Jacqueline Kennedy: JFK's doubts on LBJ, Vietnam and hers on MLK
John F. Kennedy's brief presidency, ended with an assassin's bullet in November 1963, still has an enormous influence on many today, not just for its actual policies and actions but also for the notion of "Camelot," a mythologized, golden moment in American politics full of hope, promise and high style.
And no one knew Camelot better than First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (later Onassis).
Monday at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific time, ABC News airs "Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words," a two-hour special reported by Diane Sawyer that focuses on audio interviews Kennedy recorded with her husband's longtime aide, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., in early 1964.
By her request, the recordings were kept under seal until after her death in 1994, but the Kennedy Library in Boston has held them back until this month.
Along with the TV special, the audio and transcripts of the interviews are being released in book form this week as "Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy."
According to some reports the tapes were not to be released until 50 years after the former first lady's death. But daughter Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the last surviving child of John F. Kennedy and the de facto protector of the family legacy who had her own brief unsuccessful flirtation with politics, decided to release them early.
ABC News disputed reports of sordid sexual content in the recordings, but they do reveal candid insights into Jackie Kennedy's feelings and recollections about Lyndon Johnson, the Vietnam War and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Says Kennedy, "Jack said it to me sometimes. He said, 'Oh, God, can you ever imagine what would happen to this country if Lyndon were president?' "
Reportedly, Kennedy believed her husband was skeptical of success in Vietnam.
On his appointing Republican Henry Cabot Lodge as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, she says, "I think he probably did it ... rather thinking it might be such a brilliant thing to do because Vietnam was rather hopeless anyway, and put a Republican there."
Believing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's report that his agency's wiretaps revealed King tried to arrange a sex party while in the nation's capital for the historic March on Washington in August 1963, Kennedy says, "I just can't see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man's terrible."
Those original surveillance tapes of King remain sealed by court order until 2027.
According to ABC News, Kennedy also recalls a scene in which historian David Donald in 1962 spoke to JFK and some of his friends and aides about Abraham Lincoln's presidency.
Kennedy reports her husband's reaction, saying, " 'Do you think' -- it's the one thing that was on his mind -- 'would Lincoln have been as great a president if he'd lived?' And Donald, really by going round and round, had agreed with him that Lincoln, you know, it was better -- was better for Lincoln that he died when he did."
-- Kate O'Hare
Media critic Kate O’Hare is a regular Ticket contributor. She also blogs about TV at Hot Cuppa TV and is a frequent contributor at entertainment news site Zap2it. Also follow O'Hare on Twitter @KateOH.
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Photo: ABC News' Diane Sawyer with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. Credit: Ida Mae Astute / ABC News