Ben Bradlee: A cautionary tale of JFK's courtier

For much of the book Bradlee seemed impossibly star-struck. For example, Bradlee described flying with the Kennedys to Hyannis Port in 1959, arriving well after midnight. JFK headed to the refrigerator and hauled out a huge container of clam chowder. “We watched in fascination as he gulped down four large bowls, one after the other,” Bradlee wrote. “In anyone else it would have been gluttonous.”

On the night of the 1960 West Virginia primary, the Bradlees went to a movie with the Kennedys, then took a bottle of champagne to JFK’s Georgetown home for a private celebration. (Bradlee was covering the race for Newsweek.) When word came of Kennedy’s victory, “modest war whoops were let fly,” the champagne was popped, and Kennedy asked if the Bradlees would like to join him on his private plane to West Virginia. “Would we ever!” Bradlee wrote.

Bradlee didn’t tiptoe up to the line of journalistic propriety in his relationship with Kennedy; he stomped all over it. Not content to write glowing accounts of Kennedy’s campaign, Bradlee also gave JFK private intel on the opposition. In May 1959, after covering a speech by Democratic rival Lyndon Johnson, Bradlee wrote a confidential strategy memo to Kennedy assessing Johnson’s performance and offering advice on convention plans.