The Jackie Kennedy Tapes and the Media's Double Standard

The day before the release of Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, the Washington Post’s “Reliable Source” column ran a few of the juicier tidbits from Mrs. Kennedy’s taped interviews. Among those tidbits: “She calls [Martin Luther] King ‘a phony.'”

Oh, but don’t worry! The Post wants us all to know that Jackie’s opinions, about King and other prominent figures of her time, “aren’t that shocking.” A little “catty,” maybe. “But,” the writers add helpfully, “they underscore that Jackie was smarter and more politically astute than she let on.”

Time for Round 5,290,367 of “If a Republican Had Said That … ” Because you know exactly what would have happened if a Republican had. Adjectives like “smart” and “astute” wouldn’t be allowed within a hundred miles of the conversation. On the contrary, such remarks about a civil rights leader would be taken as incontrovertible proof that said Republican’s entire party was made up of hateful, ignorant Neanderthals, none of whom deserved to be elected dogcatcher.

In fact, because God has a sense of humor, this article was published in the print version of the Post on the same day that papers around the country–the Post included–ran a smear about Sarah Palin’s alleged racism, courtesy of author Joe McGinniss and cartoonist Garry Trudeau. Show of hands: Who expects either man to give Jackie Kennedy the same treatment any time soon? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Interestingly, the Post doesn’t even bother to give context for Mrs. Kennedy’s remark. Other sources explain that she had a poor opinion of King because of various rumors and allegations she had heard about him, which, if they don’t excuse the remark, at least help explain where she was coming from. But apparently the “Reliable Source” columnists didn’t think we needed to know that. All we need to know is that Jackie is still tops with them, whatever she thought or said, for whatever reason she said it.

To many people, the whole Kennedy family will always be sacrosanct, no matter what unsavory truths come out about them. If I’ve learned nothing else from belonging to an extended family full of Catholic Democrats, I’ve learned that. But one would hope–perhaps even dare to expect–that journalists would eschew that sort of nostalgic hero-worship. Unfortunately, one would be wrong.

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