Profiles in Courage


Questions have been raised about how much of the book was truly written by Kennedy and how much by his research assistants. On December 7, 1957,[7] journalist Drew Pearson appeared as a guest on The Mike Wallace Interview and made the following claim live on air: "John F. Kennedy is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him."[8] Wallace replied: "You know for a fact, Drew, that the book Profiles in Courage was written for Senator Kennedy ... by someone else?" Pearson responded that he did and that Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote the book. Wallace responded: "And Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for it? And he never acknowledged the fact?" Pearson replied: "No, he has not. You know, there's a little wisecrack around the Senate about Jack ... some of his colleagues say, 'Jack, I wish you had a little less profile and more courage.'"[8]

It was later reported that the statement "I wish that Kennedy had a little less profile and more courage" was actually made by former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.[9]

Joseph P. Kennedy saw the broadcast, then called his lawyer, Clark Clifford, yelling: "Sue the bastards for fifty million dollars!"[8] Soon Clifford and Robert Kennedy showed up at ABC and told executives that the Kennedys would sue unless the network issued a full retraction and apology. Mike Wallace and Drew Pearson insisted that the story was true and refused to back off. Nevertheless, ABC made the retraction and apology, which made Wallace furious.[8]

According to "The Straight Dope", Herbert Parmet later analyzed the text of Profiles in Courage and wrote in his book Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980) that although Kennedy did oversee the production and provided for the direction and message of the book, it was clearly Sorensen who provided most of the work that went into the end product.[10] The thematic essays that comprise the first and last chapters "may be viewed largely as [Kennedy's] own work", however.[5]:401

In addition to Kennedy’s speechwriter Sorensen, Jacqueline Kennedy recruited her history instructor from Georgetown University, Jules Davids, to work on the project. Davids told a Kennedy biographer that he and Sorensen had researched and written drafts of most of the book. Kennedy's handwritten notes, which Senator Kennedy showed to reporters to prove his authorship, are now in the Kennedy Library, but are mostly preliminary notes about John Quincy Adams, a particular interest of Kennedy's, and are not a readable draft of the chapter on Adams. During the six-month period when the book was being written, Sorensen worked full-time on the project, sometimes twelve-hour days; Kennedy spent most of the same period travelling, campaigning, or hospitalized. Kennedy’s preserved notes show that he kept up with the book’s progress, but historian Garry Wills remarked that Kennedy’s notes contain no draft of any stage of the manuscript, or of any substantial part of it.[11]

In Sorensen's autobiography, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, he said he wrote "a first draft of most of the chapters" of Profiles in Courage and "helped choose the words of many of its sentences".[12][13] Sorensen also wrote: "While in Washington, I received from Florida almost daily instructions and requests by letter and telephone – books to send, memoranda to draft, sources to check, materials to assemble, and Dictaphone drafts or revisions of early chapters." (Sorensen, p. 146) Sorensen wrote that Kennedy "worked particularly hard and long on the first and last chapters, setting the tone and philosophy of the book". Kennedy "publicly acknowledged in his introduction to the book my extensive role in its composition". (p. 147) Sorensen claimed that in May 1957, Kennedy "unexpectedly and generously offered, and I happily accepted, a sum to be spread over several years, that I regarded as more than fair" for his work on the book. Indeed, this supported a long-standing recognition of the collaborative effort that Kennedy and Sorensen had developed since 1953.

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