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The Kennedy Assassination Tapesby Lyndon Baines Johnson
Synopses & Reviews
1963 November 22
The day began on a note of keen anticipation. Friday, after all, would take the presidential entourage into Dallas, that unrivaled bank and bastion of anti-Kennedy sentiment. It wasn't simply the distinction of having been the only large American city to favor Richard Nixon over John Kennedy in the 1960 election that indelibly tagged Dallas. No, it was the sheer emotion and staggering wealth of its opposition in the three years since then that made the city synonymous with Kennedy's bitterest critics. Above and beyond its role as a wellspring for anti-Communism, and anti-Communist paranoia, Dallas was the fount of some of the ugliest anti-Kennedy vitriol in circulation.
Foremost in everyone's mind on the morning of November 22 was Adlai Stevenson's visit to Dallas on October 24. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, an experienced politician in his own right, had encountered hostility before on the campaign trail. But it was nothing compared with the mob that descended on him as he left the Dallas municipal auditorium after delivering a speech in favor of U.S. participation in the UN. One well-dressed woman hit him on the head with a placard, and a college student spat in his face. Are these human beings or animals? Stevenson muttered as he wiped the spittle off. Afterward he pretended to treat the incident with aplomb, but privately he was shaken to the core. He had never encountered the kind of mindless, raw hate he saw on display in Dallas.
The Stevenson incident might have remained an isolated black eye but for a coincidental development. In a telling reflection of their growing influence and reach, the national news shows sponsored by CBS and NBC had recently expanded their nightly broadcasts from fifteen to thirty minutes. Just a few weeks before, the shoving and spitting would in all likelihood have remained a local story, filmed as it was by a local TV station. But the networks' suddenly larger appetite for graphic footage turned the story into a lead item, in the new way that many Americans were getting their news. Virtually overnight Dallas awoke to find itself stigmatized, its reputation for intolerance indelibly fixed in the national imagination. It was a revealing clue as to the stunning power of a new medium.
The White House's script for the day called for a direct, ideological assault on the president's right-wing critics; in a sense, it was to be Kennedy's opening salvo against the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination in 1964, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, easily the most conservative GOP candidate since Robert Taft. The White House press corps seemed poised to play its role in propagating the day's message, too. The advance text of the luncheon speech to be delivered at the Dallas Trade Mart pointedly criticized voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, and was generating the desired buzz among the reporters. There was every reason to believe they would take the bait and make the president's challenge the lead of every story datelined Dallas. Only one possible development threatened to intrude on this Daniel-walking-into-the-lion's-den theme, and that was a replay of the previous day's public feud between Texas Democrats.
Since the end of Reconstruction, Texas had been a on
Published in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the Warren Commission Report, a full transcript of the conversations of Lyndon Johnson regarding the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath ranges from the day of the killing to 1967, chronicling the president's contentious dealings with Robert Kennedy, his relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy, and the investigation into the crime.
A major work of documentary history–the brilliantly edited and annotated transcripts, most of them never before published, of the presidential conversations of Lyndon B. Johnson regarding the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath.
The transition from John F. Kennedy to Johnson was arguably the most wrenching and, ultimately, one of the most bitter in the nation’s history. As Johnson himself said later, “I took the oath, I became president. But for millions of Americans I was still illegitimate, a naked man with no presidential covering, a pretender to the throne….The whole thing was almost unbearable.”
In this book, Max Holland, a leading authority on the assassination and longtime Washington journalist, presents the momentous telephone calls President Johnson made and received as he sought to stabilize the country and keep the government functioning in the wake of November 22, 1963. The transcripts begin on the day of the assassination, and reveal the often chaotic activity behind the scenes as a nation in shock struggled to come to terms with the momentous events. The transcripts illuminate Johnson’s relationship with Robert F. Kennedy, which flared instantly into animosity; the genuine warmth of his dealings with Jacqueline Kennedy; his contact with the FBI and CIA directors; and the advice he sought from friends and mentors as he wrestled with the painful transition.
We eavesdrop on all the conversations–including those with leading journalists–that persuaded Johnson to abandon his initial plan to let Texas authorities investigate the assassination. Instead, we observe how he abruptly established a federal commission headed by a very reluctant chief justice of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren. We also learn how Johnson cajoled and drafted other prominent men–among them Senator Richard Russell (who detested Warren), Allen Dulles, John McCloy, and Gerald Ford–into serving.
We see a sudden president under unimaginable pressure, contending with media frenzy and speculation on a worldwide scale. We witness the flow of inaccurate information–some of it from J. Edgar Hoover–amid rumors and theories about foreign involvement. And we glimpse Johnson addressing the mounting criticism of the Warren Commission after it released its still-controversial report in September 1964.
The conversations rendered here are nearly verbatim, and have never been explained so thoroughly. No passages have been deleted except when they veered from the subject. Brought together with Holland’s commentaries, they make riveting, hugely revelatory reading.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Max Holland has worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., for more than twenty years. In 2001, he won the
J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for a forthcoming narrative history of the Warren Commission. He is a contributing editor at The Nation and The Wilson Quarterly, and his articles have also appeared in The Atlantic, American Heritage, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe. From 1998 to 2003 he was a research fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs. His work has also been supported by fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. This is is his third book. He lives with his wife and daughter in Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Biography » Presidents and Heads of State