TCS Daily

The Myth of the Man

By Sidney Goldberg - December 10, 2002 12:00 AM

The disclosure of the illnesses and medications relating to John F. Kennedy set off a great gasp in the press - front page stories everywhere. Of course, much, if not most, of this information was available to the press at least 40 years ago, but almost none of it was pursued.

The handiest place to find this decades-old information is in "JFK: The Man and the Myth," by the late Victor Lasky. Published in September, 1963, it was the phenomenal best seller of the year, even though it remained in print for only three months. Despite the short run, it was Number 3 in books sold for the entire year, ironically just ahead of "Profiles in Courage: the Inaugural Edition," by John F. Kennedy, which was fourth for the year.

The reason for the short run was that Macmillan, the publisher, decided that the Lasky book was in bad taste, considering the tragic death of the President, and so it immediately stopped printing it, and simultaneously the book disappeared from countertops in book stores across the country.

This was unprecedented - withdrawing a book not because of errors but because of purported political bad taste. It was still during the period that Dallas was regarded as the "city of hate" and somehow Kennedy's death was attributed to a right-wing vendetta, when the fact was he was killed by a left-wing lunatic who had forsworn his citizenship to defect to the Soviet Union, returning to America to avenge old scores.

One would think that the press would have been in an uproar over what can only be called a "book burning." In the end, what's the difference if it's accomplished by the government or by a major publisher, with the support of the book retailers, and the quiet acquiescence of the journalistic community, which never liked Lasky because he was a truculent, unremitting anti-Communist, and never hesitated to wage war on Communist front organizations and sympathizers. Lasky would refer to anti-Communist colleagues, with no spin, as "good Red baiters."

It was barely a decade later that the establishment press was in a competitive frenzy to expose any wrongdoings of the Nixon administration, which required lots of money and energy on the part of the investigative journalists. On the other hand, with JFK, there was a clear road map concerning his medications and illnesses, almost an EZPass to getting the big stories. But nobody touched it. The book is full of startling revelations, either never or sparsely reported before, not only on Kennedy's health but on his personal and political lives.

"As a child," Lasky wrote in "JFK: The Man and the Myth," "Jack was constantly plagued by bad health. In those years he had to stay in bed, first after scarlet fever and later with what he described as 'some blood infection that left me lacking in white corpuscles.' He never complained when he was sick; he had already developed a stoical attitude toward pain."

Lasky reprints most of the February, 1961, article by Paul Martin, Washington Bureau Chief of the Gannett newspapers, which cited an article called "Management of Adrenocortical Insufficiency During Surgery," written by four doctors in the AMA Archives of Surgery.

The AMA article, as reprinted in the Lasky book, went: "A man 37 years of age had Addison's Disease for seven years. He had been managed fairly successfully for several years on a program of desoxycorticosterone acetate pellets of 150 mg. implanted every three months and cortisone in doses of 25 mg. daily orally.

"Owing to a back injury, he had a great deal of pain which interfered with his daily routine. Orthopedic consultation suggested that he might be helped by a lumbosacral fusion together with a sacroiliac fusion.

"Because of the severe degree of trauma involved in these operations, and because of the patient's adrenocortical insufficiency due to Addison's Disease, it was deemed dangerous to proceed with these operations."

Nevertheless, at JFK's insistence, the doctors went ahead with the operation and the AMA report concluded: "This case is noteworthy because desoxycorticosterone provided a check rein on the tendency to develop salt loss and arterial hypertension. Desoxycorticosterone, it will be recalled, is an adrenocortical-like steroid that permits reabsorption of salt in the kidneys so that urinary salt loss is minimized.

"Though this patient had marked adrenocortical insufficiency, though the magnitude of his surgery was great, and though complications ensued postoperatively, this patient had a smooth postoperative course insofar as no Addisonian crisis ever developed."

The patient so described, of course, was John F. Kennedy, but Kennedy, his brother Robert, and his White House courtiers continued to deny flat-out that he had Addison's Disease. To the contrary, they insisted that he was in the greatest health, the embodiment of "vigor."

The press was mesmerized by Kennedy, and it was the rare reporter who challenged the gospel. James MacGregor Burns, Kennedy's biographer, wrote in the April 2, 1961, New Republic: "The adjectives tumble over one another. He is not only the handsomest, the best-dressed, the most articulate, and graceful as a gazelle. He is omniscient; he swallows and digests whole books in minutes; he confounds experts with his superior knowledge of their field. He is omnipotent."

The press's love affair with Kennedy has lasted more than four decades, and despite the dissembling and lying by JFK and his White House groupies concerning his health, on a scale equivalent to Clinton's lying about sex (and JFK and his protectors were no slackers in that area), the honeymoon continues - so that the press is "shocked, shocked, shocked" when any facts emerge to disrupt the conventional image. When the facts were originally set before them, they were ignored, and the one who was punished was the messenger.

Sidney Goldberg is a New York media consultant who for many years was Senior Vice President of United Media for Syndication. United Media syndicates and licenses Peanuts, Dilbert, and many other graphic and text properties.

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