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In-Depth Interview: Author Larry Tye Offers Critical, But Loving Portrait of Bobby Kennedy

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Veteran Boston Globe reporter Larry Tye profiles Robert F. Kennedy’s complex, contradictory persona in his new book.Tye’s latest book is Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon.  Like many reporters who covered RFK, Tye developed real admiration for his subject, without losing his critical skills as a journalist.

We open with a quote from political cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who dubbed Kennedy “the Bobby twins”; e.g. the “Good Bobby is a fervent civil libertarian, the Bad Bobby is a fervent wiretapper”.  This sets the scene for many comments about Kennedy’s contradictions during the interview.

We touch on RFK’s work for Sen. Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt in the 1950’s, and how Bobby kept a low profile at McCarthy’s funeral.  We talk about his central role in JFK’s election over Nixon in 1960, and whether it was Martin Luther King’s followers or dead Chicago voters who delivered the slim margin of victory.

Your humble host notes that he was never enamored of RFK, and the nepotism reflected by JFK’s appointment of his brother as Attorney General in 1961 was an early reason.  As AG, he went after Jimmy Hoffa and the Mafia, at the same time he recruited mobsters Johnny Rosselli and Sam Giancana to murder Fidel Castro.  We talk about Bobby’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Operation Mongoose and other Cold War events, and the secret deal that averted war on Cuba.

We also talk about his failure to take on FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and the dirty COINTELPRO efforts, and Tye suggests that Hoover had enough dirt on the Kennedys to insure his job security.  And Tye describes Bobby’s political evolution after the JFK assassination, as a Senator from New York and 1968 presidential candidate.  We talk about Bobby’s murder in Los Angeles in June, 1968, and recent testimony from Peter Schrade that Sirhan Sirhan’s bullets hit Schrade, but a second shooter killed Kennedy.

Get details on Larry Tye’s book tour and more here.