JFK's Pulitzer May Say a Lot About His Character

But not in a flattering way, according to a new book
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2020 1:44 PM CST
How JFK Engineered His Own Pulitzer
In this April 9, 1962, photo, President John F. Kennedy throws out the first pitch to inaugurate the 1962 American League baseball season and DC Stadium in Washington.   (AP Photo/File)

It's common knowledge these days that John F. Kennedy wasn't the primary author of the book for which he won the 1957 Pulitzer in biography, Profiles in Courage. Instead, the young senator's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, wrote it almost in entirety, with minor contributions from Kennedy, writes Craig Fehrman in Politico Magazine. His story—based on his book Author in Chief—chronicles the deception, including the way the two men publicly refuted the allegations when rumors began to surface after Kennedy won the prize. Key to that was Kennedy brandishing the "few handwritten pages" in his notebooks that sync with the published book. Fehrman also describes in detail Kennedy's main role in the book's mammoth success—he relentlessly promoted it in ways big and small, and used his family's connections (especially his father's) to sway the Pulitzer advisory board.

But Fehrman also digs into a bigger issue: Kennedy's obsession with the Pulitzer and related acclaim. "He craved literary fame to a degree that his previous biographers have missed," writes Fehrman. "Kennedy needed his books and magazine writing—and especially his second bestseller, Profiles in Courage—to not only shine up his resume but to be regarded as literary successes, even as he lacked the patience for the literary work of research." The book's success gave Kennedy a huge lift in terms of his national reputation: He wasn't just a politician now but a respected biographer to boot. The article closes with a quote from the editor of Profiles, Evan Thomas, telling a reporter back then that "the book reflects Kennedy's own character." Adds Fehrman: "The editor was admitting more than he knew." (Read the full story.)

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