Jump to content
The Education Forum

"JFK's Own Dirty Trick" by Mark Feldstein

Guest James H. Fetzer

Recommended Posts

Guest James H. Fetzer




JFK's own dirty trick

By Mark Feldstein

Friday, January 14, 2011; A21

Fifty years ago next week, Richard Nixon stood uncomfortably on the Capitol's inaugural platform and watched his rival John F. Kennedy being sworn in as president. "We won" the election, Nixon fumed, "but they stole it from us."

Indeed, the dirty tricks that helped defeat Nixon were more devious than merely the ballot-stuffing of political lore. In one of the least-known chapters of 20th-century political history, Kennedy operatives secretly paid off an informant and set in motion a Watergate-like burglary that sabotaged Nixon's campaign on the eve of the election.

It began in the fall of 1960, when the Kennedy campaign spread word that Vice President Nixon had secretly pocketed money from billionaire Howard Hughes, whose far-flung business empire was heavily dependent on government contracts and connections. Reporters for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Time magazine corroborated the allegations, but their editors feared publishing such explosive information in the last days of the tightly fought campaign.

So the Kennedys turned to two crusading liberal columnists, Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, who had been attacking Nixon for the past decade. It was "a journalistic atrocity" to conspire with "the Kennedy hawkshaws to help us get the goods on their opponent," Anderson admitted, but scoring a scoop to destroy Nixon was simply too tempting to pass up.

Anderson dropped by the Washington office of Kennedy lawyer James McInerney. With "a pride that only the diligent investigator can know," Anderson recalled, the Kennedy operative pulled out "a neatly arranged packet which I devoured unceremoniously."

The confidential documents revealed how Hughes had funneled to the Nixon family $205,000 (worth about $1.6 million today) using various intermediaries, including one of Nixon's brothers, to disguise the transaction. Later evidence would show that the vice president had personally phoned Hughes to ask for the money, which was used to help Nixon pay for an elegant, 9,000-square-foot Tudor house in Washington with eight bedrooms, six bathrooms, a library, a butler's pantry and a solarium.

How did JFK's campaign obtain this incriminating evidence? By paying the contemporary equivalent of $100,000 to a Los Angeles accountant named Phillip Reiner, one of the Hughes middlemen used to conceal Nixon's role in the deal. Reiner was a Democrat who recently had had a falling-out with his partners. With his attorney, Reiner had contacted Robert Kennedy, his brother's campaign manager. Soon after, a break-in occurred at the accountant's old office - and the Kennedys suddenly acquired a thick file filled with secret records documenting Nixon's shady deal. (Reiner's estranged partner filed a burglary report with the police, but the crime was never solved.)

With hard evidence in hand, the Kennedy camp passed the dirt to Anderson.

News outlets around the country trumpeted the revelations in headlines. The political hit inflicted maximum damage on Nixon and reinforced his conviction that his enemies in the press and politics were out to get him.

Days later, Kennedy was elected president by the narrowest margin in American history to that point. Nixon and his advisers blamed the Hughes scandal. Accurate or not, this perception haunted Nixon for the rest of his public life.

Nixon always believed he was the true winner of the 1960 campaign. He called the Kennedys "the most ruthless group of political operators ever mobilized" and said they "approached campaign dirty tricks with a roguish relish" that "overcame the critical faculties of many reporters."

Indeed, the mysterious break-in to recover Nixon's incriminating financial documents convinced him that such burglaries were standard practice in national politics. Nixon vowed that he would never be caught unprepared again, and he ultimately established his own corps of hard-nosed operatives to carry out espionage and sabotage, which culminated in the botched break-in a dozen years later at the Watergate office of the Democratic Party.

A half-century afterward, Washington still lives with the residue of the Kennedys' little-known dirty trick, which helped unleash our modern scandal culture and continues to influence politics and media today.

Mark Feldstein, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, is the author of "Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture."

Post a Comment

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

Report item as: (required) X

Comment: (optional)

Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Every political campaign has such "Dirty Tricks" Team.

Usually such teams work under the Security Section.

I worked with Eugene McCarthy's "Special Projects Committee" at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and we hooked up an electric typewriter to the convention floor - where no phones or outside communication lines were supposed to be, and arranged for uncredentialed celebrities to get onto the floor with other delegate's credentials.

LBJ's team was known as the 5 o'clock Club.

...there was also a secret White House campaign apparatus known informally as "the Department of Dirty Tricks," "the anti-campaign" or "the 5 o'clock Club." It was a sixteen-man team that was headed by Johnson aides Myer "Mike" Feldman and Fred Dutton. Feldman reported directly to Johnson on the team's activities. This group—which met twice a day—monitored Goldwater's statements and positions and prepared various "books" that captured all of his ripe material. The 5 o'clock'ers also engaged in other more questionable activity such as feeding hostile questions to reporters covering Goldwater and otherwise trying to manipulate the mainstream media treatment of the senator.[ 34 ]

JFKcountercoup: The 5 O'clock Club

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The story of dirty tricks in American politics begins with the first campaign for President of the United States, in the 1790s. Thomas Jefferson hired journalist and pamphleteer James Thomas Callender to slander his opponent, Alexander Hamilton. After a falling out, Callender turned on Jefferson and published attacks on his previous employer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_tricks

His (James Callender) crowning success came with the exposure, in his pamphlet History of 1796, of a sexual relationship between Alexander Hamilton and a married woman, Maria Reynolds, the subsequent blackmail against Hamilton, and Hamilton's alleged financial corruption. Callender presented compelling evidence of adultery, but in 1797's Sketches of the History of America he wrote that the affair was merely a distraction from Hamilton's more nefarious offense: partnering with Reynolds' husband in corrupt financial dealings.[8] Hamilton vehemently denied being a party to any improper financial matter, although he confessed to the adultery. According to Callender, that was just a smokescreen. Although the financial charges were never proven, Hamilton never again held public office. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Thomas_Callender

Callender eventually targeted Jefferson, revealing that Jefferson had funded his pamphleteering. After denials were issued, he published Jefferson's letters to him to prove the relationship. Later, angered by the response of Jefferson supporters, which included the smear that Callender had abandoned his wife, leaving her to die of a venereal disease,[15] Callender wrote in a series of articles that Jefferson fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings.

"which helped unleash our modern scandal culture" - is this man just now waking up?

Evidence that Nixon was corrupt and the Kennedy's fought fire with fire... and started a few fires on their own....

If this was the beginning of a series ultimately linking Nixon to the assassination thru Bush and Operation 40 so be it....

but it sure doesn't feel that way

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Robert Morrow

The doctor's offices (medical records) of John F. Kennedy were broken into a few weeks before the 1960 Democratic national convention. On the first day of the covention John Connally starts saying that JFK had Addison's Disease. That break-in could very well have been a Hoover FBI black bag operation designed to help Lyndon Johnson.

Read about it in: LBJ: The Mastermind of JFK's Assassination


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...