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Five Angry Letters to the Editor (EXCERPT)

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As revealed in The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the historian, Democratic Party activist, and presidential adviser (1917-2007) wielded his pen as a literary weapon -- for criticism, for influence, for chiding, for self-advancement, for righting wrongs and for waving the flag of progressivism. In the following letters from the book, Schlesinger excoriates editors of eminent publications for misrepresentations and falsehoods which could damage his reputation or the reputations of his friends, in the process belittling the liberal movement. He also felt it incumbent upon himself as a historian to correct errors seeping into the public record.

Other recipients of letters collected in the Random House book and edited by his two sons Andrew and Stephen Schlesinger, include John, Robert, and Jacqueline Kennedy, Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Gore Vidal, Bill Buckley, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Katharine Graham.

To the editors of Newsweek:

August 26, 1960
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Gentlemen:

The item concerning me in The Periscope of August 29 is a fabrication. You state that relations between myself and Senator Kennedy have been "strained," that I was "hurt" because Kennedy "rejected" the draft of an acceptance speech. It is not true that relations between myself and Senator Kennedy have been "strained." It is not true that I was "hurt" at any use or non-use of counsel I have ever given to Senator Kennedy or to anyone else in politics. My theory of political consultation has always been that the advisor serves the principal and not himself. The man who must take public responsibility for the utterance has every right - indeed, every duty - to say what he himself wants to say. No one who does not unreservedly accept this should ever try to advise public persons.

What is as shocking as the story itself is the clear implication - conveyed by such phrases as Schlesinger "now admits" and "that's all patched up now, Schlesinger says" - that I was the source of this so-called information. I never said these things, and no one from Newsweek ever checked the story with me or discussed it in any other way. To invent statements of a defamatory sort and then to attribute them to the person defamed is enterprising but hardly responsible journalism.

Sincerely yours,
Arthur Schlesinger jr.

Schlesinger sent a copy of this letter to Kennedy, saying, "The only pride I have in political authorship is my profound imperviousness to what is done (or not done) to anything I submit. The man who has to accept responsibility for the utterance must have it as he likes it; there is no other way."

To Arnold Gingrich:

Arnold Gingrich (1903-76) was cofounder and editor of Esquire magazine and later its publisher. His writers included Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, and Norman Mailer.

August 5, 1969
[New York, New York]
Dear Mr. Gingrich:

I have your letter of July 9 - addressed to Arthur "Schlessinger"- asking me to give you, apparently for nothing, my notion of what our greatest challenge will be in the 1970s. This is the most recent in a series of requests from your magazine that I make some unpaid contribution to your columns. Let me candidly say that I can think of many better objects for literary philanthropy than Esquire. I do not think your magazine is any good; and I am astonished, in any case, that you should expect me to give things to a magazine which, so far as I can recall, has not mentioned me for years without misrepresentation or insult.

Please stop sending me these idiotic requests.

Sincerely yours,
Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

To A.M. Rosenthal:

A.M Rosenthal (1922-2006) was managing editor and executive editor of the New York Times from 1969-88.

12 April 1984
[New York City]
Dear Abe:
The Times is the newspaper of record. Is it not therefore obligated to run full and accurate texts of documents? If Barry Goldwater writes Bill Casey that he is "pissed off," or if Nixon recalls telling Eisenhower to "shit or get off the pot," should the Times really edit or expurgate their remarks, however offensive the words may be? Historians depend on the Times, and the Times must not let history down.
Best regards,
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

To the editor of People Magazine:

People magazine reported that Jean Kennedy Smith had "endured infidelity and anger" from her husband for years and was estranged from him before he died from cancer. This false report about his very good friends enraged Schlesinger.

25 May 1991
[New York, New York]
To the Editor:

I don't know from what sewer People dredges up its weekly budget of misinformation; but the magazine really surpasses itself in its comment in the 17 May issue on the marriage of Stephen Smith and Jean Kennedy.

For the last twenty years we saw more of Steve and Jean Smith than we did of any other couple. We dined with them, went to the theater and the movies with them, played tennis with them, spent weekends with them, took holidays with them in America and in Europe. People's picture of the Smith marriage could hardly be more false. The idea that the couple "started living apart, and before long . . . were completely estranged" is fantasy. So too is the notion, as any New Yorker can tell you, that Jean Smith ever "stopped venturing out into the world." So too is People's account of the Smith children "ensconced in elite prep schools"; three out of four Smith children were at home till they went off to college, and a fourth spent only two years away at prep school.

The Smith family is a cohesive and devoted family, and Steve and Jean Smith had a lively and joyous marriage, mutually loving and mutually reinforcing.

People should be ashamed of itself, if your magazine retains any capacity for shame.

Alexandra Emmet Schlesinger
and
Arthur Schlesinger,

To the editor of The Economist:

On February 3, 1997, Pamela Churchill Harriman suffered a massive brain hemorrhage at the Ritz health club in Paris, where she served as ambassador, and died the next day. The Economist published an obituary on February 8, 1997, saying:

"If you collect a dozen or so of Pamela Harriman's lovers and put them around a dinner table, you had the makings of a world government. . . . Mrs. Harriman's life was an astonishing tale of sex, money and - far sweeter than both these coarse commodities - power. . . . Doubtless she was expert between the sheets. . . . Was there not always, at the very back of her mind, just a nagging feeling that she was being laughed at, even scorned?"

Schlesinger was offended by the vulgarity of the notice and dashed off a letter to the editor in defense of a friend and a historical reputation.

11 February 1997
[New York, New York]

To the Editor:

The Economist should be ashamed of itself. We had not realized over here that the scurrility of the London tabloids, the worst press in the English-speaking world, is beginning to corrupt 25 St James's Street. The obituary for Pamela Harriman is a masterpiece of cheapness and irrelevance.

You omit the salient fact that Pamela Harriman was a woman of considerable ability and public spirit, as her success as US ambassador to Paris demonstrated. When she was offered Paris, she asked for the best academic briefing and spent hours with Stanley Hoffman of Harvard and Nicholas Wahl of New York University. A woman who might well have passed her life at fashion shows and fashionable parties, she devoted herself in a conscientious and effective way to politics and government. Is it really an impeachment of character that she was among the first to spot the potentialities of Bill Clinton?

Sincerely yours,
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) was an American historian and social critic whose work explored the American liberalism of political leaders including Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. Schlesinger served as special assistant to President Kennedy from 1961 to 1963. He wrote a detailed account of the Kennedy administration, from the transition period to the president's state funeral, titled A Thousand Days, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. The author of more than nineteen books, he won a second Pulitzer in 1946 for his book The Age of Jackson.