When Richard Blow worked for John F. Kennedy Jr. as one of the top editors at George magazine, he signed a confidentiality agreement: His relationship with Kennedy and the details of Kennedy's personal life would be kept private.
Three years after Kennedy's untimely death in an airplane crash, Blow has written American Son: A Portrait of John F. Kennedy, Jr.
As a storm of controversy swirls around the new book — a book some critics and Kennedy loyalists insist should never have been written — Barbara Walters has the first interview with Blow.
Following are excerpts.
ABCNEWS' Barbara Walters: You signed a confidentiality agreement. Now there are people who say John Kennedy is gone, but that agreement still stands. You have betrayed him, they say. You're not loyal. How do you answer this?
Richard Blow: This was something that John asked the original group of staffers to sign right at the beginning of George when he was uncomfortable surrounding himself with journalists. But in time, John did become more comfortable with us and stopped asking people to sign that. So I think that those of us who were there know quite clearly the intention of that agreement. It was not intended to keep people from writing about John after his death.
Walters: Would John Kennedy have wanted you to write this book?
Blow: I don't know. You know, John was someone who often had contradictory positions. He had an antipathy to the media, but he started a magazine. He didn't like the paparazzi, but he admitted that he would buy paparazzi shots to use in George. He liked his privacy, but he took his shirt off a lot in Central Park. So I wouldn't presume to say what John would feel about this book.
Walters: What are the biggest misconceptions about John Kennedy?
Blow: That he wasn't smart … He flunked the bar, he was kind of a lightweight. He was more interested in being a jock than in more substantive work … John was a very bright guy with terrific intuition.
Walters: You write about John Kennedy watching the interview that I did with Monica Lewinsky.
Blow: He was not happy. You asked Monica Lewinsky about that now-infamous stain on her dress. And John groaned. He was sitting next to me and sort of sat back in his chair and he just looked like someone had punched him in the stomach. He was very troubled by the investigation of President Clinton's personal life and his attitude about that was this is a man who's made enormous sacrifices. He shouldn't have to sacrifice all his privacy.
Walters: Carolyn [Bessette Kennedy] was beautiful, but again and again you write in the book about the efforts that she made to look beautiful. She dieted herself rail-thin, she had botox injections to forestall wrinkles at a time when people weren't doing that much with botox. She dyed her hair very blond. I mean it sounds like a woman torturing herself to look good the way you describe her.
Blow: I think that she felt that John Kennedy's wife had to look just as good as John Kennedy did. It was not as easy for her as it was for him. That was my impression. … She said, "John, don't stroke my hair. I've got so many chemicals in this hair you're going to break it." She was half-serious, but she was half-joking … She could make the effort like that to be beautiful, but at the same time make a joke about it.
Walters: You write, too, that John showed no sympathy for his cousins' wives, both of whom had been left or badly treated by their husbands. That he didn't feel that they were victims but rather they were women who hadn't played by the rules. The Kennedy rules?
Blow: I think that this is a part of the Kennedy side of John. He did instinctively side with men who had been accused of misbehavior in their relations with women. I think part of it was the feeling that these allegations always got more attention because they were directed at Kennedys.
Walters: Do you think that eventually he would have run for office?
Blow: Yes, and I think he would have been very good at it. He knew that the entire country expected him to get into politics at some point … I believe that. I saw the way that people responded to John. They wanted him to pick up where his father left off. And imagine that if you don't do that, if you don't get into politics when the whole world wants and expects you to, then will your whole life be considered a kind of anti-climax? John felt that pressure.
Walters: What do you admire most about him?
Blow: You know John could have lived a very different life than he did. He could have retired from public life entirely. He could have been hostile to the press. He could have been a rich, decadent playboy, but he wasn't. He was serious man who tried to extend that legacy of all that his father and mother had done for this country. And he didn't have to. And that was a choice that he made voluntarily. And it was a great gift. I think it was a great gift to this country.