- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

''American Son," former George magazine editor Richard Blow's long-awaited portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr. finally has hit bookstands, and, as predicted, the reviews have been scathing.

There is to be no forgiveness or quarter in certain circles for his "shamelessly exploitative" (Chicago Sun-Times), "dull inconsequential" (CNN), "skimpy in detail but not in length" (USA Today) chronicle of the sweet prince's stellar but tragically brief life, even though it focuses far more on his attempt to publish a popular political magazine than on the ups and downs of his private life.

The New York Times hasn't bothered to review it at least not yet, anyway which is fairly surprising because the story of the "last, defining years" of one of the world's most famous men will be No. 1 on its best-seller list next week.

"They said I was doing it because I couldn't find another job, because I had a deeply rooted desire to be historically identified with the Kennedys and even because I was a latent homosexual with a 'Talented Mr. Ripley' complex," he says with a laugh as he pauses to chat at Cafe Milano in Georgetown during his recent book tour.

Q: Do you have the sense that the Kennedy knives are out for you because you wrote this book?

A: I have no complaints about the Kennedys. I wrote letters to Caroline [Kennedy Schlossberg] about my plans, to say that the book would focus on John and George magazine, that it was going to be a positive book. I didn't want to upset her. I did the same with Ted Kennedy.


Q: Did they reply?

A: They had no comment, and I wouldn't have expected them to.


Q: You must have gotten wind of some reaction.

A: I'm not comfortable talking about what feedback I got from the family because I don't want to be seen as exploiting them. The flak came from people who want to be associated with the Kennedys and think this is the way to achieve that.


Q: Your critics maintain that you violated the confidentiality agreement of your employment contract.

A: John Kennedy was part of history. If you believe that what he did at George should be written about, then someone at George should have done it. The confidentiality agreement was intended to prevent people from leaking things to the press in the early days of the magazine.


Q: Later hires weren't required to sign one.

A: Right. John relaxed after a while and stopped worrying about it.


Q: Did you get the impression that the word went out to poleax your book?

A: It's possible to get paranoid about it. I had a tough, aggressive interview with Katie Couric and Caroline Kennedy was on the show the previous day.


Q: Your first contract [for $750,000] with Little, Brown got canceled. The Kennedys are famous for getting books stopped.

A: There is no evidence of that. I never really knew what happened. There were a lot of internal politics at Little, Brown at the time. The woman who wanted to sign the deal subsequently lost her job. I think it was more a casualty of what was going on inside the firm.


Q: You must have realized it would be very difficult for Caroline to read a book about her brother.

A: I can understand if it is difficult thing for her to read. It was a difficult thing for me to write.


Q: I don't think she'd be too happy to watch you on "Entertainment Tonight" describing Jennifer Anniston coming on to her brother in the first-class compartment of an airplane.

A: I wanted to be loyal to John, but writers are storytellers, and you have that responsibility, too. If I wrote a hagiography that suggested John didn't have a single blemish, nobody would read it. It would not only be boring, it would be untrue. The Jennifer Anniston anecdote shows he was a notch above even America's most beloved celebrities and you'll notice that I went out of my way in the book to note that Jennifer Anniston was single at the time. (Laughs).


Q: Do you feel a bit like Boswell on Samuel Johnson, or Suetonius chronicling the lives of the Caesars?

A: That would be giving me too much credit. I had the opportunity to watch this guy do something quite unusual and important, and potentially really important. He founded the largest political magazine in America, and he had a radically different idea, which was that politics, popular cultural and celebrity in this country had become so intertwined that you could not seriously cover politics without covering the others as well.


Q: Did Cindy Crawford draped in an American flag on the cover help draw in young people who hadn't previously related to politics, or did it debase political life?

A: John would have said, "This is reality, get used to it." He also would have said that spending a year of our nation's time and attention to find out the truth about the president's relationship with a White House intern was debasing our culture and turning off young people from politics.


Q: You convey that John Kennedy faced a major learning curve but that he grew immensely.

A: Very much so. There was no question that John couldn't have started the magazine if he weren't who he was. He put himself into a situation in which he was bound to confront the internal conflicts of being John Kennedy: the tension between private life and public service, between constructive and attack journalism.


Q: He instinctively reacted against staff suggestions to jump on the Monica Lewinsky bandwagon, perhaps because he was sensitive to connections to his own father's affairs. On the other hand, he put Marilyn Monroe on the cover.

A: It's hard to explain if you assume John was always consistent, because he wasn't. I think he was trying to convey that people should relax about some of his family's history: "Give me some breathing room. Parts of my family's history are important. Other parts are not so significant, and if I can poke fun at them a little bit, you should be able to, too."


Q: He took a few lumps, especially the time you ran the uncomplimentary piece about Vernon Jordan that turned out to have largely been concocted by Stephen Glass, the notorious journalistic fabulist.

A: The story fell apart like a house of cards. John wrote a letter to Vernon to apologize, which Vernon or someone then leaked to The Washington Post. John was stunned.


Q: He learned the hard way.

A: Without intending to; he wanted to have it both ways. He wanted to be on the publisher's hot seat and then be able to say, "From one gentleman to another, sorry about the tough piece." Sooner or later, he would have had to choose sides.

He realized that some people didn't take him too seriously. They saw him as a nice young man. There was no "good cop-bad cop" element in him, and if you're going into politics, you need to be able to do that.


Q: He was quite critical of Hillary Clinton for using her perquisites as first lady to campaign for office.

A: He was livid about that, and it was really a reflection of his incredible respect for his mother. To him, the idea that someone would hijack and debase the role of first lady by running for office while pretending they weren't inflicted damage on a role that should remain nonpartisan.


Q: He surprised you sometimes quite memorably, for example, when he told the staff he liked Richard Nixon.

A: He was profoundly nonpartisan. He didn't like people because they were Democrats or dislike them because they were Republicans. He was interested in character and in characters. He had a fondness for rogues.


Q: Such as?

A: Mike Tyson, for example, whom he visited in jail. He thought there were enough people who were willing to exploit him on the way up and decry him for his violence on the way down. There weren't enough people who really wanted to help him.


Q: What kind of people did he like?

A: He liked ordinary people who had done interesting things. He wasn't particularly fond of celebrities.


Q: Except that he went out with Darryl Hannah and Madonna. There was the famous story that he took Madonna to meet his mother, at her apartment, and she signed the guest book "Mrs. Sean Penn."

A: It sounds apocryphal, but listen, if you're a young man in your 20s and Madonna wants to meet you


Q: You miss him a lot.

A: I do, all the time, especially after 9/11 because New York needed every ounce of optimism and good spirit that we could find. John lived just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. He would have been of enormous psychological value, out and around, visiting the sites, helping people, talking to them. He would have been perfect.


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