not particularly. I of course have my personal friends, but for example, The New York Times, who I worked for for 10 years, has had one favorable review, accompanied by numerous scathing articles. The Washington Post and The New York Times have been particularly hostile. But I understand their point. Who am I to rewrite history? At the same time, I didn't have their support in 1969 when I wrote about the My Lai massacre, so I've been there before.

Seamus from Lansing, MI: Tons of books have been written about the Kennedys. Why were you motivated to write this book? Why now?

Seymour M Hersh: The answer is very mundane. I had a wonderful editor at Little Brown, who had published me before -- Jim Silberman had been nagging me for years. His point was no hard look had been taken by an investigative journalist on Kennedy. So it was like an assignment from an editor or an instructor. Once I started, I was astonished to find that things were a lot different -- and a lot darker -- than I thought. It's my belief that the dark side may be more important than the other side.

Mark from Hoboken: News today is often composed of metastories; stories based on speculation and possibility rather than fact. As a former member of the news media, what's your opinion on the present state of reporting?

Seymour M Hersh: Well, I think there's one dominant thread that always troubled me -- pack reporting, which is that everybody reports everything the same way. It takes a heroic move to break with the general consensus. That's what's made me famous. But having said that, I think it's very good to be skeptical of the presidency and the Congress, like the press is. I wish the skepticism was more informed, though. I have this simple aphorism: Read before you write. Very often I find that journalists don't do their homework. I do think we're better off than we were 30 years ago. Bill Clinton could not get away with what John F. Kennedy did.

Nick from Allentown, PA: Are you on speaking terms with your original coauthor, Ewing? Why or why not?

Seymour M Hersh: Ewing and I started off doing a book together to see if there was something new to be said about the assassination. We parted ways over two years ago now. We are not speaking to each other. He's terrific, nobody knows more about the assassination than he does, but I don't think there is any evidence of a conspiracy and he does.

Parker from Ipswich, MA: THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT has taken a lot of criticism like the New Yorker article, which described how you were duped on phony correspondence between JFK and Marilyn Monroe. There could be a book called DEBUNKING SEYMOUR HERSH -- how do you reply to your naysayers?

Seymour M Hersh: I find very few of them have read the book. One of the advantages of having so many naysayers so early is that when people do read the book they're sort of shocked. I did this book exactly the same way I wrote about the My Lai massacre and the CIA in the '70s for The New York Times. I won all sorts of prizes for that work. For this I'm getting a brick bath. It goes with the territory. Having said all that, historians hate this book. Journalistans and historians are like oil and water.

James from South Boston: Vanity Fair writer Robert Sam Anson clearly doubted your research for THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT. You've known him for years. If you saw him today, how would you set him straight?

Seymour M Hersh: Robert Sam Anson, his goal was to get details of my book in advance. That was his purpose for doing the story. We disputed about that. He published an allegation that Jacqueline was having an affair with Aristotle Onassis, an allegation that was simply not in my book. He cited things in a New York Post story that were simply not in my book. So I would just hope I don't see him. The point is I didn't set him straight. I wouldn't tell him what he wanted to know.

Clint Bradford from Mira Loma, CA: Neither the Church Committee nor the Nixon Administration could prove JFK was behind any illegal actions against Cuba. Why should we believe you?

Seymour M Hersh: Because I got a number of people who worked on Chile in the early '60s in the CIA to speak about what happened and who was responsible. You've got to look carefully. I went out of my way to find people to put on the record. I didn't use them if they didn't want their names included. I was also given documents that had been made available to the CIA Senate Intelligence Committee but not published. I had access to documents whicb had never seen the light of day and sources who were speaking out for the first time!

Peter from MIT: Your book goes into great detail about Robert Kennedy's prosecution of the Mafia shortly after they had "helped" his brother win the presidential election in Illinois, as well as JFK's refusal to order an airstrike to support the CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. Although you avoid actual discussion of assassination conspiracy theories, THE DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT seems to reinforce the popular belief that a Mob-CIA conspiracy was responsible for killing John F. Kennedy. Do you have any opinions on who was behind the murder of JFK?

Seymour M Hersh: Um. It's impossible, difficult to read this book and not conclude that we don't know enough about Jack and his father and brothers' involvement with organized crime to know if they played a part. Sam Giancana was clearly a major player in the early months of the Kennedy presidency. But it does seem to me this: that Kennedy wanted to kill Castro, from the day he began to the day he died. If that had happened, a new government would have been formed in Cuba, and the chances for organized crime -- hotels, gambling, clubs -- would have opened up. It seems to me that as long as Kennedy wanted to kill Castro, there was no incentive for the mob to kill Kennedy. The old adage, Don't kill the goose that may lay the golden egg. So again, I leave more riddles than there are answers. But we clearly need to know more about our American history than we know so far.

Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Seymour Hersh, for joining us this evening for such an interesting chat. Any closing comments?

Seymour M Hersh: No, but I must say I liked the questions, I love skepticism, and I think this medium is great because it makes us all focus more than in a usual interview. So it makes us focus, and hence the conversation is more poignant. Let me close with this: I'm aware that there is no truth, it's just history.

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Customer Reviews

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( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 19, 2010

    Pathethic Hatchet Job

    Filled with half truths and outright slander...the product of a maligent mind. See CSPAN evaluations by the top 50 Presidential Historians J.F.K. rated 6th best. Quite a feat for a man who was only in office for two years and 10 months. Mr Hersch is a sad creature filled with irrational hate that produced a false poison pen.
    Like the historian/writer John Toland, in his vicious false attacks on F.D.R., Hersch has revealed the dark soul of a corrupt revisionist.

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  • Posted October 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Eye Opener

    This was a difficult read for someone from Massachusetts who grew up hearing the worship of the Kennedy brothers and the story of "Camelot." Well written eye opener that I recommend to everyone, "friend and foe alike"

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  • Posted October 20, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    one of the best

    I am currently in master's classes and try to avoid reading for entertainment at this time. I have read a few other books about Kennedy's and found this book full of information details that were probably unailable over the past 50 years about the political process and how the Kennedys actually stacked the deck. How power in American really works. I don't take everything in the book for absolute truth, but it makes clear how American politics have changed. JFK was probably the last president where the system was willing to hide their glarring flaws and tolerate the idea of democracy for democracy sake. A real page turner. I finsihed half the book in one day.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2003

    Straight to the point and no punches pulled

    This book provides a critical look at John F. Kennedy, the Kennedy clan, and the camp followers who were willing to do anything that was asked of them either out fear of rejection by the man they followed blindly, or of reprisal. It is to the point and strips away the myth of the man, those that surrounded him. Not surprisingly, his wife emerges as the one decent individual who fulfilled her role with dignity. Kennedy and CIA involvement with the criminal underworld is revealed and provides a good backdrop to The History Channel¿s November 2003 Documentaries on the assassination of Kennedy. As such, it seems to support some of the theories advanced by the documentaries. The real story behind Kennedy¿s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis reveals a far different story than that promoted by Kennedy lovers and is especially revealing when considering who really did drag the US to the brink of war. Was it really Khrushchev? Or JFK? Did the Russians really blink, or did JFK beg Khrushchev for a way out. You get to decide. Hersh¿s account reveals a seat of the pants mode of operation in which Robert Kennedy is continually engaged in damage control from the start of the presidency. John Kennedy¿s personal weaknesses, inability to learn from mistakes, and refusal to accept responsibility for his own shortcomings, point to a presidency on route to destruction from the start.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2002

    Good winter book to read

    I loved it! It dispelled some of the aura of royalty that had enveloped the Kennedy family for so long.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2000

    Myths Exposed

    Hersh has done an excellent job in stripping away the mythology surrounding the Kennedy administration and writing a good historically objective account of the man and his presidency.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2000

    Another view of the Kennedy family

    Much of the info in this book comes across as soft. Much may be true, but it doesn't feel like a well-researched book,notwithstanding the credentials of the author. Some things however i find quite believable if not fully proven, like the threat or perhaps even reality of Kennedy clout being used to place a potential threat in a mental hospital. If you really study the Kennedy family, it does not seem like a family at all, rather more of a managed entity, where different Kennedys represent different special interest groups under one organizational structure termed the ' Kennedy family'. The Kennedy family seems more a political body than a true family despite the surface veneer.I would read this book skeptically.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2000

    The Ever-Amazing Kennedy's

    Born almost 2 decades after JFK was killed, I am still quite intrigued by the entire Kennedy family. This book covers any questions you may have had about them, and many more you would never have thought to ask. Simply fantabulous!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 1999

    Hershe has hit the nail on the head, again.

    Seymore Hersh is a legend in the investigative reporting field. In this book Hersh tries to desiminate information currently released from the closed file of the currently viewable Kennedy Library. In between the now semi-public files of Kennedy's adminstration, Hersh fills in the gaps and provides excellant credibility with his relentless testimony of the most credible witneses, I.E. Kennedy's secret service agents, Members of staff, retired politicians, and so on. Hersh leads the reader through Joe Kennedy's ruthless abadonment at getting his son elected at any cost, John's personal life during his administration, and the death and resulting fallout that ensued. If it were any other author, I too would be a skeptic. However, Hersh has been to reliable an author to not sit up and pay attention. Though the reader might feel uncomfortable with some of the incidents that are revealed, feel good in the fact that what you are reading is the result of an honest, hardworking, pulitzer prise winning author. Hersh in my opinion is a modern day historian.

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    Posted October 22, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2009

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    Posted April 5, 2009

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