The Dark Side of Camelot
by Seymour M. Hersh
Little, Brown, 498 pp., $26.95
I am ready to believe nine bad things about John Kennedy before breakfast—until Mr. Hersh adds a tenth, and that makes me begin wondering about the first nine. The more charges he adds to the score, the more I feel I should be subtracting from it. He tells us so many unbelievable things he says we never knew that we begin to doubt all the things we thought we knew. If Hersh will just write two more books about Kennedy, I could end up as starry-eyed about the man as any Sorensen or Schlesinger.
Take the whole long saga of mob leader Sam Giancana. The Church Committee established in 1975 that the CIA tried to use Giancana’s mobsters to assassinate Fidel Castro. (The mob had lost gambling interests to Castro’s government.) But Hersh says that the Kennedys had an earlier and continuing tie with Giancana, who stole the Illinois vote for Kennedy in 1960. The foundation for a Kennedy- Giancana alliance was laid in Prohibition days, when Joseph Kennedy was—Hersh maintains—engaged with gangsters in rum-running. Many have believed this of Joseph Kennedy over the years, but Hersh adds no solid evidence for that belief. He quotes X saying that gangster Y, years afterward, talked of working with Kennedy. He tells us that anyone who owned the Merchandise Mart in Chicago had to know what the gangsters were up to. It is not an implausible theory, though it remains a theory, since Hersh lacks documentary proof, here, of the sort he brings to bear on Kennedy’s father-in-law, John F. Fitzgerald, who stole his election to the House of Representatives in 1918.
But if one believes, as Hersh says he does, in Joseph Kennedy’s close ties with the mob, how can one go on to believe three other things he alleges?
Joseph Kennedy, aware ahead of time that the 1960 election would have to be stolen in Illinois, asked a friend of his, Judge William Tuohy, to arrange a meeting with Giancana. Since the judge did not know Giancana, he asked a lawyer for the mob, Robert McDonnell, to set up the meeting—a meeting the judge was imprudent enough to hold in his own office. The judge is dead now, and McDonnell was seventy-one years old when Hersh interviewed him. McDonnell, a disbarred ex-alcoholic, was convicted in 1966 of using forged money orders and in 1983 of attempted bribery. McDonnell’s one claim to fame was his marriage to Giancana’s daughter, “Toni.” Hersh has only McDonnell’s word for the meeting of Joseph Kennedy with Giancana. And even McDonnell says Giancana did not steal anything for Kennedy, he just got union members to campaign hard for him—which is short of the allegation of vote stealing that Hersh quotes, with apparent agreement, from a former federal prosecutor (G. Robert Blakey).
Is McDonnell’s word stronger than the implausibility of his tale? Why, if Kennedy had long ties with the mob, would he have …