As a researcher into a controversial subject – the assassinations of the sixties – people often ask me this question: How do you know which sources to believe and which to disbelieve?
My answer is this: When you read an author for the first time, check every single fact you don't already know from elsewhere. If a nonfiction book isn't even footnoted, it's not worth your time other than as a source of leads you'll have to check out on your own. Leads are not data. They are only possible data.
Hearsay, what someone said when they were not under oath, when nothing was at risk for them personally, I also treat as a lead, not data. Personally, I don't trust interviews much because people often misremember things, or enhance or embellish the truth, sometimes without realizing it. And some will simply lie for their own reasons, and none of us is so good that we can "just tell" who is lying or not. But by interviewing people you can sometimes get a lead on data for which there is some sort of a verifiable paper trail. And that can be valuable.
If the book is footnoted, check out the footnotes. And I mean, really check it out – don't just see if there is a footnote. Go to the library, go to the book referenced, go to that page number, and see if the note is correct. Was the correct reference on that page? Or did the author miss it? (Sometimes book pages change from one printing to the next so check a few pages on either side of the reference in case it's nearby.)
Most important, check to see if what is in the footnoted text is accurately represented. I've gone through people's footnotes and found sometimes, to my dismay, that the author misread the original text or is deliberately misrepresenting it.
What about things you can't check out, like interviews with people? Then two additional considerations come into play: the credibility of the person being interviewed, and the reliability of the interviewer. Did either person have a reason to lie? Did either person work for an intelligence service, a career which requires one to lie well? Have they lied or misquoted people in the past?
It is with these considerations in mind that I read C. David Heymann's latest book, Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story. If I had to describe the book in a single word it would be this: puerile. But because this book has gotten so much media attention, I will say more than one word. And because the book depends nearly entirely on hearsay, I have to examine the overall credibility of the author, as well.
When I started reading the book, I tried to look up certain items to find Heymann's source. There were some footnotes, to be sure, but never for the items that interested me. Instead, he sourced the book generally, chapter by chapter, to a list of interviews conducted by Heymann and his researchers. Lacking access to those, the only way for me to evaluate the credibility of Heymann's claims of a so-called love affair between Bobby and Jackie was to evaluate the credibility of Heymann himself.
I've been researching Robert Kennedy for years. Early on, I picked up Heymann's book RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy. At the time, I knew nothing about Heymann. I was writing about Robert Kennedy's ride to the Ambassador Hotel – a moment of no particular consequence. I just wanted to get the time correct and to quote something ironic that had been said on the drive.
Here is what Heymann wrote for this episode:
At six-fifteen, Kennedy and Dutton were driven by John Frankenheimer from Malibu to the Ambassador Hotel. ... As Frankenheimer cruised along the Santa Monica Freeway, attempting to make the thirty-minute trip in half that time, Bobby said, "Hey, John, take it slow. I want to live long enough to enjoy my impending victory."
The footnote for the above said this:
"At six-fifteen": Schlesinger, RK, p. 980.
If you go to page 980 in Arthur Schlesinger's book Robert Kennedy and his Times, you find nothing but a page of footnotes with no reference to those events. But a page number mistake is easy to make – and it was easy enough to find the correct page. So I wasn't going to be too hard on Heymann for such a simple error. I looked up "Frankenheimer" in Schlesinger's book to get the correct page (p. 913), and found this text:
About six-thirty Frankenheimer drove him to the Hotel Ambassador. He sped furiously along the Santa Monica Freeway. "Take it easy, John," Kennedy said. "Life is too short."
Schlesinger sources this quote to Robert Blair Kaiser's book R.F.K. Must Die!, page 15. Schlesinger's quote of what Kennedy said exactly matches the original in Kaiser's book, whereas Heymann's strange misquote added a touch of arrogance ("my impending victory"). Heymann evidently improvised his version, and moved the time he explicitly footnoted up fifteen minutes for no apparent reason. Add that to the wrong page number, and for this inconsequential item, Heymann managed to make three mistakes. That's way too high an error ratio for me. If he could make three errors on something so simple, what would he do with things more controversial or complex? At that point, I put away Heymann's book, realizing it would be worthless to my research.
Had I read further, I would have seen Heymann fabricating events from whole cloth. For example, on page 361 in his RFK book, Heymann wrote something wildly untrue:
[I]n May 1997, Gerald Ford publicly admitted that in 1975, while president of the United States, he had suppressed certain FBI and CIA surveillance reports that indicated that JFK had been caught in a crossfire in Dallas, and that John Roselli and Carlos Marcello had orchestrated the assassination plot.
Gerald Ford never said any such thing. What Gerald Ford did say in 1997 was in response to a document that surfaced showing it was his edits that changed the wound from Kennedy's "back" to the "back of the neck," a change of verbiage that managed to move the wound up five inches to support the single bullet theory. Never mind that the shirt (which was fitted and could not have bunched up five inches, as some have suggested) showed a bullet hole well down the back and definitely not in the "back of the neck."
Here is the passage from the 1997 AP report regarding Ford's public comment:
Thirty-three years ago, Gerald R. Ford took pen in hand and changed – ever so slightly – the Warren Commission's key sentence on the place where a bullet entered John F. Kennedy's body when he was killed in Dallas.
The effect of Ford's change was to strengthen the commission's conclusion that a single bullet passed through Kennedy and severely wounded Texas Gov. John Connally – a crucial element in its finding that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman.
A small change, said Ford on Wednesday when it came to light, one intended to clarify meaning, not alter history.
"My changes had nothing to do with a conspiracy theory," he said in a telephone interview from Beaver Creek, Colo. "My changes were only an attempt to be more precise."
So Heymann is freely mixing a real event (Gerald Ford's public comment) with a fictional one (admitting to participating in a cover-up and naming Roselli and Marcello as the conspirators).
How could Heymann be so wrong? Heymann wouldn't deliberately lie, not in a nonfiction book, right?
Wrong. Heymann not only would, he does, and provably so, right on the book's dust jacket. Under Heymann's picture, Heymann is described as a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. Finding that impossible to believe, I decided to check it out. As I suspected, Heymann was never nominated for any award by the Pulitzer Prize committee. The Pulitzer Prize committee goes to some trouble to ensure that nominees, called "finalists," are listed on their Web site. Heymann is not there.
Was it possible that Heymann pulled one over on his editor? I had to find out, so I contacted his current editor, Emily Bestler, at Atria Books, a subsidiary of Simon and Schuster. It never occurred to me that an employee of a Simon & Schuster property would knowingly perpetrate a fraud regarding one of their writers. How naive I was.
When I queried Bestler about the fact that he was not listed as a Pulitzer Prize nominee on the Pulitzer Prize committee's site, Bestler explained that his previous publishers had submitted his books for nomination.
Now, I don't know about you, but no one in Hollywood would dare call themselves an Academy Award nominee just because their agent submitted their reel to the Academy. They'd be laughed out of the business. The agent and actor would both lose all credibility.
The same should be true in the publishing world. You can't seriously claim to be a nominee just because your book, along with thousands of others, was sent to the Pulitzer committee. That's patently ridiculous. Any author anywhere on the planet could then send in their book and claim the same. Is this the industry's dirty little secret? Is this a widespread practice?
I emailed the Pulitzer Prize Web site asking what the Pulitzer Prize committee does when someone claims to be a "nominee" when they've only been submitted for nomination. Claudia Weissberg, the Web Site Manager for the Pulitzer Prize committee, wrote back:
Occasionally when we see misapplication of the term "nominated", we send a straightforward message informing an author about the misstep and usually get compliance. Also, when people contact us to confirm such a claim, we try to set them straight. Unfortunately, our staff of four is too busy with other things to regularly police the situation.
So the next time you see someone claiming to be a "Pulitzer Prize Nominee," don't believe it until you first confirm it for yourself. (Search www.pulitzer.org. If the author was truly a nominee or an award winner from the year, they will show up in the search, and the date and name of their nomination or prize will be listed. Gus Russo, author of Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK, has also misused that term, claiming to be a nominee when he, too, was merely an entrant.) You would think some "truth in advertising" statute should apply here to protect consumers. Whatever else it is, it's simply dishonest, on any level, and shame on Heymann and Bestler for participating knowingly in a deliberate deception. Shame on Atria Books. Shame on Simon and Schuster for misusing the prestige of the Putlizer Prize to sell some books.
Why do I spend so much time on this false claim? Because if one is willing to lie about themselves to enhance the sales of their book, what else might they be willing to lie about?
That question should be foremost in mind when reading Heymann's book Bobby and Jackie because we, the readers, are not in a position to check the factual accuracy of his most sensational claims. First of all, the most outrageous claims are not footnoted specifically, but sourced generally to people who are now dead. We can't go question them to see if Heymann quoted them accurately. So how can we check this out?
We have to go back to Heymann's past work, and hear from people he has quoted in the past, to assess his accuracy with people when they were living. As it turns out, credibility has long been an issue for Heymann.
In his book Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton, about the famous Woolworth heiress, Heymann inaccurately accused a doctor in Beverly Hills of overprescribing drugs for Ms. Hutton. The accused doctor was provably only 14 years old at the time and incapable of prescribing drugs for anyone, and sued Random House. Random House hesitated. They were not eager to destroy a book that had all the markings of a bestseller. After all, the film rights had already been optioned for $100,000.
Heymann blamed the mistake on one of his researchers, and was upset when Random House held him, the author who had received the $70,000 advance for the book, accountable.
Shortly after the doctor's suit, Ned Rorem, an author and composer, pointed out that Heymann had lifted a passage from one of Rorem's own books and attributed it to Hutton. That was enough, for Random House. The publisher recalled the book and destroyed all copies.
Heymann was so depressed at this episode, which threatened to destroy the only career he'd ever loved, that he attempted suicide. He then changed his mind, sought emergency medical treatment, and headed to a Manhattan psychiatrist.
How was it that Random House didn't review the book for accuracy? The publicity director said Random House relied on Heymann's assurances of accuracy. (Emily Bestler, his current editor, told me the same thing, that she never questioned him about his sources, never did any independent verification. "He's the expert," she said in all seriousness, the irony of which you will understand by the time you finish this review.)
Heymann's troubles with the Hutton book were still expanding. As reporter Curt Suplee described in his Washington Post article "The Big Book That Went Bad" (Feb. 8, 1984), "Meanwhile, the unthinkable got worse. Another author cried foul; some of Hutton's longtime chums claimed they had never seen her keep notebooks; several people quoted in the book either denied that they had been interviewed or disowned the quotations. And in Los Angeles, some old Hutton hands openly doubted that Heymann – who says he conducted six weeks of intermittent interviews with the enfeebled heiress during 1978 – ever met her at all."
Heymann said he made no tapes of these alleged conversations, but that he could prove his presence there in a court of law if he had to. (In a separate interview, Heymann said the only person who could verify he conducted the interviews with Hutton was his wife.) No one put that claim to the test, although Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau's office did investigate Mr. Heymann for fraud. (No indictment was ever issued from Morgenthau's investigation.)
A handwriting expert determined that the so-called "diary" (a collection of notebooks and scribblings on random pieces of paper) was not from Hutton. Regarding the authenticity of the handwriting, Suplee noted, Heymann displayed "photocopies of letters Hutton wrote decades ago in an idiosyncratic, loopy script; and apparently more recent sheets of embossed letterhead stationery on which incoherent, broken sentences are printed in big block letters. How could both be written by the same hand? 'They were written many years apart,' Heymann says. 'I didn't question it.'" Sadly, neither did his editors. Fortunately for history, however, some reporters did.
David Johnston, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, said the Times contacted several of Heymann's alleged sources in an attempt to verify Heymann's work. Most of the sources were long dead, but a few were still alive.
Of the nine people contacted, all nine seriously disputed Heymann's accuracy.
Seven of the nine said they never spoke to Heymann or his researchers. Heymann told the Times he had taken their anecdotes from Hutton's notes and that neither he nor his researchers had contacted those people. Heymann claimed to Suplee, however, that these people had spoken with his researchers, which contradicts his earlier statement that he had gotten the anecdotes from the disputed journal entries. The eighth person said that, while part of what was quoted was true, nearly a page-worth of quotes attributed to that person were false. The ninth said he had been contacted by an aide of Heymann's, but refused to be interviewed. (Los Angeles Times, Dec. 24, 1983)
Johnston also noted that one lengthy anecdote in the book involved a physician who didn't exist. Heymann explained that he used fictitious names in the book "in five or six cases." The book, however, contains no disclaimer indicating that any fictitious names were used. And in a later interview with the Washington Post, Heymann changed the number of fictitious names used to two. "That's not such an unusual ploy, is it?" Heymann asked the reporter. But, of course, it is. Nonfiction is supposed to be truthful in all aspects, with no made-up names, or, if necessary, with pseudonyms clearly identified as such.
When asked if he had alerted his editor at Random House to the fact that he had used false names, Heymann said, "Yeah – it would have been impossible otherwise." According to Suplee in the Post, "a company spokesman denies that Heymann said anything about fictitious names or mentioned that he would be using researchers for the preponderance of the interviews." "Clem was not forthcoming," said Heymann's agent Peter Matson, "about the way he was working."
Heymann even dared blame his editor for not insisting on the use of a pseudonym for the doctor who ended up suing. "It seems to me an experienced editor would have said, 'why use this guy's real name? Why not use a pseudonym?'" (Wash. Post, Feb. 8, 1984)
Philip Van Rensselaer, a one-time escort of Hutton's, told the Post he was thinking of suing Heymann for plagiarism, saying Heymann had copied dozens of sentences from his own biography of Hutton. Heymann had quoted a news article from Van Rensselaer's book without verifying its accuracy. Van Rensselaer had actually embellished the news item, itself a violation of journalistic standards. Yet Heymann had quoted it verbatim as if it was an actual news item, showing how poor a researcher he is.
It's odd, in retrospect, that Random House was so incurious about Heymann's accuracy, given that his two previous works by that time had already been challenged for accuracy. Had they actually bought Heymann's claim that, after any nonfiction book is published, "eight out of ten people will deny what they said"? That may be the standard for a Heymann book (and with good reason, if they didn't, in fact, say what was quoted), but he presents no evidence to support that claim on behalf of other nonfiction authors.
Random House's spokesperson told the Post that Random House had been unaware of the problems with Heymann's earlier books. The Village Voice had given Heymann's 1980 book American Aristocracy: The Lives and Times of James Russell, Amy and Robert Lowell a "Most Mistakes Medallion" for the huge number of inaccuracies in that volume.
One of Heymann's earliest books was on the poet Ezra Pound, who happened to be a close friend of none other than the CIA's former counterintelligence chief James Angleton. Heymann claimed he had interviewed Pound just before his death, which would have been at least four years before Heymann's book was published. Time magazine lauded Heymann's book, calling it "The most harshly realistic portrait of the poet so far produced." But in 1983, a noted Pound scholar, Professor Hugh Kenner of John Hopkins University, accused Heymann of claiming someone else's interview with Pound as his own. Heymann dismissed the charge, claiming Kenner was retaliating against Heymann for a negative review Heymann had given to Kenner's book. Both offered to take and pass a lie detector test supporting their view in this matter. (Wash. Post, Dec. 21, 1983)
In the wake of the problems resulting from the serious examination of his Hutton book, Heymann moved to Israel where, according to Heymann, he joined the Mossad. The Hutton book was eventually republished by Lyle Stuart (after Heymann rewrote nearly a third of it) and was made into a television miniseries.
Since Heymann was never really punished for his lax standards, if not outright dishonesty, is it any surprise the errors and misrepresentations continued in subsequent works?
When Heymann's book A Woman Named Jackie: An Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, came out, Mike Wilson of the Miami Herald did an in-depth review, similar to what the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post reporters had done with the Hutton book. Wilson opens his review with this:
C. David Heymann has called his book "A Woman Named Jackie" "a search for the real Jackie Kennedy."
Sometimes, it seems, the author didn't search farther than his own bookshelf.
Wilson goes on to quote a passage from Kitty Kelley's earlier biography of Jackie, and compares it to Heymann's. It's not a direct copy, but it's a very similar passage. He does this again with a passage from Ralph Martin's book and compares it to Heymann's passage, which is even more similar than the first example.
Wilson also noted that Heymann lifted material from one of Jack Anderson's columns. "No question about it. It's obvious. That's outrageous," Wilson quotes Anderson as saying. (Heymann's publicist Sandra Bodner tried to explain this away by suggesting the story was perhaps told to Heymann by Anderson's source in exactly the same words.)
Wilson notes some of the key allegations in the book, but adds, "much in the book is not new. And much, Heymann's sources are saying, is not true." For example, Larry O'Brien challenged several remarks in the book, telling the Miami Herald he had never said those things. And worse, Heymann has O'Brien essentially lying, saying something O'Brien couldn't, wouldn't have ever said because he'd already said the opposite in his own book! (Heymann claimed O'Brien said he refused to speak to Lyndon Johnson on the plane back from Dallas after Kennedy had been assassinated. But in O'Brien's own book he noted he spoke to Johnson twice on the plane – once on the ground in Dallas and a second time in the air.)
The first time I cracked Heymann's book on Jackie open, I randomly turned to a page where a name caught my eye. Heymann quotes "James T. Angleton, director of covert operations for the CIA" talking about Mary Meyer. Surely he meant James J. Angleton, director of counterintelligence for the CIA. But it's no wonder he got the name and title wrong. When I checked the footnotes, there was no source for the Angleton quote listed, and, according to the footnotes, Heymann sourced no interview with Angleton for that chapter. So whom was he quoting? What source gave him that Angleton quote about Meyer? How could his editor, Allan Wilson, have missed the fact that there was literally no source for that quote? That wouldn't pass muster in a History 101 course. I had expected more from publisher Lyle Stuart, Heymann's post-Random House sponsor.
Heymann does get Angleton's full middle name correct in his book The Georgetown Ladies' Social Club: Power, Passion, and Politics in the Nation's Capital. Unfortunately, according to Washington Post reporter Roxanne Roberts, the book had little to recommend it. Roberts opens with this line:
There are lies, damn lies, and statistics ... and autobiographies, biographies and books by C. David Heymann.
As with so many before her, Roberts describes Heymann's work as "unfettered by live subjects," noting,
This makes it harder to determine what is true and what is not, assuming one cares about those things. "When you write about people who are dead, you're libel-proof," author Kitty Kelley says. "They can't sue and neither can their families. It just breaks your heart sometimes."
When Heymann wrote Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor, he told the press that "discussions will continue" with Liz Taylor about whether she would approve the biography as official. But Taylor's representatives responded they had never been in touch with Heymann and that she would definitely "not be participating" in his project. (Wash. Post, Aug. 15, 1989)
You would think Heymann would have learned some serious lessons about checking facts, not relying on researchers, verifying everything, and heeding the notion that extraordinary claims deserve extraordinary evidence. You would be so wrong.
Heymann came under the scrutiny of New York Observer reporter Andrew Goldman when, in the wake of John Kennedy Jr.'s death, Heymann put out the story that John hadn't wanted to fly to Martha's Vineyard, but that his wife made him do it. (See Goldman's article detailing challenges to Heymann's credibility with several of his books here: http://www.observer.com/node/41806.)
In the wake of John's death, Heymann had told Cindy Adams, a New York gossip columnist, that Heymann had just spoken to John a few weeks before his death, and that John had complained about having to drop his wife's sister off in Martha's Vineyard the day his plane went down.
Curiously, this is the same Cindy Adams I wrote about years ago, who wrote a biography of the Indonesian President Sukarno during the period in which the CIA was trying to overthrow him, and the same Cindy Adams who interviewed the Shah of Iran in his last days – the man the CIA had installed as the leader in Iran after overthrowing Iran's democratically elected leader Mossadegh in 1953. Cindy wrote that Heymann was a frequent source of hers.
Cindy's story put Heymann in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, and got him interviews on Chris Matthews' MSNBC show Hardball, among others.
Heymann claimed to have had a ten-year relationship with John. But, as with the Hutton stories, people close to John found that impossible to believe. No one at John's magazine George knew of any association. John's appointment secretary had no appointments with Heymann listed.
The only person Goldman could find to in any way corroborate an acquaintance between Heymann and John was Heymann's girlfriend, who claimed only to have seen a man from behind as he departed whom Heymann told her had been John.
Even Cindy Adams came to believe Heymann had lied to her, and issued a probable mea culpa to her readers, having been assured by the Kennedy clan that Heymann had never spoken to John (New York Post, July 29, 1999). Indeed, it is hard to believe on the face of it that John would have spoken one word to the guy who had trashed his parents in print.
So who is Heymann? What drives him? His father was a German Jewish novelist, who fled the Nazis with his wife and came to New York in 1937. There, the family entered the hotel business, and Heymann sometimes worked behind the desk. Suplee quotes Heymann as saying, "When I looked at these people coming and going, I always made up imaginative stories of how fascinating their lives were."
After the Hutton episode, Heymann expressed a desire to write a novel based on his experiences with the book "to examine myself as if I were a biographical subject."
Did he really join the Mossad? If so, why does he openly acknowledge it? Isn't that, like the CIA, the kind of organization you cannot admit to being a member of?
And now we come, at last, to the book I started out to review: Heymann's Bobby and Jackie: A Love Story. I submit that even the title is false, because Heymann doesn't even attempt to paint a love story. He paints a lust story, and a lopsided one at that. And really, the title should have been: Heymann and the Kennedys: A Hate Story. That would have been a more honest description of the book.
Heymann goes after nearly all the Kennedys, starting with the father, who he accused of being an "ardent admirer of the Third Reich," a gross misrepresentation of Joe Kennedy's views. Joe was an ardent pacifist, who feared that another world war would bring socialism not just to more of Europe, but to America as well. For his reluctance to go to war, or, as historian Will Swift puts it, for his willingness to explore every avenue for peace, he was branded an appeaser. And for that, people made the leap that an opponent of war was a friend of Hitler, when in fact that is an unjustified leap. Those of us who opposed George W. Bush's war in Iraq did not do so out of any admiration for Saddam Hussein. It's a ridiculous meme about Joe Kennedy that has persisted for reasons beyond the scope of this book review.
Heymann goes after John Kennedy, portraying him in such sexual terms one wonders when the guy had a chance to govern. He even claims Kennedy's youthful glow in the debates was due to his having had sex just prior to the debate, saying "The results of the exercise were obvious to anyone who watched the debates. Kennedy looked refreshed and composed on camera, whereas Nixon seemed nervous and out of sorts." And pre-debate sex is his only possible explanation? Whatever else Kennedy was, he was ambitious as hell and believed in preparation. It's just not credible that he would have allowed a moment of pleasure to interfere with the most important political moment of his career.
Heymann sources this episode to "a longtime congressional and senatorial aide to JFK," Langdon Marvin. Author David Pietrusza, in his book 1960 – LBJ Vs. JFK Vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies, challenged Marvin's credibility on this episode, which first appeared in Heymann's book on Jackie.
Pietrusza notes that in the original account, Heymann's version in the Jackie book claims the sex happened at the Palmer House in Chicago. Pietrusza notes that the Palmer House is nowhere near the studio in which the debate was filmed. He also noted that the route there would have taken Kennedy "perilously close" to Nixon's "Pick-Congress" headquarters. As Pietrusza puts it, "There are risks, there are John Kennedy risks, and there are risks not even a Jack Kennedy would take."
Pietrusza also questions Marvin's assertion, conveyed by Heymann, that just prior to the debates, Jack Kennedy had sex with a stripper in New Orleans while her fiancé, Governor Earl Long, held a party in the next room. The problem with that is that the debate was filmed September 26, Long had left office in May, and had died September 5. So either Marvin or Heymann's account of what Marvin said is simply not credible.
Pietrusza notes that Marvin did have a motive to attack the Kennedys. Marvin was an aviation consultant. But for whatever reason, Bobby Kennedy wrote the following to reassure airline industry representatives who expressed concern about Marvin having a role overseeing their industry. Pietrusza quotes the following letter from Bobby Kennedy:
I assure you that Langdon Marvin will not be a part of the administration. He will not have a job of any kind and will play no role, directly or indirectly, in the policies of the administration.
Your sentiments regarding Mr. Marvin are exactly in accord with mine, and I assure you that, when I say that Langdon Marvin will have nothing to do with the government for the next four years, I mean what I say.
As Pietrusza summarized, "Langdon Marvin's story is a good story. Repeating it uncritically is not very good history."
Heymann paints Jackie as, forgive the words, a royal bitch. There is no nuance. There are no other colors. He has her throwing fits at publishers, threatening to sue, demanding payments from the Kennedys for her wardrobe and expenses after John's death, and, of course in the centerpiece to the book, sleeping with Bobby. Of course, Heymann has no direct source for that. He has all kinds of innuendo, but not one credible account from anyone who can verify their quote to show that the two were in love or had any sexual contact of any kind.
One of his racier episodes, where he claims a witness spied Bobby with his hand on Jackie's naked breast at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, has already been disputed by Andrew Goldman in his review of Bobby and Jackie in the Daily Beast (July 24, 2009). The witness in question is Mary Harrington, who, according to Goldman, died a year before Heymann ever quoted her. Heymann has Harrington supposedly watching the two on the grass from Harrington's third-floor window next door to the Kennedy estate.
The problem with this, Goldman notes, is that, according to Ned Monell, the listing agent for the Kennedy residence when it was sold in 1995, the entire property was walled. The only place, therefore, from which Harrington could have been staying would have been a beach shack which was 10 feet lower than the Kennedy house. And given that heavy vegetation surrounded the house, she couldn't have seen anything on the lawn at all.
Many of Heymann's sources for the affair between Bobby and Jackie are people saying they heard it through the grapevine, so to speak. Here's a typical factless piece of innuendo:
Film producer Susan Pollock had a friend who occupied a suite opposite Jackie's at the Carlyle. On several occasions, the friend saw Bobby and Jackie return to the suite late at night, then leave together in the morning. "You can look at people and tell if they've been intimate," said Pollock. "My friend could tell. In any case, their affair was an open secret. Everyone knew it."
What standards of proof does this meet? That is sheer speculation. And of course, there's a very innocent explanation for overnights. Bobby had taken over the responsibilities of father for his brother's two children. He read to them at bedtime. He took them to school in the morning. It makes sense he'd spend the night. Anything else is unproven speculation.
Only a few claim to have any direct knowledge. And while Heymann starts off quoting someone as saying that, while Bobby wasn't faithful to Ethel, he treated his paramours as "second or third wives," Heymann then has Bobby and John having sex with their respective females in the same room, being open with friends about it, and coming on to people like Joan Braden, the former wife of the longtime CIA media operative Tom Braden. And this from the same Bobby Kennedy Heymann quotes, via another source, as having said "nothing you saw or heard leaves this office. Is that understood?"
I had previously read another equally disgusting book, Nemesis, by Peter Evans. That, too, was a book designed to make Jackie look like a bed-hopping whore, selling her body to Onassis in exchange for protection for her children. Not surprisingly, in Bobby and Jackie, Heymann borrows liberally from Evans work. What did surprise me is that Evans found fault with Heymann. He implied Heymann concocted, in his Jackie book, a quote Heymann attributed to Christina Onassis. It seems even Evans has standards which Heymann cannot meet.
One episode seems inspired more by news that surfaced while Heymann was working on his book rather than by his interviewee, who died in 1998, ten years earlier. In 2008, a story surfaced in the New York Post (April 14, 2008, not April 15, as Heymann has in his footnote) about an alleged FBI tape showing Marilyn Monroe in a "perverted" sex act with a man whose face is never seen. Evidently, Hoover tried to prove, unsuccessfully, that the man was John or Robert Kennedy.
Heymann claims that Clark Clifford told him about this tape. Clifford ala Heymann even has Jackie asking Clifford if he's seen a 'certain film' of a sex act between Bobby and Marilyn, looping her into this ridiculous scenario as if to give credibility to that having been Bobby. First, Jackie would have been too discreet to ever ask such a question if she had seen such a film. Second, Clifford died in 1998. I find it hard to believe Heymann would have sat on that salacious tidbit for ten years. He would have put it in one of his earlier books.
Missing from the book is any hint of the loyalty the Kennedy operatives had to the family. He quotes Kenneth O'Donnell, who would have practically taken a bullet for the Kennedys, saying things that, even if true, he would never share. Heymann quotes from him liberally, which is extremely odd, since O'Donnell died in 1978, many years before Heymann wrote about any of the Kennedys. Did he interview him and then sit on that material for years and years? If O'Donnell had talked of an affair in 1978 just before he died, why did it take Heymann nearly 30 years to write that up? And how did he remember something O'Donnell said in 1978 for his 2009 book that he had presumably forgotten for his 1989 book about Jackie? In his 2009 book, Heymann quotes O'Donnell as saying he thought Bobby loved Jackie, but that he understood the "limitations of their romance." If O'Donnell had really said that, why didn't Heymann mention that in his book on Jackie, where he briefly quotes several people as having "suspected" there was an affair between them? If he has O'Donnell confirming it, why didn't he surface that earlier?
Pierre Salinger, who is dead, is liberally quoted talking openly about an affair. That makes no sense. Salinger was so trusted he was the President John Kennedy's press secretary. Only the most closed-mouth, trusted associates are considered for such a sensitive role in any administration. John Greenya, in his review of Bobby and Jackie for The Washington Times (August 11, 2009), challenges this point too. Greenya knew Pierre Salinger very well, as they spent over a year together working on Salinger's book P.S. A Memoir. Said Greenya:
In the hundreds of hours we spent in conversation, over the phone and in person, he never sounded the way he sounds in this book. And for him to tell Kennedy stories out of school, which he allegedly did to Mr. Heymann, strikes me as completely out of character.
And I simply cannot believe he would use a crude, locker room term in talking about Mr. Kennedy, the man he devotedly served as press secretary.
And that's another point I want to make. I've been studying screenwriting for some time now. Good writers know that people don't all speak the same. Every person has a different vocabulary, with different idioms that give them away. But in Heymann's book, everyone sounds the same. They all talk like crass older men with a chip on their shoulder. They all talk in grammatically perfect, short, clipped sentences. Most interviewees aren't writers, and don't talk like that. They wander. They get off topic. You have to bring them back. This would be indicated by an ellipses in the quote. But when Heymann interviews people, they seem to speak in ready-for-publication phrases.
Also missing from the book is any sense of the historical context. Bobby was running for the Senate, and later the presidency. J. Edgar Hoover had already tried and failed to link Bobby to Marilyn Monroe. If it was an "open secret" that Bobby and Jackie were having an affair, there's not a chance in hell that Hoover wouldn't have found out about it and run to one of his media assets, like James Phelan, with the story of the century. He would have had files on their affair, and maybe even photos.
Photos. That's another funny thing. In many research books, people include not just photos of people, but of documents. Howard Hughes books contain photos of his handwriting. JFK books include photos of CIA and FBI files. But Heymann books contain photos of no documents whatsoever. Even ones he mentions in his text. For example, at one point, Heymann mentions a letter from Bobby Kennedy to Katherine Graham. The letter sounded plausible to me, like something Bobby might actually have written. How hard would it have been to put a photo of that in the book? I asked his editor, Emily Bestler, why, given the past charges against Heymann's credibility she hadn't asked for that item to be shown. Bestler said the author was responsible for all the content, and that she didn't recall that particular item from the book, but that if she'd seen it, she would probably have asked for it to have been included. I then asked her: So what was her role as editor, if not to help shape the content? Was she really more of a proofreader? I could tell that offended her by her abrupt change of voice. She said she edited the book for flow. Well, it flows fine. It's an easy read. There were no typos that I noted. Clearly, she did her job well. But to me, that's what a copy editor does, not a book editor. A book editor should challenge one for sourcing and demand to see backup for anything not verifiable elsewhere. That's what people expect when they see a big name publisher. They expect credibility.
My takeaways from this experience?
- I would never believe anything Heymann writes unless I could confirm it elsewhere.
- "Pulitzer Prize nominee" is a deliberately misused term.
- Editors at major publishers do not fact-check nonfiction books. They simply trust the author. You should not. Believe nothing in a nonfiction book that you can't independently verify yourself. Check all footnotes. A pattern of honesty or deception will quickly present itself. Judge all else in the book accordingly.
I feel compelled to note that about 80% of the data in this article was compiled over a two-day period, using only the Internet (with access to past issues of newspapers via a couple of online databases) and copies of a few of Heymann's previous books. It's just beyond belief that someone would sign on to be this guy's editor and not do at least that much due diligence to find out if he's credible. Especially when he claims to be a Pulitzer Prize nominee – and is provably not.
Believe it or not, I'm not mad at Heymann. While I dislike intensely what he's written, I can imagine the situation from his point of view. In his mind, he's a crafty guy who figured out a way to make a great living, while breaking, to my knowledge, no enforceable laws to do so. That he broke all laws of decency and historical faithfulness, if you put yourself in his shoes, is beside the point. In his mind, he may well be P. T. Barnum, reveling over the number of suckers born a minute. Or worse, he may actually think he did a good job with the historical record! Hey, if no editor ever holds you accountable, how do you know you are failing?
Whatever the reality inside his mind, in the actual world, Heymann's work should never have been published without a proper factual, not just textual, review. For that, the blame really must be shouldered by the enablers: the editors who functioned more as proofreaders than as shepherds of content; book reviewers who were too lazy to check to see whether what he wrote was true (with a few notable exceptions); and fellow authors who recycle his writing and spread it around in their own books like a virus, infecting the historical record for future generations.
What can you do? You know I never like to leave you without a course of action. Why don't you write to his current publisher, Atria Books, and ask them to make available his audio recordings of the interviews he claims to have made for this book? That would be a real service to the historical record, assuming the voices are authentic and unaltered, and that the tapes even exist.
In his notes at the end of Bobby and Jackie, Heymann wrote, "Much of the interview material, including tapes and transcripts, has been placed in the author's personal archive, located in the Department of Special Collections, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York, where it is available for viewing and/or listening." That's funny, because when the Miami Herald went after Heymann for his book on Jackie, Heymann's publicist at the time, Sandra Bodner, said that, unless someone sued Heymann, he would not play his tapes for anyone. So who told the truth? Heymann, or his publicist? Can you hear the tapes, or would you have to sue for the privilege?
Ask Atria Books and find out. You can reach his editor, Emily Bestler, c/o:
Atria Books1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
"I always wanted to write fiction," Heymann told a Washington Post reporter in 1989. You have the power to determine if his wish came true.