Back in the 70s I was attending an annual editor’s meeting when I was asked in a confidential session what I was working on. At the time I was a managing editor for investigations for Scripps Howard Newspapers.
I replied that I didn’t feel comfortable with providing many details at that point but could only report that it was an important piece that dealt with a startling affair John F. Kennedy had.
There was immediate concern expressed about relevance considering the length of time that had expired — more than 10 years — and more importantly to an unwritten rule by editors nationwide that the private dalliances of public officials and for that matter their drinking habits were off limits unless there was hard evidence that they were interfering with the office holder’s ability to do his or her job.
“We don’t publish those kinds of stories about anyone including presidents and besides Kennedy’s escapades have been known for years and little or nothing has been reported”
“You’re correct” I responded. “But get ready that’s about to change and probably sooner than later few politicians or celebrities are going to get a pass on their sexual shenanigans”. Then I felt compelled to provide one more fact to back up my contention. “Besides,” I said, “The lady in this case also was a Mafia party girl, connected to Sam Giancana, the Chicago crime boss, and furthermore J. Edgar Hoover knew about it.”
Finally, there was stunned silence. I couldn’t resist twisting the knife. “My guess is you will find this serious enough to consider and my guess also is most of you will want to reconsider the policy of silence.” Well, it’s taken awhile but we now have a perfect storm created by the Internet and the determination of women victimized over the years to right the wrongs.
The Kennedy expose took place not long after the formation of a special committee known simply as the Church Committee named after its chairman, Idaho Democratic Senator Frank Church, to investigate the intelligence and other activities of both the CIA and FBI. The problems with the committee were numerous, but the worse was that Church’s efforts were aimed mainly at Republican administrations not Democratic.
Church worked overtime to put the lid on our story, but failed.
Now nearly every news flash unveils the antics of serial fondlers, fanny pinchers, feel coppers, mashers and worse from Hollywood West to Hollywood East (Congress). Word came Thursday that Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota was at least a one-time groper before his political career. He has apologized.
As we all know Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore’s alleged penchant for teenage girls years ago while he was in his 30s has let off such an intensifying stench as to set his party’s leadership into spasms. They are desperate to seek his resignation or find a way to deny him the oath of office if he wins, which is utterly possible apparently given the nature of Alabama voters who are rallying to his side.
First it was Bill Cosby who seemed to have pushed his idea of consensual to the limit with the alleged use of drugs. Now it’s Harvey Weinstein, the bigtime movie producer, who is accused by countless stars and starlets in La La Land and elsewhere of hitting on them. The days when the mainline press conspired to keep public attention away from the fact that Franklin Roosevelt was disabled by not publishing his picture in a wheelchair (or more pertinent in this case, his affairs with Marguerite “Missy” Lehand and Lucy Mercer) are long gone as they should be. That decision, however, helped FDR win at least one election and perhaps two more than he should have as his health deteriorated.
The editors who were negligent in reporting on the private lives of elected officials were wrong. A longtime friend who worked for one of the Southwest’s leading newspapers while the silence ban was still being observed asked if I thought he should report that a speaker of the U.S. House from his state was an alcoholic and carouser? “Absolutely,” I said. “He clearly isn’t doing his job while at the Zebra Room (a favorite watering hole) every afternoon.”
His report was the beginning of the end for the speaker just as the John Kennedy story broke some serious ice. By the way, every editor ran it.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.