“That secret affected my whole adult life.” — Mimi Alford, author of Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath on “The View,” February 2012
“As a person navigating the waters of public scrutiny, you are often unable to hold on to personal heroes or villains. Inevitably you will meet your hero, and he may turn out to be less than impressive, while your villain turns out to be the coolest cat you’ve ever met. You never can tell, so you eventually learn to live without a rooting interest in the parade of stars, musicians, sports champions, and politicians. And you lose the ability to participate in the real American pastime: beating up on people you don’t like and glorifying people you do.” — Rob Lowe, Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiography, April 2011
In February 2012, I started to really pay attention to the way that the media would protect their preferred bad-actors while working overtime to associate their political adversaries with scandal and sleaze. It was when Mimi Alford published her account of what it was like to be a White House Intern and mistress to the President of the United States.
In May 2003, Mimi was outed by the press after being mentioned by historian Robert Dallek in his Kennedy biography An Unfinished Life. She declined the impulse to cash in on her 15 minutes of fame, simply said no comment, and went back to her private life. The way she handled the tabloid attention was a master class in how to maintain your dignity and privacy even when caught in a sex scandal involving American royalty.
Yet in 2012, she published her own account of the affair with Kennedy, including some lewd details. Although she was a 19-year-old virgin when the 45-year-old Kennedy plied her with alcohol and led her to his wife’s bedroom, she never accused him of rape. She owned up to her shameful behavior, and she explained how she was swept away by Kennedy’s charm and the allure of the elite surroundings. She decided to tell her story because she realized that someone else might. It was the only way to maintain control over her life’s story, and it allowed her to put the affair into a larger context.
Alford’s memoir mostly reflects on how the affair and keeping it secret affected her married life. Unsurprisingly, entering into marriage with the baggage of having been the mistress of a recently assassinated president is not ideal. Even though Alford doesn’t blame Kennedy, her book makes clear how callously he treated her by initiating the affair in the first place. It’s obvious that he never gave a moment’s thought to how her life would go after he was done with her. To me, that insight was more interesting than the lurid scenes recounted in the book, but it appeared neither interesting nor important to those who interviewed her in 2012.
The interview that really appalled me was on “The View,” with Barbara Walters. It’s hard to find the interview in its entirety, but Walter’s disdain for Mimi Alford is clear from this clip. Walters starts the interview saying, “You’ll make a lot of money!” and ends it by asking why she couldn’t have just stayed quiet. Watch the larger panel of ladies on “The View” wonder why Alford came forward here.
Watching the interview at the time, all I could think was how dare Barbara Walters talk about the propriety of writing about an affair when she had just done that in her own memoir in 2008. I never read Walters’ book, but I remembered the coverage of it as I watched her try to smear Mimi Alford as greedy and selfish.
Having witnessed the media’s disdainful treatment of Mimi Alford, it’s hard not to compare it to more recent stories about women making sexual accusations against powerful men. Nowadays, it is quite common to hear Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, or even Bill Clinton condemned for their atrocious, and in some cases, criminal treatment of women. We have all heard the “Access Hollywood” recording of our current President explaining that women are suckers for rich, powerful, famous men, or as some listeners hear it, admitting to sexual assault.
Ever since I first heard the private remarks that Trump made long before he was the president, I thought that NBC could have spared us. Now I think that if Trump had been talking to Matt Lauer instead of Billy Bush, we probably would have avoided so much hatred, division, and countless pink-hatted protestors. The media protected Kennedy from public scrutiny of his predatory behavior and they continued to protect him nearly 50 years after his death.
I’m not without sympathy for the Kennedy family,* for what Kennedy suffered during his life, or for the horrific way that he died. But I do think Mimi Alford’s story deserves to be mentioned more often when the media references the abusive behavior of powerful men. The fact that it isn’t makes it even more clear that the media are just beating up on people they don’t like and glorifying people they do. And they have the nerve to do this while refusing to shine the light on their own bad behavior. If it’s so important for the American people to know the true character of their elected officials, why isn’t it equally important to know the character of the journalists giving us the news?
Christine Blasey-Ford has been hailed as a hero in many circles and Stormy Daniels has been described on TV as a “fun, working mom.” Their stories, which are inconvenient to all the right people in the minds of the mainstream media, have led to the slogan, “Believe All Women.” The story of Mimi Alford is just one example of how the media believes, supports, and protects only those they favor for political purposes. Although it may not seem important after all these years, it was important to her. What it reveals about the media should make it important to all of us.
* Update: In saying family, perhaps I should have said Kennedy’s wife and children, who lost their husband and father. As for JFK himself, it seems to me that the death of his older brother was a loss we can all sympathize with. Of course, the extended Kennedy family has been marked by tragedy. Some of that tragedy has been brought upon themselves. The fate of Mary Jo Kopechne is a whole other post, but the point would be similar to the one I make here. The media treats the lives of JFK, the Kennedys, and other politicians and celebrities as if they are more important than the lives of others. As has been said by others before me, they only care about women in general. They show no real concern for the life of an individual woman.Published in