Blogs > Cliopatria > Court Historian or Book Rivalry? ...

Apr 29, 2004 5:37 pm

Court Historian or Book Rivalry? ...

If you are David Brinkley and you are flacking a recent laudatory biography of John Kerry, you may be called a" court historian." But, what if the caller has an interest in another book on the subject to promote? Here are the accusations, including the suggestion of guilt by association with Stephen Ambrose, and here is what is made of them on the net. I report. You decide.

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Richard Henry Morgan - 4/30/2004

I give Alex Beam credit for revealing his possible bias. As for guilt by association, the reference to Ambrose seems innocuous enough, hardly pejprative, and since the great majority of readers have no ill feelings towards Ambrose ...

It is strange that so recently published a book is already on the way to corrections. But these campaign books are always a bit troubled. Brinkley, in his book, reported that Kerry had resigned from the VVAW at the St. Louis meeting, citing a source claiming the evidence was in archives at the University of Wisconsin. Turns out it ain't so. Kerry was at Kansas City when assassination plots were discussed.

I remember years back when the editor of this site, Rick Shenkman, was on a TV program with Brinkley (I think they were discussing Jefferson and the Hemings affair). Shenkman pointed out how Jefferson had pushed to have people prosecuted for seditious libel under state laws. Brinkley characterized the case of The Wasp as personal libel. I think that wrong.

Jefferson has to rank as one of the better hypocrites of his age. After campaigning against the federal Sedition Act (which had truth as a defense), he pushed to have his opponents prosecuted under state common law of seditious libel, where truth was no defense. Jefferson hagiographers try to spin this as Jefferson saving freedom of the press from the misbehaviour of the press itself. This is just really bad comedy. In fact, as Shenkman pointed out, Jefferson lied through his teeth when he wrote to Abigail Adams and denied he had paid Callender to trash Adams. There is a serious danger when historians and biographers fall in love with their subjects and "go native".