By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The Globe, the Times and RFK’s papers

Robert Kennedy

There’s been a pretty interesting development in the battle over Robert Kennedy’s papers. The New York Times reports that members of Kennedy’s family are unhappy with the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and may move the papers to George Washington University.

The story also says the family decided on March 1 to release 63 boxes of papers, some of them “dealing with Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights, [that] are classified as secret or top secret.”

These would appear to be the “54 crates of records” that the Boston Globe revealed last January were being withheld from all but a few favored historians. At that time, Robert Kennedy’s son Max placed his foot firmly in his mouth, telling the Globe’s Bryan Bender that he’s all for openness except in those cases when he’s not.

“I do believe that historians and journalists must do their homework, and observe the correct procedures for seeking permission to consult the papers, and explain their projects,” Max Kennedy was quoted as saying. Max’s boffo performance led me to bestow a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award upon him recently.

In the Times story, there is no mention of Max. Instead, another of Robert Kennedy’s sons, former congressman Joe Kennedy, emerges as the family spokesman, and he comes off as considerably more diplomatic than his younger brother.

A search of the Globe and Times archives shows that the family’s March 1 decision to release the papers was not reported prior to today’s Times story. That suggests a deliberate strategy of working hand in hand with Adam Clymer, the retired Times reporter who gets the lead byline today. Clymer, you may recall, is the author of “Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography,” a respected though admiring treatment of the late senator published in 2000.

All in all, fodder for a follow-up by Bender.

Library of Congress photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. L.K. Collins

    One has to wonder what the kerfuffle is between the family and the library, or, more pointedly, what is in the archive that has the family so scared.

  2. Martin Callaghan

    JoAnn Fitzpatrick had a piece in the Weekend Patriot Ledger expanding on this same topic from the family perspective.

    She claims that Ethel and her children have been miffed for years that RFK has not received proper due from the John F. Kennedy Library and from Ted Kennedy. She says that in his family’s view, RFK deserves more than the permanent exhibit specifically devoted to him at the library and that because his family controls RFK’s papers they have a club to wield.

    Years ago, she reports, the family sought to have an RFK center at George Washington University but the university wanted millions in seed money through a congressional earmark that Ted refused to promote as he was trying to keep the family papers together in Boston and the University would only offer a few rooms.

    According to Fitzpatrick, the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate at the JFK Library is the final straw for RFK’s family. As now two Kennedy brothers would have buildings of their own, leaving RFK the also-ran. Further exacerbating the rift is word the main house at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, which is near properties owned by Ethel Kennedy and other family members will become part of the Institute, leaving Ethel Kennedy and other family members to expressed concerns about loss of privacy and beach access.

    Family Feud?

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