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David Talbot: Ted Sorenson


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Did Kennedy substantively write his own speeches? I'm aware of the Sorenson V Kennedy debate on the "ask not..." speech. However I am ignorant of whether he wrote his own, for the most part.
He wrote much, a Pulitzer Price winning book while convalescing in hospital, for example. His speeches were drawn from a big body of work that he created, whether writing or dictating or arising from arguing/discussing with others, and many speeches were cobbled together from parts of that, principally by Soerensen. Kennedy of course always had the last say in the final output. Soerensen was a loyal, tried, tested, and trusted person to oversee that collection from which variants of many speeches were created to suit. There are only so many hours in a day, so of course he had writers, but he wasn't their mouth piece.

I understand a number of his more scholarly pieces as a Senator such as the 'Algerian Question' for example, were his own work.

Much of his many regular news conferences were off the cuff, in the same style as his speeches, so one could say that while ohers may have held the pen on many occasions, he was the source.

Then of dourse there are the many important policy directed letters he wrote regularly to people like Kruschev. Not for public consumption at the time, but important nevertheless.

He wrote much, a Pulitzer Prize winning book while convalescing in hospital, for example....

In the preface to Profiles in Courage, Kennedy wrote:

Professor Jules Davids of Georgetown University assisted materially in the preparation of several chapters.

and

The greatest debt is owed to my research associate Theodore C. Sorenson, for his invaluable assistance in the assembly and preparation of the material upon which this book is based.

In the October 18, 1997 issue of The New York Times, Patricia Cohen wrote (abstract):

Recently discovered letter written by late Georgetown Prof Jules Davids in 1957 appears to support Davids' earlier claim that he wrote major portions of John F Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage; Davids commented similarly in 1978 letter to Herbert Parmet, who wrote Kennedy biography crediting Davids and describing future President as 'overseer' on book; Theodore Sorensen, often cited as book's true author, says Davids overstated his role; 1957 letter to Rev Brian McGrath, found in Georgetown archives, recalls giving lecture on political courage in 1954 and being approached by Jacqueline Kennedy, his student, to suggest for her husband names of historical figures of Jacqueline Kennedy in Davids class; Davids also told of correcting book draft, doing research and being paid only $700; Kennedy thanked Davids in preface and 1956 letter....

Cecil Adams writes:

...doubts about the book's authorship surfaced early. In December 1957 syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, interviewed on TV by Mike Wallace, said, "Jack Kennedy is . . . the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer prize on a book which was ghostwritten for him." Outraged, Kennedy hired lawyer Clark Clifford, who collected the senator's handwritten notes and rounded up statements from people who said they'd seen him working on the book, then persuaded Wallace's bosses at ABC to read a retraction on the air.

Kennedy made no secret of Sorensen's involvement in Profiles, crediting him in the preface as "my research associate," and likewise acknowledged the contributions of Davids and others. But he insisted that he was the book's author and bristled even at teasing suggestions to the contrary. Sorensen and other Kennedy loyalists backed him up then and have done so since.

The most thorough analysis of who did what has come from historian Herbert Parmet in
Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy
(1980). Parmet interviewed the participants and reviewed a crateful of papers in the Kennedy Library. He found that Kennedy contributed some notes, mostly on John Quincy Adams, but little that made it into the finished product. "There is no evidence of a Kennedy draft for the overwhelming bulk of the book," Parmet writes. While "the choices, message, and tone of the volume are unmistakably Kennedy's," the actual work was "left to committee labor." The "literary craftsmanship [was] clearly Sorensen's, and he gave the book both the drama and flow that made for readability." Parmet, like everyone else, shrinks from saying Sorensen was the book's ghostwriter, but clearly he was.

David Talbot devotes a considerable amount of Brothers in describing the releationship between JFK and Sorenson, and the role Sorenson played in his life and administration.

Sometimes given a half hour to prepare a speech JFK was going to give on national TV on a major crisis, Sorenson came through in spades.

While acknowledging Sorenson's role in crafting JFK's speechs, writings and book(s), Sorenson was so closely joined with JFK that their careers and lives were tied together. When JFK was killed, Sorenson pretty much died with him.

Compared to other politicians, who don't even read, let alone write, JFK was a literary genius. Bush can't even read Presidential Summaries and must have someone read them to him. So I don't expect we will get President Bush's autobio of his life and times, like Churchill, writing his own legacy.

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I have always taken the view that JFK was a conservative politician radicalised by the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, the appointment of Ted Sorensen suggests that he may have held progressive views as early as 1960. As you point out on page 40 of your book, Sorenson had registered as a conscientious objector in 1948.

Sorenson kept his job when his pacifist past was exposed by Goldwater in September 1961. However, JFK did not appear to be willing to protect Chester Bowles and Richard Goodwin when they came under attack for their liberal views. JFK obviously had a very special relationship with Sorenson.

I believe I read somewhere that RFK intended to appoint Sorenson as director of the CIA if he became president. If RFK intended to have a “controlled” investigation of the JFK assassination he would have needed a strong ally as head of the CIA. It also suggests that Sorenson also knew what RFK knew about the assassination. Did you get that impression when you interviewed him?

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