The Kennedys vs. Transparency

John Tierny notes that the Kennedy family has been blocking access to Robert Kennedy’s official papers from his time as a public servant.

But so far, nobody has been able to see this trove of documentary resources about the foreign-policy intrigues and governmental activities of a half-century ago. Why not? Because Robert Kennedy’s family controls access to them. The person in control is Max Kennedy, Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s ninth son, and he won’t let anyone see them. His explanation, in a written response to questions from Bender of the Globe, is classic stonewalling — some blather about scholars with “poorly conceived projects” who fail to follow “correct procedures” to seek permission to consult the papers. (What? They didn’t genuflect as they approached Max’s office?) Nice legal-speak from Mr. Kennedy. It’s also hogwash. This is the sort of nonsense that now flows from a family that once was considered, at least in some circles, synonymous with the highest aspirational values of American politics and government — principles such as a respect for transparency, openness, and the free flow of information.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the family should have any say in access of official papers at all. I’m surprised that they aren’t made public by law, and if they’re not, they definitely should be.

Tierny suggests that the papers may reveal lawbreaking on Robert Kennedy’s part with respect to Cuba. Personally, I suspect what other historians suspect — that Robert Kennedy was actively using his powers of office to suppress the civil rights movement in the name of anti-communism. It’s already known that he gave J. Edgar Hoover carte blanche to investigate Martin Luther King, Jr, and that the Kennedys tried to distance themselves from Lyndon Johnson’s staunch support of the civil rights movement. I’m willing to bet that Bobby Kennedy went even further that is suspected now. And that’s something that the Kennedys probably don’t want to be public information.

Well, too bad. Robert Kennedy was a public servant, and the public has a right to know what he did in their name.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Crime, US Politics, , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s more likely that there’s law-breaking on Kennedy’s part related to his attacks on organized crime. Have you ever read the published transcripts? I think he was skating on pretty thin ice.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    How much more harm could be done to his reputation WRT Cuba than has been done by the documents that have already been released?

  3. James Joyner says:

    Oftentimes, there are restrictions that are time-based. Some documents are held for like 30 years for reasons of sensitivity that I’m conflicted on. But I agree that the family should have no veto power whatsoever.