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John F. Kerry
The Boston Globe Biography
By Brian Mooney
By Nina J. Easton
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Format:ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
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The outlines of John Kerry’s life are familiar: A decorated Vietnam veteran who became an influential, if unlikely, anti-war protester. A lanky 60-year-old who quenches his thirst for danger with high-speed kiteboarding, windsurfing, piloting, motorcycling, and, in some cases, driving. A senator with a reputation as an investigator and foreign policy expert. A man married to one of the richest women in America. But beyond this broad picture, Kerry is something of a mystery to the public, largely because of a complex yet riveting personal and professional history outlined in this book.
John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography, the first full and in-depth book about the candidate’s life, is based on a highly regarded series on Kerry published in the Boston Globe, plus years of additional reporting. It will explore his background, his service in the military (including significant experiences omitted from Douglas Brinkley’s bestselling Tour of Duty), his early legal and political career, his legislative record and the remarkable turnaround in his political fortunes during the 2004 election cycle. This incisive, frank look at Kerry’s life, and at his strengths and liabilities, is important reading for anyone interested in the presidential campaign.
To my wife, Sylvia, daughters Jessica and Laura,
and Mom; and, in memory of Dad.
To my wife, Sylvia, daughters Jessica and Laura,
and Mom; and, in memory of Dad.
NINA J. EASTON:
To my sons, Taylor and Danny.
To my sons, Taylor and Danny.
BRIAN C. MOONEY:
To my wife Rosemary and daughter Meredith.
To my wife Rosemary and daughter Meredith.
Editor, The Boston Globe
With the Boston Globe having spent six months relentlessly digging into the life and record of Senator John F. Kerry for a newspaper profile, campaign operatives were chafing at what seemed like a journalistic enterprise without end. Relations with the campaign had turned downright toxic by June 2003, however, when our reporters began double- and triple-checking the most sensitive facts they had unearthed.
Our goal was to publish nothing less than the definitive portrait of a man who was seen early that summer as the favored Democratic nominee for president. Within three days, the first of seven installments was to appear, and Kerry's campaign manager, Jim Jordan, apparently had heard enough from us. Jordan fired off a searing message from his Blackberry, all but calling us liars for having pledged to be as fair as we were thorough.
JORDAN: It's becoming increasingly obvious that the profile is, in fact, going to be a seven day rip job. That's been the buzz out of both newsrooms for some time, but we'd hoped for better. However, from everything we can divine from our end of the project wrap ups, this doesn't look to be a fair, contextual look at a long, good life but, instead, a collection of gaffes, controversies, disputations.
MY RESPONSE: Oh please.
Why don't you just wait and read it? Then you can complain, if you feel it's warranted, rather than rely on "buzz." What's obvious to you, having read not a word, doesn't seem obvious to me, having actually read it.
JORDAN: Because nothing is more impotent than bitching about a story once it's run.
Sorry that you find my concerns old lady-ish. Of course we haven't read the piece in toto, but we've lived with this f——r every day for six months, and there isn't [any] mystery left.
And it's become increasingly clear that this thing, despite your assurances to the contrary a couple of months ago, has lurched into a predictable direction. Small bore, snarky, cynical. Nothing taken at face value, no benefit of any doubt, no explanation accepted without challenge. A preoccupation with finding scandal where none exists. Everything interpreted through an entirely political lens . . .
Here's hoping I have to eat these words.
Jordan (fired by Kerry in November as his campaign was faltering) was mostly wrong, but on one important point he was right. Wrong, because the Boston Globe's seven-part series last June was absolutely fair, and the campaign would later acknowledge that. And right, because we never did take anything at face value. We checked every assertion. We assumed nothing. Nor should we have settled for less than exhaustive documentation and verification. John Kerry was seeking the most powerful position in the world, and the Boston Globe aimed to cover him better than anyone else.
In December 2002, our editors and political reporters began conferring about the need for a portrait of John Kerry. He was already collecting more financial support than any other prospective candidate for the Democratic nomination. He was leading in early polls. We determined then that the Boston Globe should be the point of reference for anyone seeking to know John Kerry. No one should discover material about him that we hadn't identified and vetted first.
Not surprisingly, there were some skeptics in our newsroom. They wondered whether revelations were possible, no matter how long we searched. Our archives already bulged with stories about Kerry, reflecting unwavering attention to a man who had served in the U.S. Senate for two decades and who first entered Massachusetts politics in 1972. Our appetite was both for new insights and new information about John Kerry, and in the end we could claim both.
The Boston Globe's major advantage was the trio of reporters we had assembled for the challenge. Each had deep experience covering Kerry over the course of his political career. They knew enough about him to appreciate what was yet unknown, and they had the skills to fill in the gaps.
Michael Kranish was assigned to examine Kerry's early years, his upbringing, and his combat in Vietnam. Kranish has followed the senator closely since his first interview in 1986 about oil industry tax breaks and in 1987 on the Iran-contra investigation. As early as 1988, Kranish interviewed Kerry for a lengthy piece about how he had worked to change his image from liberal senator to a hard-charging investigator of drug running. "It all seemed so far from Kerry's far-left image," Kranish wrote, touching on a theme as fitting today as it was then, "and that was exactly what Kerry wanted: mainstream credibility."
John Kerry's record in Congress fell to John Aloysius Farrell, now with the Denver Post. It was familiar territory for Farrell, who arrived in 1990 at the Boston Globe's Washington, D.C., bureau with the mission of covering the Massachusetts delegation in Congress. He has followed him ever since. He chronicled the 1992 speech at Yale University when Kerry labeled affirmative action an "inherently limited and divisive program," remarks that would later dog him during the South Carolina primary. He recorded as well what is now regarded as Kerry's signature legislative achievement, resolving the POW issue and bringing about rapprochement with Vietnam.
No one on the reporting team has kept an eye on Kerry longer than Brian C. Mooney. He has known and covered him for more than twenty-six years. His first contact dated back to 1977, when Kerry was first assistant district attorney in Middlesex County and Mooney was a cub reporter at the Medford (Massachusetts) Daily Mercury. He has covered his campaigns since for the Sun in Lowell, the Boston Herald, and the Boston Globe. Mooney was asked to delve into the period of John Kerry's life that had received the least attention—his job as a prosecutor, his short tenure as lieutenant governor, and the period of relative obscurity when he served as a lawyer in the private sector. Also under Mooney's microscope were Kerry's political relationships and campaigns in Massachusetts.
Despite all the stories written about Kerry over the years, research by these reporters quickly produced astonishing results. Working with an Austrian genealogist, Kranish turned up family history that had been hidden from Kerry himself—his paternal grandfather's Jewish heritage and the story that in 1921, apparently broke, Kerry's grandfather had shot himself in the washroom of the ornate Copley Plaza Hotel in the center of Boston.
Later, in studying Kerry's post-Vietnam years, Kranish found previously unpublicized tapes of President Richard Nixon's remarks about a young antiwar protester he derided as "sort of a phony," despite his harrowing combat experience.
Mooney, too, was poring through documents that had never before caught the attention of reporters. None had ever possessed Mooney's curiosity. Nor had they shown Mooney's patience at inspecting papers from Kerry's brief stint as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. And so Mooney was the first to disclose Kerry's costly courtship with an exotic tax shelter, a transaction he abandoned because of potential embarrassment as he prepared to run for the U.S. Senate.
Piece by piece, these reporters assembled the most comprehensive look ever at the man who would be president. Journalists on the campaign trail considered it required reading.
The strength of the series and its narrative force was due in large part to the exacting and elegant editing by Nina J. Easton, deputy bureau chief in Washington. Easton came to the task with her own history of distinguished accomplishment in covering politics and public policy. As an award-winning staff writer for the Los Angeles Times Magazine in the 1990s, those were her beats. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Simon and Schuster published her book on the rise to power of a new generation of conservatives who became central to the election of George W. Bush. In reviewing her book Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade, the Washington Post said she told the story of post-Reagan conservatism "more inventively, exhaustively, and entertainingly than anyone else." Easton set aside her editing responsibilities to do reporting for this book on Kerry, concentrating on his legislative record.
Both the Boston Globe series and this book involved, like so much at newspapers, a large team. Editors on the series included John Yemma, a deputy managing editor; and Kenneth Cooper, national editor. Patrick Healy, who reported on Kerry throughout the presidential primaries, made major contributions to the chapter on the presidential campaign, as did reporter Glen Johnson, who covered Kerry through the early stages of his candidacy. Research by the Boston Globe's Richard Pennington has been critical at every stage to the entire effort.
As ambitious as the seven-part series was, there remained much more to tell about John Kerry. This book significantly expands upon the articles published in June of 2003.
During the presidential campaign, even Kerry's closest allies have commented in frustration on the candidate's discomfort at revealing himself and how difficult it can be for voters to get to know him. With this book and the newspaper series that preceded it, we have sought to help voters understand the real John Kerry. By all accounts, he is a complex man. There is no question he has led an intriguing life.
If a newspaper is doing its job, its relationship with leading politicians is bound to be testy. Adulation is not in our mission statement. Serving as public watchdog is. Politicians, for their part, often view the watchdogs more as cynics, with agendas of their own and portfolios of unfairness.
The Boston Globe's relationship with John Kerry has been marked by rocky moments, and he has not infrequently conveyed, directly or through surrogates, a feeling that the newspaper was out to get him.
We are not ideally positioned to impartially assess our own newspaper's history with Kerry, but it seems only proper that we at least mention here the observations of others. A New Yorker profile in December 2002 touched on what writer Joe Klein seemed to regard as harsh treatment by the newspaper. "We were pretty rough on him over the years," former Boston Globe political writer Martin Nolan told Klein, who identified Nolan as "a recently retired member of the Boston Globe's mostly Irish and extremely raucous stable of political writers."
Klein related Kerry's distress over coverage of his 1984 race to become the Democratic nominee for Senate, when he perceived the Boston Globe as favoring his opponent, U.S. representative James Shannon of Lawrence. Michael Janeway, then the newspaper's editor, told Klein: "He wanted to know why we were so rough on him. I reminded him about Sam Rayburn's classic political categories. I said, 'John, there are workhorses and show horses, and I guess our staff considers you a show horse.'"
In his 1996 Senate race, Kerry faced off against Massachusetts governor William Weld. "With a shock of strawberry hair and irony to burn," Klein wrote in the New Yorker, Weld "seemed an honorary Hibernian"—an opponent "bound to be favored by the reportorial romantics at the Boston Globe."
More recently, R. W. Apple of the New York Times reported in December 2003 that Kerry "and others blame what they see as negative coverage by The Boston Globe, as well as early organizational troubles" for the way his presidential campaign sputtered for so long in New Hampshire.
Yet the Boston Globe has consistently endorsed Kerry on its editorial pages. The newspaper's editorial board, which operates independently of its news department, endorsed Kerry in the general election for Senate in 1984, and it continued to endorse him for Senate in 1990, 1996, and 2002. Only in the Democratic primary for Senate in 1984 did the Boston Globe back Kerry's opponent.
When the newspaper endorsed Kerry in the New Hampshire presidential primary in 2004, the editorial board summarized its impression of him over the years, declaring that he had "inspired, impressed, and sometimes infuriated us since he first became the top assistant in the Middlesex district attorney's office in 1977."
Journalists are accustomed to politicians' discontent with their coverage, particularly when the presidency is the prize they covet. Thus, irritation by operatives like one-time Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan before publication of our series is understandable in the context of a heated contest. We recognize that the Boston Globe reported doggedly on the Kerry campaign, as we did on the other presidential candidates. We maintain that our coverage of Kerry and his opponents was also resolutely fair.
ABC's political unit, in its daily on-line newsletter, described our Kerry project as a "ground-breaking biographical series."
In expanding the series into a book, our reporters conducted even more research. In February, they requested more time with Kerry so that he could offer his perspective on additional information they had turned up. In rejecting our request, campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill calculated that the senator had already "set aside nearly ten hours of interview time and countless hours of preparation time for interviews" in connection with the newspaper series. She also said the campaign staff had spent "hundreds of hours in support of the Boston Globe's efforts" and had made a "strong, best faith effort to answer all questions posed by the Boston Globe reporters, even in cases when information was presented on short notice." Cahill argued, too, that Kerry didn't have time in the middle of a national campaign, while battling attacks from Democratic rivals and the Bush White House, to sit for more interviews.
"Over the years," Cahill wrote, in rebuffing us, "the Globe has shown fairness and established a high standard of accuracy in its coverage of Senator Kerry, culminating [in] the groundbreaking series last year and the revelations contained there . . . ." The tone of Cahill's letter certainly represented a change from the vituperative e-mails received last summer from her predecessor. In the end, though, the campaign gave us the heave-ho.
We would have welcomed the opportunity to sit down with Senator Kerry at greater length. Voters deserve to know well anyone who aspires to be president. We hope we have met our goal of assisting them, with a portrait that is complete, balanced, and authoritative.
ON JANUARY 27, 2004, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts accomplished one of the most spectacular turnarounds in modern American politics when he capped a surprise win in the Iowa caucus with a victory in the New Hampshire primary. Just weeks earlier, former Vermont governor Howard Dean was the apparent front-runner, and political insiders were taking bets on when Kerry—whose support landed him somewhere in the middle of a field of nine Democratic candidates—would drop out of the race. Kerry's presidential campaign, once expected to trump other challengers, had become riddled with internal strife; as a candidate, he was criticized as a stiff figure with a muddled message, particularly on the nation's most divisive issue, the war in Iraq.
But in the days following New Hampshire, the political pundit machinery went from writing off the Massachusetts senator as a disappointing has-been to embracing him as the ideal November match against Republican President George W. Bush. Conservative George Will extolled Kerry's "manliness" ("riding his Harley, gunning for Iowa pheasants, and playing hockey in New Hampshire"), while liberal Harold Meyerson declared him "the most effective politico since the fall of Bill Clinton."
"He is not the most affable of men, but somewhere in his gaunt frame is a rod of steely determination that enabled him to come off the mat and win the first two Democratic contests," declared liberal columnist Richard Cohen.
"He doesn't make many mistakes," asserted conservative columnist Robert Novak.
Who is the man likely to become the Democratic Party's nominee for president in 2004? And what kind of political leader is he? The outlines of John Kerry's life are familiar: A decorated Vietnam veteran who became an influential, if unlikely, antiwar protester. A lanky sixty-year-old who quenches his thirst for danger with high-speed kiteboarding, windsurfing, piloting, and motorcycling. As a senator, he stayed off the path of his more famous colleague, Senator Ted Kennedy—a lawmaker known for making laws—and instead developed a reputation as an investigator and foreign policy expert.
But beyond this broad picture, Kerry is something of a mystery to the public, largely because of a complex yet riveting personal and professional history, chronicled in this book. To his critics, Kerry is an aloof politician who lacks a core. His personal story has much to do with that image: Kerry is a man without geographic roots. He's not "from" a Massachusetts neighborhood; rather, his youth stretched through a dozen towns across two continents with only a few years spent in the state he calls home. He enjoyed the cachet of illustrious family names but not always the nourishing bonds of a close family life. As a boy, he was shipped off for a seven-year odyssey at boarding schools in Switzerland and New England.
Kerry himself is wistful about his youth. "I was always moving on and saying good-bye," he said in a 2003 interview with the Boston Globe. "It steeled you. There wasn't a lot of permanence and roots." At a 2001 gathering of some 2,000 Bostonians honoring J. Joseph Moakley, a beloved congressman from South Boston who was dying from leukemia, William M. Bulger, the former state senator from Southie, described the close-knit neighborhood and the nurturing effect it had on Moakley.
Then Kerry spoke. "I felt a pang as I listened to him talk about the lessons learned in that community," Kerry said. "Because one of my regrets is that I didn't share that kind of neighborhood. I didn't know that. My dad was in the foreign service. We moved around a lot."
More than to any one place, Kerry's ties were to a social milieu—that rarefied world of wealth and privilege where the French is fluent and the manners impeccable. As a young man, Bill Clinton was thrilled to get the chance to shake JFK's hand on a Boys Nation outing; by contrast, young John Kerry dated Jacqueline Kennedy's half-sister and once sailed Narragansett Bay with JFK at the helm.
But Kerry did not fully belong to this elite world, either. His father's government salary, combined with his own struggles with money, left him planted further on the outskirts of New England's ruling class than many realized. The boy who was educated at patrician prep schools grew into a gentleman without significant means, part of a landless aristocracy that one might find in a Jane Austen novel. He married wealthy wives whose net worth dwarfed his own.
His political development was equally conflicted. Upon graduation from Yale, he gave a class oration suggesting the Vietnam War could mean "an excess of interventionism" but enlisted as an officer, just as his friends were doing, just as his hero JFK had done. He hoped to avoid combat, then was thrown into the middle of it and earned the highest honors for his bravery under fire. He left the war shaken by the deaths of close friends—and by witnessing U.S. violence against Vietnamese civilians—and took up the mantle of antiwar activist at home. His words before Congress, asking lawmakers, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" provided powerful eloquence to his cause. But he also accused American soldiers of committing atrocities; and Vietnam veterans, including some of his former crewmates, saw betrayal in the crusade that was transforming Kerry into a national figure.
"Vietnam is a lesson," Kerry told the Boston Globe in 2003. "It is history to me. It can guide me but it doesn't run me. You have to move on and I moved on a long time ago. But the lessons are valuable. I love the lessons. And I love the friendships and the experience. Notwithstanding the downside of it, it was a great extraordinary learning experience."
To Kerry, the war was "a great leadership lesson, a great human interpersonal lesson. Six guys on a boat, you know, helping to deliver a breech-birth child to a Vietnamese woman, and you are patching up a guy who was trying to shoot you three minutes earlier and put it back together. Those are experiences of a lifetime. Those are things that stay with you."
Kerry went to Vietnam as part of the "ask what you can do for your country" generation. Duty, honor, and standing up to communism, Kennedy-style. He returned, in the space of just twenty-four months, to a nation rocked by antiwar protests, by urban riots, by the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., by the rise of a counterculture youth. Like his peers, he returned not to parades and confetti but to a bitterly divided nation. He returned, too, angry over the deaths of his friends, over an American military policy that condoned the shooting of civilians in the jungles of Vietnam, over government deceit and distortion.
As a senator, Kerry's Vietnam experience drove him to ferret out government misdeeds, though not always with success or political acuity. He was instrumental in moving the country toward normalized relations with Vietnam in the early 1990s. Ironically, in the course of that mission (his "last" Vietnam mission, he would say), he concluded that the government he once protested was not involved in lies and cover-ups; there were no mass prisons of American soldiers secretly being held in Indochina, as many families and conspiracy theorists insisted.
Vietnam left Kerry with conflicted views about war's ultimate claim—on human life. He said he was not a pacifist. But the images of the horrors of combat, of American GIs returning in body bags, haunted him and influenced his positions on Central America in the 1980s and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Yet he has also supported U.S. military intervention, particularly in Kosovo in 1999.
His critics accuse him of straddling positions on the two biggest wars America has engaged in since Vietnam, both against the same country—Iraq. In 1991, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Kerry voted against war, then praised the quick defeat mounted by George H.W. Bush's Pentagon. In 2002, he voted for war, then condemned the invasion mounted by George W. Bush's Pentagon. "I mean, I supported disarming Saddam Hussein, but I was critical of the administration and how it did its diplomacy and so forth," he explained.
There is a brashness about Kerry that can breed resentment. Whatever the setting, John F. Kerry leaves strong opinions behind. As an antiwar activist, he was a target of Richard Nixon, who characterized the twenty-seven-year-old as "sort of a phony" but worried that he was "extremely effective." But he was also a target of what was arguably the leading antiestablishment voice of his generation, Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury, which lampooned him as a "gorgeous preppie." Among Vietnam veterans—those with whom he served and those with whom he protested—he is either revered, or reviled.
There is another side, rarely revealed, to the patrician manner and diffident carriage that compose the public face of John Kerry. Raymond L. Flynn, former mayor of Boston, has long since parted ways with Kerry since their political alliance of the 1980s. But in 1994, when Flynn was in Rome, serving as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Kerry visited Flynn's son Ray Jr. a number of times when he was hospitalized for treatment of a bipolar disorder. "He would stop by, with magazines, and talk sports and politics to Little Ray," the elder Flynn recalled.
Similarly, Toby Guzowski remembered how Kerry, in 1989, "spent many hours" at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, at the bedside of his mother, Ann Guzowski, a longtime Kerry volunteer who was being treated for terminal breast cancer. Chris Greeley, a former aide and now a lobbyist, said he experienced that solicitous side of his boss in 1986 when his mother died. "His capacity to respond when you need it can be a little overwhelming," Greeley said.
In Massachusetts as a prosecutor and in Washington as a senator, Kerry often proved himself to be a crusading and articulate investigator and lawmaker willing to stand up to prevailing political winds. Yet he is trailed by a reputation for political opportunism, symbolized by his 1971 decision to protest the war by tossing medals and ribbons over a fence at the Capitol—and then to explain away the controversial deed by declaring the medals belonged to another veteran. By bold proclamations—such as his 1992 condemnation of affirmative action and the welfare system—that were dropped when they didn't yield political firepower. By his recent, sometimes tortured, explanation of why he voted in favor of military action in Iraq but now condemns the Bush White House for it. Later, Kerry voted against an $87 billion appropriation to fund the reconstruction and U.S. presence in Iraq.
Do these actions reflect the conflicts of a powerful intellect, of a man who appreciates nuance in policy and deeds but sometimes has trouble translating it to a mass audience? Do his statements and votes on military force reflect the natural caution of a man who was severely wounded in combat, who watched men under his command die, who lost five of his best friends in a war that ended in U.S. withdrawal? Kerry, a spokesman has said, is "proud of his independence and unashamed that his resistance to orthodoxy leaves him hard to pigeonhole."
"An extensive, and in my view, very fine piece of work."Brit Hume, Fox News Channel
"Kerry campaign... is portrayed in this book for the inquisitive voter or political junkie."Campaigns & Elections
"The conscientious research in this book reveals that [these] reporters ... were out to get the facts."Washington Post
Energetically fleshes out the details of Mr. Kerry's life and career . [A] fascinating portrait.”The New York Times
"A ready guide to the Democratic nominee."National Review
"An extensive, well-documented overview"Louisville Courier-Journal
"Excellent and thoroughly researched... likely to become one of the most authoritative sources on the candidate."Library Journal
"Exhaustive, textured ... to know who ... Kerry is and what kind of president he might be, this is the book"Newhouse News Service
"Quick read ... gives a ... three-dimensional character... [the authors] have left enough new in there to keep you turning the page."ABCNews.com
- On Sale
- Feb 5, 2013
- Page Count
- 488 pages