It is grand to have illusions, until you find out they're illusions. It's even worse when one illusion sets out to destroy another.
That disheartening lesson comes in the November Vanity Fair, in Robert Sam Anson's breezy report on Seymour Hersh's forthcoming book on the Kennedys, which, he gleefully says, "will cause trouble."
Hersh burst into prominence in the late '60s when he revealed the massacre at My Lai, and it was only the first in an explosion of exposes: the secret bombing of North Vietnam, then of Cambodia; domestic spying by the CIA; the wiretapping of Kissinger's aides.
To a local kid who admired investigative reporters almost as much as the '67 Sox, Sy Hersh was someone to emulate. But Anson paints an ugly picture, helped substantially by Hersh's own projectile admissions. ("You think I wouldn't sell my mother for My Lai? Gimme a break.")
Indeed, there doesn't seem to have been a time when Hersh wouldn't have done anything for a story. Anson relates that Hersh has bordered on using blackmail to get some sources to talk, a technique that contributed to his demise at The New York Times, from which he resigned in 1979. And Hersh's celebrated brush with documents purporting to prove that JFK did all sorts of nasty things raises serious questions about how deeply Hersh values the truth. The papers are now proven fakes, but Hersh stood by them for years, even as doubts mounted, even helping their purveyors peddle them, the article contends.
Anson also reports that Hersh repeatedly borrowed from his partner on the project and later went back on an agreement that they split their spoils evenly.
Altogether, it's enough to make you question whether "The Dark Side of Camelot" is credible enough to bother with. But by now the book is an entity larger than just its lurid tales, and it is sure to be a huge seller. For an erstwhile acolyte, not only of Hersh but of the Kennedys, it will be hard not to gawk at the spectacle.
Distasteful skulduggery of a different sort is the theme in the October issue of George, which celebrates its second anniversary with the subject of spying. The issue is historically illuminating and affecting, and clever in the angles it chooses for viewing.
There is, for example, the memoir of Colin Beavan, who plumbs family secrets of a clan whose leader, his grandfather, was a highly ranked CIA official who almost certainly sanctioned murder and who knows what else. The central question -- whether the secrecy born of international intrigue is why there's so much denial in Beavan's family -- is perhaps a bit strained but still poignant.
There's also the tale of how the CIA reached deep into the inner circle of the Dalai Lama, with the aid of its secret Tibetan army, to dupe him into fleeing his homeland in 1959, quite possibly saving his life. The story certainly has the ring of truth -- a large covert army created and funded by the CIA, a movement disavowed by the United States when events grow sticky, lots of freedom fighters left to die.
And there's a wonderful yarn about Tophat, the CIA's best and brightest Soviet spy, who provided 27 file drawers of data in 18 years of espionage and had made it into comfortable retirement before being exposed by CIA mole Aldrich Ames and subsequently executed.
Great stuff, all of it, and there's more: industrial espionage, the disaffected CIA agent, Congresswoman Maxine Waters's crusade accusing the CIA of pushing drugs.
But what's the story about a saintly Philadelphia physician convicted of altering the face of a drug kingpin doing in here? It is well written (by Lisa DiPaulo) and laced with good quotes and worth reading. But it has nothing to do with the stated theme, and is the only feature not to.
This unevenness pervades the mag's regular departments, too. Lots of stuff on topic -- including a ridiculous, gratuitous "essay" by Elizabeth Hurley stating her willingness to spy for anyone who will meet her terms, included apparently to justify using her body on the cover -- but a bunch of other stuff scattered about as well.
Reason again to wonder what goes on in the minds of the editors.
The release of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer J. Anthony Lukas's latest, and last, work, "Big Trouble," is cause for publications to examine Lukas's life and death. This is especially so in Boston, since perhaps his greatest triumph, "Common Ground," chronicled the city's desegregation crisis in the '70s. In its October issue, Boston magazine returns to "Common Ground," and unearths a few nuggets.
The book followed the period through the eyes of three families, all of whose lives were changed by agreeing to participate in the project. The magazine notes that members of two of the families -- the Divers and the Twymons -- spoke of their admiration for Lukas at his memorial service in June, a week after he killed himself.
The third family, the McGoffs of Charlestown, was "conspicuously absent," which was not surprising, since matriarch Alice McGoff and Lukas had long since fallen out. Even so, Lisa McGoff, a high school student during the crisis, expressed surprise at not being invited and a revealing bitterness. "So people thought we were the nasty racists who didn't come? It figures."
Rachel Twymon, meanwhile, had her own reason to resent Lukas: She became pregnant at age 13, and readers everywhere learned that her mother thought she was a tramp. But years after publication, Rachel told her mother she had been raped by a family friend. And despite that, Twymon not only did not hate Lukas, her question at the service was "Who's going to be my inspiration now?"
If you read the book, you'll want to read this epilogue.