Manchester Suit

The lawsuit filed by Jacqueline Kennedy never reached the courtroom. On January 16, 1967, an accord was reached. While this accord hardly ended the hostilities between the Kennedys and William Manchester, the settlement permitted the publishers to proceed with publication of The Death of a President, minus several passages.

Statement on Behalf of Jacqueline Kennedy (Prepared by Richard Goodwin, John Siegenthaler and Edwin Guthman).

In late 1963, several authors were planning to write about the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Members of the family and members of the late President's staff were receiving many requests for interviews and cooperation.

In order to prevent proliferation of demands and at the same time to permit a full historical account, Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Mrs. John F. Kennedy — on the advice of many of those being contacted — agreed to submit to one interviewer regarding those painful days,

William Manchester was asked to interview Mrs. Kennedy and Senator Kennedy and to do the research and write the story of November 21-25, 1963. Neither Mrg. Kennedy nor Senator Kennedy then knew Mr. Manchester personally.

At that time the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library had begun an "oral history" project to record on tape the recollections of those involved in the Kennedy Administration. It was understood that all such tapes were to be deposited in the Kennedy Library to be made available to future historians at a time designated by the person interviewed. There are 300 such tapes already on deposit, some of them sealed for more than 100 years.

Mr. Arthur Schlesinger had interviewed Mrs. Kennedy for this project. When his interview reached the period of the assassination, he stopped. Since Mr. Manchester was to write his book, it was thought that he should complete the interview since it might give him valuable background material and would not subject Mrs. Kennedy to a repetition of an account of the facts.

Mrs. Kennedy and Senator Kennedy, :as they were interviewed, were told that they were talking for a "historian of the 21st century."

They were also told that, like all others interviewed, they could designate when, if ever, the tapes or the contents of their interviews could be released. Moreover, they felt fully protected by a formal contract signed by Mr. Manchester which guaranteed that nothing they said would be published without consent. They were reassured by both the author and representatives of the publishers. Harper & Row, that nothing they told Mr. Manchester would be printed unless they approved.

Under the agreement, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library was to receive a share of the normal profits of the author and the publishers, since all agreed that Mr. Manchester's book was not "to be a commercial enterprise. Mr. Manchester publicly acknowledged this as outlined in a press release at the time of the signing of his agreement to write the book.

The terms of the agreement signed in March, 1964, provided that Mr. Manchester would not publish his book until his completed manuscript was submitted to Senator Kennedy and to Mrs, Kennedy and was approved. This, of course, was never done, nor were the tapes of their interviews with Mr. Manchester ever turned over to the library.

Under the protection of this agreement and unaware of any danger that there would be any unauthorized publication in her lifetime or that of her children, Mrs. Kennedy talked freely and for the historical record to Manchester in interviews that lasted about ten hours. She did not see or talk to Mr. Manchester again until he had completed his manuscript.

For about two years, until early 1966, Mr. Manchester worked on his book. No member of the Kennedy family supervised or directed his work in any way, nor did they discuss the book with him. He was completely on his own.

In early 1966, Mr. Manchester submitted the manuscript to Senator Kennedy, who asked Mr. Seigenthaler and Mr. Guthman to review the manuscript and make suggestions. They had frequent discussions about the text with Mr. Evan Thomas, of Harper & Row.

While the editorial process was continuing. Senator Kennedy assured Mr. Manchester that he would not stand in the way of publication or magazine serialization once a final text had been agreed upon, although neither then, nor at any subsequent time, was there any such approval. Mrs. Kennedy or her representatives had not reviewed the manuscript, although her personal approval was required.

In late July the manuscript was sold to Look magazine. However, we were then, and for the next several months, assured that the changes personally desired by Mrs. Kennedy would be made.

It is unnecessary to detail the almost endless series of meetings and conversations which took place all during the summer and through the fall. Mrs. Kennedy's requests were repeatedly made through representatives and by personal appeals. Galleys were edited, and lengthy editorial discussions were held. Despite constant reassurances, however, most of the requested changes were not made.

We continued our efforts to modify tlie manuscript dealing with personal passages and inaccuracies. The appeals went on, even as prospects grew dimmer, because all concerned knew that, regardless of the merits, legal action would create a painful and difficult situation.

In December, Mrs. Kennedy was finally and irrevocably denied the right even to see the current version of the manuscript. The passages were the same ones that she had been discussing throughout. In fact, as we later learned, most of this material had been retained.

It is impossible to describe the personal distress caused by this final refusal after months of discussion, reassurance and promises. Although a lawsuit would be painful, it could not equal the distress caused over this long period.

Moreover, it was clear that only through legal action could Mrs. Kennedy assert her right and desire to protect her private life and the innocent griefs of her children. Even then there was hesitation. For we all knew how difficult would be the storm that was sure to come.

A controversy, however, would end, while the published material would live forever. We also knew that some of the material might be printed in any event; but it would be transitory and fragmented and, at least, lack the seeming acquiescence of the family of President John Kennedy

And so the lawsuit was brought.

Now it has been settled among all the parties. Those personal passages of most concern have been deleted or modified. The recorded interviews will be deposited in the Kennedy Library, We are grateful for that. We all agree that the historical record has not been damaged, nor has the book itself been hurt.

Throughout discussions of changes and revisions, concern was expressed by us and by the publishers regarding passages which were unfair or inaccurate. Detailed memoranda were submitted, specifically objecting to these passages.

Many of the changes recommended in this connection were refused by the author, apparently on the ground that he was entitled to his own view of history. When we were not successful in getting the author and publisher to agree with these changes, we and the lawyers in the controversy felt these points should not properly be made a point of legal suppression.

Thus it is important to note that on the title page of each copy of the book published in the United States or abroad there will appear the following words:

"Harper & Row wishes to make it clear that neither Mrs. John F. Kennedy nor Senator Robert F, Kennedy has in any way approved or endorsed the material appearing in this book. The author, William Manchester, and the publishers assume complete and sole responsibility,"

All the parties, publishers and author, have stated that the material involved is only a small portion of an immense narrative; and we are told it is of little significance. We agree with that. Its only significance was to Mrs. Kennedy and to her children.

We can only regret that it was not possible to make the accommodations, which have now so easily been agreed upon, without the ordeal which legal action inevitably and foreseeably brought. 

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2002-2015. All Rights Reserved.