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Finally, we can hear — in her own voice, in her own words — what it was like to be Jackie Kennedy in the wake of unspeakable grief.

What a bold and generous gift to the American people.

What an unsettling development for those who want to cling to an earlier, easier version of one of America’s most memorable first ladies.

Four months after her husband’s violent death, Jacqueline Kennedy sat down with historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to record more than eight hours of interviews about her life with John F. Kennedy.

The recordings were sealed in a vault for nearly 50 years.

This month, her daughter, Caroline Kennedy, released the unedited conversations, on CDs and in book form, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her father’s presidency.

Until now, the persistent narrative about first lady Jackie Kennedy has cast her as a whispery waft of eye candy, with impeccable taste in fashion and design and a sideshow talent for foreign languages.

Now, with the release of these recordings, some want to recast her as a shrew.

We have such demanding expectations of the women we will never be.

The New York Times got an early grab at the recordings before the official release last Wednesday. That single story, published last Monday, included snippets of her conversation. This was enough to trigger apoplexy.

Hours of reflection by a 34-year-old widow have been reduced to sound bites of bad behavior. Many of the early verdicts, rendered without making the effort to listen to the tapes or read the transcripts, are scornful.

Repeatedly, Jackie is criticized for finding no fault with her husband, whose assassination she witnessed only four months earlier. Numerous stories recount her sniping at Martin Luther King Jr., delivered in the wake of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s questionable claims to her and Bobby Kennedy that the civil rights activist spoke disdainfully about JFK’s funeral.

Other frequent mentions: Jackie called Indira Gandhi “a bitter prune” and Charles de Gaulle an “egomaniac.” She declared women unfit for politics, too.

Echoing many who rushed to uninformed judgment, the New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson wrote, “So far in these tapes, Jackie doesn’t sound all that nice.”

It is a long-held tradition in American journalism to measure political wives by their usefulness to their husbands’ ambitions. We also tend to depict politicians as either heroes or charlatans, but versions of both often reside in the same human being. In politics, even the most principled philosopher must perform at the circus. The wife is a smiling sidekick.

The supposed shock over Jackie’s less-than-Stepford responses to Schlesinger’s often probing questions reflects a stubborn commitment to the stereotype. As a columnist married to a U.S. senator, I am disappointed, but not terribly surprised, that in 2011 we still struggle so with the notion that a politician’s wife might have opinions of her own, and that not all of them are gracious.

I am also grateful to Jackie Kennedy, and her daughter, for this attempt to whittle away at one of the most enduring icons of impossible standards. What a relief to discover that she was as human as the rest of us.

Jackie Kennedy was smart and in love with her husband, despite his deep flaws. She was also capable of making withering observations about the people trying to hold sway in his life. She sounds like many bright women I know who are married to powerful men. I laughed out loud when she described how some cabinet members and senators never stop talking about themselves.

She is far more nuanced than the quick jabs going viral on the Internet. One of her opinions — that women are not suited for politics — has been quoted out of context. Schlesinger asked about her husband’s efforts to avoid permanent grudges, quoting the adage that, in politics, “there are no permanent friendships or alliances, there are only permanent interests.”

Jackie’s full response, as transcribed in the book:

“Yeah, but he never got — I mean, I’d get terribly emotional about anyone, whether it was a politician or a newspaper person who would be unfair, but he always treated it so objectively, as if they were people on a chess board — which is right. I mean, how could you if you — if he’d gotten so mad at all these people, then you may need to work with them again later. So, it’s the only way to be effective — which is one reason I think women should never be in politics. We’re just not suited to it.”

Surely, we disagree today with her conclusions, but her broader point — that women tend to take personally the attacks on those we love — still resonates.

Caroline Kennedy knew that her mother’s opinions would spark furious debate.

As she wrote in her introduction to the book, “(I)f my mother had reviewed the transcripts, I have no doubt she would have made revisions. … It isn’t surprising that there are some statements she would later have considered too personal, and others too harsh. … (H)er views evolved over time.”

Still, Caroline trusted the American public, if not the pundits, to appreciate this richer portrait of her mother.

“As her child, it has sometimes been hard for me to reconcile that most people can identify my mother instantly, but they really don’t know her at all. … (T)hey don’t always appreciate her intellectual curiosity, her sense of the ridiculous, her sense of adventure, or her unerring sense of what was right.”

Sounds like women living anonymously all around the world.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and essayist for Parade magazine.



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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

Kevin Bacon, right, in "The Following"

The aftermath of the August 8, 2022 search of the Mar-a-Lago club, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, isn’t the first showdown between the FBI and a cult leader.

The Following, a 2013 Fox Pictures series, played out in similar fashion. Three seasons was enough for the producers and it’s been nine years since our introduction to Joe Carroll, English professor-novelist-serial killer, so there’s a spoiler risk -- but not enough to prevent the comparison.

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