David Talbot is the son of the former Hollywood actor, Lyle Talbot. After studying at the University of California, Santa Cruz he became a journalist. He has written for The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Interview Magazine and Playboy. David Talbot was also arts and features editor at the San Francisco Examiner, and a former senior editor at Mother Jones Magazine.
A pioneer of online journalism, David Talbot founded Salon in 1995. Salon has won numerous awards, including the Online Journalism Association's award for general excellence and investigative reporting in December 2000.
David Talbot was editor in chief and chief executive officer until February, 2005. He remains chairman of the company and is the author of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (2007), a book about the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
I have no regrets about launching Salon. For the life of me, I can't imagine doing anything else. I just came back from a media conference where Salon was the only Web company that was invited - by the Aspen Institute to this seminar that they convene every year for all major media CEOs, including Gerald Levin [of AOL Time Warner], who was kind enough to invite us this year, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. of the New York Times. While I have respect for a number of those people who were at this conference, I can't imagine working really within any of those companies because their framework for what they do has become so narrow.
I think media has become so marketing-driven and so constricting for journalists. As I told them, one of the reasons why Salon and other websites have been so successful at attracting talent from their newsrooms despite how risky it is -- particularly nowadays to go to work for a dotcom -- is because journalists were just at the end of their ropes. They felt they were completely stifled creatively because newspapers and magazines and television had become so formulaic and marketing-driven. So, I just can't imagine not doing Salon.
Do I regret taking the company public? Yes and no. Yes, because it put us under enormous pressure for a young company to go public at that point in its history, something you never could have done in the old days. We would have had to be profitable, for one thing. It does subject you to enormous scrutiny on the part of your investors and the press. Everything you do is public, by law. And it's demoralizing, often to your staff to read every little thing about the company in the press. For all those reasons it's been difficult. On the other hand, we raised $25 million by going public. It's that money that we used to build this company, to build the circulation, to build a high profile and to hire staff that made Salon what it is today. I don't think we would still be here if we hadn't gone public.
When other new brands are launched, like USA Today by Gannett or Entertainment Weekly by Time Warner, or any new magazine title or TV program, they are given a certain amount of time to find their audience and to become a successful business. The rule of thumb in the print world is that it takes between five to 10 years for a new media brand to become established. Salon was on the verge of profitability in the December quarter before the recession hit, and we will get there again, whether it's at the end of this year or sometime early next year. It's just a matter of time. Even if it takes until next year, that's about six years after our founding that it will take for us to be profitable. We've certainly become successful in every other way, editorially I think, and with our audience building - our audience is 3 1/2 million readers a month. There are not that many new media brands you can say that about nowadays.
The kill rate in the magazine world and in most sectors of the media is very high. I'm proud Salon has been able to do it. We didn't have the backing of a huge, multinational media company. All we had was the venture capital that we were able to scrap together. It usually takes between $50-$60 million -- if not more. In the case of USA Today, God knows how much Gannett spent before it finally hit the break-even point. If I had one year back to do things over again, I probably would have done the year right after our IPO differently and had been a little more careful with the way we spent in trying to build the company. Other than that one year, Salon has been very cautious about the way it spends money. For instance, since last year, we've had virtually no marketing budget. It's just word of mouth. And our circulation continues to grow that way by breaking news stories.
The other challenge we had was to establish Salon in an entirely new medium. It wasn't like we were rolling out an Entertainment Weekly in print. We were rolling out a new brand in an entirely new medium that wasn't completely untested. There was no established business models. So we've had to learn as we've gone along. The whole challenge of trying to produce something for free and then finally trying to change the model as we've been doing the last couple of months by charging readers for a premium version of Salon.
The truth is that I read Slate and Salon, or anything else for that matter, except the dead-tree New York Times - too little these days to offer any intelligent criticism, because I'm so deeply immersed in the world of John F. Kennedy for my book. So, I only have vague judgments about Web journalism in general based on my fleeting contacts with it - overall I find it shrill and superficial, a function of the triumph of the blog. There is not enough truly original thinking or reporting, not enough substantive work that challenges conventional wisdom of the right or left. Journalism in general seems dispirited these days, ground down by the relentlessly, sublimely idiotic Bush administration and the media industry's own lack of imagination. If our profession had any real bite - on or offline - Hillary Clinton would have been forced to grow some courage by now on Iraq if she wanted to remain her party's front-runner for 2008. I guess I'm dispirited, too, by journalism and politics. I'm more excited these days by long-form storytelling. I'm reading a lot of books and going to the movies—those pre-Web forms that show a lot of creative life lately.
Every Nov. 22 we are haunted by the unquiet ghost of John F. Kennedy, and last week's anniversary of his assassination was no exception. As usual, none of the flurry of press reports taking note of the mournful occasion shed any new light on what remains the greatest unsolved mystery of the 20th century. The national dialogue about the case remains stuck where Oliver Stone's explosive 1991 film "JFK" and Gerald Posner's bestselling 1993 rebuttal, "Case Closed," left it. Stone's dark dream, peopled by sinister government officials and demons from the underworld, had the virtue of channeling the deepest fears of the American public, a consistent majority of which continues to believe JFK was the victim of a conspiracy. Posner's book, which mounted a game defense of the lone gunman theory in the face of a growing body of contrary evidence, had the virtue of simplicity and calming reassurance.
Though you wouldn't know it from following the media coverage, there have been new developments in the case during the past dozen years - many of them sparked by the thousands of once secret documents released by the government as a result of the furor around Stone's film. (Millions of other pages remain bottled up in agencies like the CIA, in defiance of the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Collection Act.) Some of this recently unearthed information is now beginning to appear in new books, including "Ultimate Sacrifice," this year's most highly touted JFK assassination book.
Written by two independent researchers who spent 17 years on the book - former science fiction graphic novelist Lamar Waldron and Air America radio host Thom Hartmann - the book arrives in a blaze of publicity about its provocative conclusions. Columnist Liz Smith excitedly announced that the book was the "last word" on the Kennedy mystery.
The "revelations" in "Ultimate Sacrifice" are indeed as "startling" as the book jacket promises. The authors contend that before he was killed, President Kennedy was conspiring with a high Cuban official to overthrow Fidel Castro on Dec. 1, 1963 - a coup that would have been quickly backed up by a U.S. military invasion of the island. The plot was discovered and infiltrated by the Mafia, which then took the opportunity to assassinate JFK, knowing federal law officials (including the president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was in charge of the Cuba operation) would be blocked from pursuing the guilty mobsters out of fear that the top-secret operation would be revealed.
While the authors' thesis is provocative, it is not convincing. The Kennedys undeniably regarded Castro as a major irritant and pursued a variety of schemes to remove him, but there is no compelling evidence that the coup/invasion plan was as imminent as the authors contend. By 1963, after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and the heart-thumping nuclear brinksmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedys were in no mood for any high-stakes Cuba gambits that had the potential to come crashing down loudly around them. Before they entertained such a risky venture, they would have thrashed out the idea within a circle of their most trusted national security advisors -- a painful lesson they had learned from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a closely held plot that JFK had been steamrolled into by his top two CIA officials, Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell.
But according to Waldron and Hartmann, though the exceedingly ambitious coup/invasion plan was supposedly just days away from being implemented when Kennedy was assassinated, key U.S. military officials like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had still not been told about it. The idea that the Kennedys would seriously undertake such a risky operation without the participation of their defense secretary, a man they trusted and admired more than any other Cabinet member, defies reason. (For the record, McNamara himself has firmly rejected the notion that JFK was plotting a major Cuba intervention in late 1963, in an interview I conducted with him earlier this year for a book on the Kennedy brothers.)
The Kennedy administration was in the habit of churning out a blizzard of proposals for how to deal with the Castro problem, most of which the president never formally endorsed. It seems that Waldron and Hartmann have confused what were contingency plans for a coup in Cuba for the real deal. In fact, an exchange of government memos in early December 1963 between CIA director John McCone and State Department official U. Alexis Johnson that was released under the JFK Act - and apparently overlooked by the authors - specifically refers to the coup plot as a "contingency plan." On Dec. 6, 1963, Johnson wrote McCone, "For the past several months, an interagency staff effort has been devoted to developing a contingency plan for a coup in Cuba... The plan provides a conceptual basis for U.S. response to a Cuban military coup." The key words here are, of course, "contingency" and "conceptual basis" - neither of which suggests anything definite or fully authorized.
Waldron and Hartmann rely on two key sources for their theory about the coup plan (which they refer to as "C-Day," a code name they concede is entirely their own creation, adding to its chimerical quality) - former Secretary of State Dean Rusk and a Bay of Pigs veteran named Enrique "Harry" Ruiz-Williams, Robert Kennedy's closest friend and ally in the Cuban exile community, both of whom they interviewed before the two men's deaths. But, according to Rusk, he only learned of the coup plan after the Kennedy assassination from sources within the Johnson administration. And considering the legendary antipathy between Bobby Kennedy and Johnson loyalists like Rusk, who often portrayed the Kennedy brothers as fanatical on the subject of Castro, this testimony must be viewed with some skepticism.
Ruiz-Williams, on the other hand, was very friendly with Bobby, phoning him on a regular basis and joining the Kennedy family on ski trips. But his belief that a Kennedy-backed assault on the Castro regime was imminent might be a case of wishful thinking. While Bobby's romantic nature did open his heart to brave anti-Castro adventurers like Ruiz-Williams, RFK's hardheaded side always dominated when it came to protecting the interests of his older brother. And Bobby knew that as the 1964 election year loomed, his brother's main interest when it came to Cuba was keeping it off the front pages. That meant making sure the volatile Cuban exiles were as quiet and content as possible, which is why Bobby was working aggressively to encourage anti-Castro leaders to set up their operations in distant Central America bases, with the vague promise that the U.S. would support their efforts to return to Havana.
At the same time, the Kennedys were secretly pursuing a peace track with Castro, to the fury of the CIA officials and exile leaders who found out about it, seeing it as another blatant example of Kennedy double-dealing and appeasement. Waldron and Hartmann play down these back-channel negotiations with Castro, writing that they were failing to make progress. But the talks, which were spearheaded by a trusted Kennedy emissary at the U.N., William Attwood, were very much alive when JFK went to Dallas.
The authors further undermine their "C-Day" theory by refusing to name the high Cuban official who allegedly conspired with the Kennedy administration to overthrow Castro. They decided to withhold his name out of deference to national security laws, they write, a puzzling decision considering how long ago the Kennedy-Castro drama receded into the mists of history from the center stage of geopolitical confrontation. "We are confident that over time, the judgment of history will show that we made the right decision regarding the C-Day coup leader, and that we acted in accordance with National Security law." This flag-waving statement will surely win the hearts of anonymous bureaucrats in Langley, but it will only alienate inquisitive readers.
While bowing to "national security," Waldron and Thomas cannot help themselves from heavily implying who the Cuban coup leader was - none other than the charismatic icon of the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara, who by 1963 was chafing under Castro's heavy-handed reign and pro-Soviet tilt. If all the authors' winking and nodding about Che really is meant to point to him as the coup leader, this raises a whole other set of questions, not least of which is why the Kennedys would possibly regard the even more incendiary Guevara as a better option than Castro.
If C-Day is a stretch, the second part of the book's argument -- that the Mafia assassinated Kennedy with complete government immunity, using their inside knowledge of the top-secret plan to escape prosecution -- is even harder to swallow. Waldron and Hartmann portray a group of mobsters so brilliant and powerful they are able to manipulate national security agencies and frame one of their operatives, Lee Harvey Oswald; organize sophisticated assassination operations against JFK in three separate cities (including, finally, Dallas); and then orchestrate one of the most elaborate and foolproof coverups in history. Think of some awesome hybrid of Tony Soprano and Henry Kissinger.
It is true that Santo Trafficante, Carlos Marcello and Johnny Rosselli - the three mobsters whom the authors accuse of plotting JFK's demise - were cunning and cruel organized crime chieftains. And they hated the Kennedys for allegedly using their services and then cracking down on them. But even they lacked the ability to pull off a brazen regicide like this by themselves. And if they did, "national security concerns" might have been enough to stop investigators like Waldron and Hartmann, but never Bobby Kennedy, whose protective zeal toward his brother was legendary. All the attorney general would have had to do was explain the national security concerns in the judge's private chambers, and once the coup plan was safely under wraps, his prosecutors would have been free to take the gloves off and go after his brother's murderers.
We appreciate the serious coverage of "Ultimate Sacrifice" in Salon.com, but there are several assertions and omissions in the review written by David Talbot that we'd like to address.
"Ultimate Sacrifice" presents evidence from thousands of pages of declassified documents that John and Robert Kennedy planned to stage a coup against Castro on Dec. 1, 1963, and that the plan was infiltrated by three Mafia bosses (from the mob families that controlled Chicago, Tampa and Dallas). The Mafia chiefs then used parts of the coup plan, including some U.S. intelligence assets, in their plot to kill JFK - first trying in Chicago, then Tampa, and finally Dallas - in a way that forced a coverup to protect national security, and the coup plan. The documentary evidence is backed up by accounts from almost two dozen Kennedy associates involved in aspects of those events, and their aftermath.
The most glaring omission in Talbot's review was not addressing or even mentioning AMWORLD, the CIA's code name for their supporting role in the Kennedy coup plan in 1963. AMWORLD is a major focus of the book. "Ultimate Sacrifice" not only reveals this recently declassified operation for the first time, but documents that it was withheld from the Warren Commission and later congressional investigating committees.
AMWORLD, which began on June 28, 1963, was an integral part of the Kennedys' plan for a coup in Cuba and it's impossible to consider one without the other. Coup planning began in January 1963 as a slow-moving, bureaucratic exercise, and the plan was only in its fourth draft by June 1963. But that month, planning began in earnest after the real opportunity for a high-level coup arose. After the CIA created AMWORLD, millions of dollars began to be devoted to the coup plan. From that point forward, coup planning proceeded rapidly, demonstrating that it had become a live operation. By September 1963 the "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" was in its 13th draft, and the rapid pace accelerated further, continuing through November of 1963. (After JFK's death, the CIA kept the AMWORLD code name, but without the involvement of Robert Kennedy and other key figures, the plan changed radically.)
The most important of our five sources who actively worked on the coup plan was the Kennedys' top Cuban exile aide, Enrique "Harry" Ruiz-Williams (who asked us to always call him "Harry"). Talbot acknowledged in his review that Harry was close to RFK, but says that Harry's "belief that a Kennedy-backed assault on the Castro regime was imminent might be a case of wishful thinking." That's not what the evidence demonstrates. Harry's account - and that of the others - is backed up by many declassified coup plan and AMWORLD documents that talk about them and the operation. High-level AMWORLD documents from November 1963 say that "all US plans (were) being coordinated through" Harry and he had been "so named by Robert Kennedy."
By Nov. 22, 1963, millions of dollars had been spent on the coup plan, hundreds of Cuban-American troops had been trained, U.S. assets were going into Cuba, and everything was ready. As noted in the book, a long-overlooked Washington Post article confirms that Harry's work "had reached an important point" by November 22, when Harry "participated in the most crucial of a series of secret meetings with top-level CIA and government people about Cuba." Harry and other Kennedy associates told us he was going into Cuba the following day, to await the Dec. 1, 1963, coup - a date consistent with what we were told by others who worked with RFK on the coup plan and which is contained in an AMWORLD memo from JFK's CIA director.
Talbot seems skeptical of the coup plan because JFK's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told him he didn't know about a "major Cuban intervention" in late 1963. Talbot also questions the credibility of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who first told us about the coup plan in 1990. However, Talbot didn't mention that Rusk gave an on-the-record confirmation of the coup plan to Anthony Summers for Vanity Fair in 1994, three years before the first "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" documents were declassified. Rusk even explained to Summers why the Kennedys pursued the coup plan and secret peace negotiations with Castro at the same time, saying, "It was just an either/or situation. That went on frequently," though Rusk told Summers that in doing so, "the Kennedys 'were playing with fire.'"
As the book explains, we have only identified a dozen people so far who were fully informed about the coup plan prior to JFK's death, and McNamara wasn't one of them. Evidence indicates the only military figures who were fully informed include Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Defense Intelligence Agency chief Gen. Joseph Carroll, and Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance. Rusk told us he only learned about the coup plan after JFK's death. Still, Rusk and his subordinates - and other officials - had helped to shape the coup plan while JFK was alive, having been told it was being developed in case the CIA found a powerful Cuban official willing to stage a coup against Castro. That's why Talbot was in error when he wrote we must "have confused what were contingency plans for a coup in Cuba for the real deal."
The coup plan was so serious that in the days and weeks before Dallas, Robert Kennedy had a secret committee making plans for dealing with the possible "assassination of American officials" if Castro found out and tried to retaliate. The same people working on those plans were also working on the coup plan and AMWORLD. While Talbot didn't mention those plans in his review, we did include a Nov. 12, 1963, document from that committee in our excerpt, which Salon was kind enough to run.
Our book cites documents totaling thousands of pages from the National Archives, which we encourage people to view for themselves. A reader of Talbot's review might get the impression that we pieced together our story of AMWORLD and the "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" from the documents released in the mid- to late 1990s, but that is not correct. Starting in 1990, we were told about the coup plan and the CIA by Dean Rusk and other Kennedy associates, long before any of the documents were released. We made public presentations about the coup plan and the CIA's role in it beginning in 1993, at historical conferences, on the History Channel, and in Vanity Fair, to draw attention to the documents that remained unreleased. When the coup plan documents finally started being declassified in 1997, they included the same people and phrases ("Plan for a Coup in Cuba") we'd been using for years.
Bryan Burrough’s laudatory review of Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the Kennedy assassination (May 20) is superficial and gratuitously insulting. “Conspiracy theorists” — blithe generalization — should according to Burroughs be “ridiculed, even shunned ... marginalized the way we’ve marginalized smokers.” Let’s see now. The following people to one degree or another suspected that President Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy, and said so either publicly or privately: Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon; Attorney General Robert Kennedy; John Kennedy’s widow, Jackie; his special adviser dealing with Cuba at the United Nations, William Attwood; F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover (!); Senators Richard Russell (a Warren Commission member), and Richard Schweiker and Gary Hart (both of the Senate Intelligence Committee); seven of the eight congressmen on the House Assassinations Committee and its chief counsel, G. Robert Blakey; the Kennedy associates Joe Dolan, Fred Dutton, Richard Goodwin, Pete Hamill, Frank Mankiewicz, Larry O’Brien, Kenneth O’Donnell and Walter Sheridan; the Secret Service agent Roy Kellerman, who rode with the president in the limousine; the presidential physician, Dr. George Burkley; Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago; Frank Sinatra; and the “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt. All of the above, à la Burrough, were idiots.
Not so, of course. Most of them were close to the events and people concerned, and some had privileged access to evidence and intelligence that threw doubt on the “lone assassin” version. That doubt remains today. Bugliosi himself this year joined us, Don DeLillo, Gerald Posner, Robert Blakey and two dozen other writers on the assassination in signing an open letter that appeared in the March 15 issue of The New York Review of Books. The letter focused on a specific unresolved lead, the discovery that a highly regarded C.I.A. officer named George Joannides was in 1963 running an anti-Castro exile group that had a series of encounters with Oswald shortly before the assassination.
This is obviously pertinent, yet the C.I.A. hid the fact from four J.F.K. investigations. Since 1998, when the agency did reluctantly disclose the merest outline of what Joannides was up to, it has energetically stonewalled a Freedom of Information suit to obtain the details of its officer’s activities. Here we are in 2007, 15 years after Congress unanimously approved the J.F.K. Assassination Records Act mandating the “immediate” release of all assassination-related records, and the C.I.A. is claiming in federal court that it has the right not to do so.
And now your reviewer, Burrough, seems to lump together all those who question the official story as marginal fools. Burrough’s close-minded stance should be unacceptable to every historian and journalist worthy of the name — especially at a time when a federal agency is striving vigorously to suppress very relevant information.
On Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, Robert F. Kennedy—J.F.K.'s younger brother, Attorney General and devoted watchman—was eating lunch at Hickory Hill, his Virginia home, when he got the news from Dallas. It was his archenemy, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, of all people, who phoned to tell him. "The President's been shot," Hoover curtly said. Bobby later recalled, "I think he told me with pleasure."
For the rest of the day and night, Bobby Kennedy would wrestle with his howling grief while using whatever power was still left him to figure out what really happened in Dallas—before the new Administration settled firmly into place under the command of another political enemy, Lyndon Johnson. While the Attorney General's aides summoned federal Marshals to surround R.F.K.'s estate (they no longer trusted the Secret Service or the FBI)—uncertain of whether the President's brother would be the next target—Bobby feverishly gathered information. He worked the phones at Hickory Hill, talking to people who had been in the presidential motorcade; he conferred with a succession of government officials and aides while waiting for Air Force One to return with the body of his brother; he accompanied his brother's remains to the autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he took steps to take control of medical evidence, including the President's brain; and he stayed coiled and awake in the White House until early the next morning. Lit up with the clarity of shock, the electricity of adrenaline, he constructed the outlines of the crime. Bobby Kennedy would become America's first J.F.K. assassination-conspiracy theorist.
The President's brother quickly concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin, had not acted alone. And Bobby immediately suspected the CIA's secret war on Fidel Castro as the source of the plot. At his home that Friday afternoon, Bobby confronted CIA Director John McCone, asking him point-blank whether the agency had killed J.F.K. (McCone denied it.) Later, R.F.K. ordered aides to explore a possible Mafia connection to the crime. And in a revealing phone conversation with Harry Ruiz-Williams, a trusted friend in the anti-Castro movement, Kennedy said bluntly, "One of your guys did it." Though the CIA and the FBI were already working strenuously to portray Oswald as a communist agent, Bobby Kennedy rejected this view. Instead, he concluded Oswald was a member of the shadowy operation that was seeking to overthrow Castro.
Bobby knew that a dark alliance—the CIA, the Mafia and militant Cuban exiles—had formed to assassinate Castro and force a regime change in Havana. That's because President Kennedy had given his brother the Cuban portfolio after the CIA's Bay of Pigs fiasco. But Bobby, who would begin some days by dropping by the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Va., on his way to the Justice Department, never managed to get fully in control of the agency's sprawling, covert war on Castro. Now, he suspected, this underground world—where J.F.K. was despised for betraying the anti-Castro cause—had spawned his brother's assassination.
As Kennedy slowly emerged from his torment over Dallas and resumed an active role in public life—running for U.S. Senator from New York in 1964 and then President in 1968—he secretly investigated his brother's assassination. He traveled to Mexico City, where he gathered information about Oswald's mysterious trip there before Dallas. He met with conspiracy researcher Penn Jones Jr., a crusading Texas newspaperman, in his Senate office. He returned to the Justice Department with his ace investigator Walter Sheridan to paw through old files. He dispatched trusted associates to New Orleans to report to him on prosecutor Jim Garrison's controversial reopening of the case. Kennedy told confidants that he himself would reopen the investigation into the assassination if he won the presidency, believing it would take the full powers of the office to do so. As Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once observed, no one of his era knew more than Bobby about "the underground streams through which so much of the actuality of American power darkly coursed: the FBI, CIA, the racketeering unions and the Mob." But when it came to his brother's murder, Bobby never got a chance to prove his case.
Finally, in this regard, I must comment on the book's treatment of JFK and Mary Meyer. I was quite surprised that, as with Sheridan, Talbot swallowed the whole apple on this one. As I have written, (The Assassinations pgs 338-345), any serious chronicler has to be just as careful with this episode as with Judith Exner -- and to his credit, Talbot managed to avoid that disinformation filled land mine. Before criticizing him on this, and before I get smeared by people like John Simkin, I want to make a public confession. I actually believed the Meyer nonsense at one time. In fact, to my everlasting chagrin, I discussed it -- Timothy Leary and all -- at a talk I did in San Francisco about a year after Oliver Stone's JFK came out. It wasn't until I began to examine who Leary was, who his associates were, and how he fit into the whole explosion of drugs into the USA in the sixties and seventies that I began to question who he was. In light of this, I then reexamined his Mary Meyer story, and later the whole legerdemain around this fanciful tale. Thankfully, Talbot does not go into the whole overwrought "mystery" about her death and her mythologized diary. But he eagerly buys into everything else. Yet to do this, one has to believe some rather unbelievable people. And you then have to ignore their credibility problems so your more curious readers won't ask any questions. For if they do the whole edifice starts to unravel.
Foremost among this motley crew is Leary. As I was the first to note, there is a big problem with his story about Meyer coming to him in 1962 for psychedelic drugs. Namely, he didn't write about it for 21 years previous --until 1983. He wrote about 25 books in the meantime. (Sort of like going through 25 FBI, Secret Service, and DPD interviews before you suddenly recall seeing Oswald on the sixth floor.) Yet it was not until he hooked up with the likes of Gordon Liddy that he suddenly recalled, with vivid memory, supplying Mary with LSD and her mentioning of her high official friend and commenting, "They couldn't control him any more. He was changing too fast" etc. etc. etc. Another surprising source Talbot uses here is none other than CIA counter-intelligence chief James Angleton, the guy who was likely handling Oswald until 1962. Talbot actually quotes the nutty Cold Warrior, Kennedy antagonist and Warren Commission cover up artist waxing poetic about Kennedy being in love with Mary: "They were in love ... they had something very important." (p. 199) This from a man who, later on, Talbot admits loathed JFK and actually thought he was a Soviet agent.! (p. 275). A further dubious source is Jim Truitt, the former friend of Ben Bradlee who used to work for him at the Washington Post and was also friends with Angleton. Consider: Truitt had been trying to discredit President Kennedy while he was alive by saying he was previously married and had it covered up. In fact, he had pushed this fatuous story on Bradlee. And it appears that Truitt then started the whole drug angle of the story as a way of getting back at Bradlee and the Post for firing him. By 1969 he was so unstable that his wife sought a conservatorship for him and then divorced him in 1971. Truitt tried to get a job with the CIA and when he did not he moved to Mexico into a colony of former CIA agents. There he grew and smoked the mescaline-based hallucinogenic drug peyote. This was his sorry state when he first reported to the press about the "turned on" Meyer/JFK romance. He then shot himself in 1981. Here you have a guy who was a long-time Kennedy basher, became mentally unstable, was a CIA wannabe, and was planting and taking hallucinogenics with other CIA agents-- and then accuses JFK of doing the same, 14 years after the fact. Some witness, huh? I don't even want to mention the last major source Talbot uses to complete this rickety shack. I have a hard time even typing his name. But I have to. Its sleazy biographer David Heymann. Heymann wrote one of the very worst books ever published on Bobby Kennedy, and has made a lucrative career out of trashing the Kennedy family. For me, Heymann is either a notch above or below the likes of Kitty Kelley. But when you're that low, who's measuring?