A Q&A with Richard Bradley

Richard Bradley, author of May’s Love the Kennedys and Nobody Gets Hurt, endured a kind of trial by press a decade ago when he sought to write a book about JFK Jr. Here, he speaks with Lindsay Tucker about why he pushed forward with writing a book that the Kennedys and their network of associates didn’t want published, and also about the experience of writing his story for the magazine.

[sidebar]To start out, why did you decide to revisit the Kennedys after the difficulties you faced in trying to get your book about John Jr. published?
I ask myself the same thing sometimes. Well, one answer is that [Boston magazine editor] John Wolfson asked me to.

Were you hesitant?
Let me say this: I followed the news stories about the miniseries with some sense of déjà vu. Reading the stories, it didn’t feel to me that they were telling the whole truth about what had really happened—particularly the New York Times article about the miniseries.

You mean it felt like you’d experienced a similar thing?
Yeah. Although I have to say that I don’t think you’d have to have had the kind of experience that I had to read the published explanations in the New York Times and come away thinking that they raised more questions than they answered. I think any critical reader of the media could read that and say, Huh, this doesn’t really sound quite right. But having had the experience that I had, it particularly didn’t sound quite right to me.

So when you actually started to report on this story did you hit any roadblocks?
Yes.
 
Can you tell us about that?
This is a story that many of the people involved really didn’t want to talk about. The Kennedys who were involved never talk about this kind of stuff. The people who apparently gave into pressure from the family or transmitted the pressure from the family, they certainly don’t want to talk about it because it’s a messy business. It’s not the kind of thing where, at the end of your career, you look back on [it] with pride.

Why do you think the Kennedys still have so much power?
I get the question a lot, particularly when people talk now about the Kennedy miniseries: Do the Kennedys still really have that much power? After all, there is no Kennedy holding major public office. How much power does the family really have? And is it sufficient to get a television miniseries killed? And it’s a fair question. People said it to me when I was writing my book. I have a good friend who is into politics professionally who sat on the other side of the aisle, and said “Who gives a shit about the Kennedys anymore?” He was in politics, so he’s pretty blunt spoken about it. Why are people still giving them what they want? Why are people still afraid of them? How much influence can they really have? And the answer is: a lot, in certain areas.

There are still a lot of political connections that the family has, but the power that they have isn’t so much political anymore, I don’t think. It’s not primarily financial. Caroline Kennedy is probably wealthy, but so far as I know, she has never used that wealth in this kind of context. I think the power that they have still is the power of their iconography. People want to be friends with them and often, those are powerful people.

Why do you think there was such opposition to your book?
Timing was part of it. I was the first person who knew John [Jr.] to decide to write a book about him—or at least to go public with my decision. And to be fair, it was not that long after John’s death, and some people I think genuinely believed that it was either too soon or that, for somebody who knew John, to write a book about him, it would always be too soon. I felt it was important to write while the memories of my experience working at George were still really fresh in my head. So I disagreed. Mostly because I didn’t feel that writing a book was a disrespectful act. To me, saying it’s too soon to write a book is a little like saying it’s inappropriate to remember someone at a funeral. If you’re speaking in the same spirit—respectful, fond, admiring, warm—then the essential nature of the act is the same.

Did it also have to do with the confidentiality agreement you had with George magazine?
It’s hard to say. My sense was actually more that the confidentiality agreement was a convenient tool. To me, it did not suggest that John would not have wanted people to write about him after his death, but some people could argue that it was indicative of how he could have felt. Honestly, I thought that was presumptuous. I genuinely felt that it was impossible to say how John would have felt.

My feeling was that you could argue it either way and nobody could read John’s mind. I felt that the confidentiality agreement was a convenient club, that it didn’t really suggest at all what John would or would not have wanted, but that if there were people who didn’t want me specifically to write about him, this was a great way to try to stop me.

Talk about why you decided to go ahead with the book anyway.

Well, I faced a difficult decision. After Little, Brown decided to renege on its offer to me—renege may not be fair, so let me rephrase—after Little, Brown decided that my book had become such a focal point for mudslinging that it would be almost impossible to publish it and expect it to get a fair hearing—after they made that decision, I had to really sit down and figure out what I wanted to do next. It became clear pretty quickly that, although controversy usually sells books, no other publisher wanted anything to do with this project, because the mudslinging directed at me had been effective.

And so I was left in the situation of either giving up on the project or choosing to write it without a publisher, without an advance, without an income of any sort. I thought about it for a while and what I realized was, if I didn’t do the book, then that chapter would be closed. It would be closed with me saddled with the image of someone who was dishonest, unethical, greedy, disloyal, all those things that people accused me of. But that would be the last impression, that would be that conclusion from that chapter in my life. And the only way that I could really change that would be to write my book, to write the book that I always said I would write and have my say that way.

  • MLM

    A book written and sold for profit has “the same essential nature” as a remembrance at a funeral? This sounds like someone awfully good at rationalization.

  • Richard

    Anon, your characterization of my motives is off-base. The book wasn’t written “for profit.” Sure, I wasn’t going to do it for free (though I almost did). But there are much easier ways to make money than writing a book.

  • Dave

    You are a profile in courage.

    As an author myself, I quite agree that the sales of such a book would never compensate you adequately for all the damage the Kennedy spin machine did to you. Not even close.

    Therefore I do not question your motives. And I applaud you for having the cajones to stand up and speak your truth aloud.

    btw, I am not a Republican or one of those Kennedy-haters. Far from it. I’m a liberal Dem and have been a great admirer of JFK and RFK all my life. I’ve had the opportunity to establish relationships with some of the Kennedy children and with the exception of JFK Jr., none of them impressed me as particularly genuine or being of substance. That’s an overly kind and polite assessment of their personalities, I assure you.