Jack Kennedy's Monica?
It's an open secret that President John F. Kennedy had extramarital affairs during his time in office. The biography, "An Unfinished Life" by historian Robert Dallek, suggests one of those relationships was with a White House intern ... a college student who worked in the press office... CBSNews.com
The Kennedys are back in the limelight, warts and all, with the publication of a new book. This one from JFK's nephew, Christopher Kennedy Lawford, interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning about his memories of Kennedy family legends, especially JFK.
Which reminded me of a story I was told about a White House Press Office intern and her brush with glory during President Kennedy's tenure.
I heard the story from a well known political journalist, a veteran insider with an impeccable reputation. No, I won't out him here, don't even ask. In the retelling I'll refer to him as Mr. X.
First, a reminder. Historically--and up until the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal--the sexual dalliances of politicians were widely known but kept very much in the closet by the media. Most insiders and reporters knew a great deal about the sex lives of The Great and Near Great, but no network or newspaper would dream of going public with such an invasion of a politico's privacy. It just wasn't done. Bill Clinton should only have been so lucky.
So here's the story:
Mr. X was in the White House press room one day chatting with a young female intern recently arrived from the Heartland. He asked if she were enjoying the Washington scene. She began to cry and admitted to being homesick and lonely. Such a big city, so many people, yet she couldn't seem to make friends or get any dates. Mr. X was surprised, as she was quite pretty.
He had an idea. 'Don't ask any questions,' he told her, 'just do what I say and you'll be popular in no time. Every day around 10:45AM for the next two weeks, go to the Ladies Room. Make sure no one sees you, thoroughly wet your hair and hide in a stall until 11:30. Then return to your desk and if anyone asks about your hair or where you've been, say nothing, just give them a Mona Lisa smile.'
She thought he was crazy. But she was desperate. And so every morning for two weeks she disappeared at 10:45 and reappeared at her desk at 11:30 with wet hair. She replied to all inquires with a shake of her head and a quiet smile.
A few weeks later Mr. X saw the young woman at a Brazilian Embassy party. She was radiant. Glowing. On the arm of a handsome, powerful lobbyist, surrounded by other DC honchos clamoring for her attention. He caught her eye and she rushed to give him a hug. 'You're wonderful,' she gushed. 'I don't know why, but ever since you told me to wet my hair last month, I have more friends and dates than I can handle!'
If you know the secret of her success, you're smiling. If not, you're saying Huh?
Here's the back story, which is in fact the real story:
There was a pool in the White House at the time. President Kennedy routinely took a morning swim around 11AM to ease his injured back. And to ease other areas, he was routinely joined in the pool by some young female staffer. Ahhh, you're beginning to see the light, right?
Wet hair + private smile = Power. Suddenly everybody wanted to get close to the girl who appeared to be very close to the president.
I've wondered over the years if Mr. X told me the whole story -- maybe he was covering for her. JFK had an eye for the ladies. She was a pretty intern on the make. In the end it doesn't matter ... except possibly to the president's wife and family. Who were, after all, the real injured parties.
So every time I hear about Bill and Monica I wonder too why it was necessary for the public--and the Clinton family--to be bombarded with all the sordid details. Frankly, I'd rather have pictured Monica with wet hair than a wet dress.
There's an object lesson here. Not so much about Too Much Information from the media, which we certainly got on the Bill and Monica affair. But more about failing to find and reveal The Most Important Information. Because as the girl with the wet hair could tell you, appearance is not always reality.
And even if it is, it has absolutely nothing to do with the business of running the country.