The media mythology of Kennedy's Camelot lives on in the news pages of Wednesday's New York Times, in a puzzling tribute by reporter Ralph Blumenthal to a French village museum devoted to Pierre Salinger, the Kennedy press secretary who later served for years as chief foreign correspondent for ABC News: "Medieval French Village Echoes With the Voice Of Kennedy’s Camelot."
If the French loved John F. Kennedy, there is a special spot in their hearts for Pierre Salinger, his rotund, cigar-smoking, francophone-ish press secretary whose maternal grandfather served in the Assemblée Nationale and fought to clear Capt. Alfred Dreyfus.
So it’s not surprising that here in this medieval Provençal village east of Avignon, where Mr. Salinger spent his last years with his fourth wife, there is a temple to the jovial spokesman who traded a prizewinning journalistic career for a roller-coaster life of politics, public service, comedy and tragedy.
In a memoir published nine years before his death at a local hospital in 2004 at 79, Mr. Salinger averred distaste for what he called the “Camelotization” of the Kennedys.
Yet, on exhibit here is the leather cigar case with the gold initials “J.F.K.” that Jacqueline Kennedy presented Mr. Salinger, “with my love and appreciation for all you did to make his days here so unforgettable.” Also, Mr. Salinger’s presidential appointment certificate (“Reposing special trust and confidence in your integrity, prudence and ability, I do appoint you. ... ”), and other memorabilia of happily-ever-aftering, like his PT-109 tie clasp and prototype American Express card, color purple, No. 200.
But Mr. Salinger -- who went on to high-profile careers as an ABC News bureau chief, a prolific fiction and nonfiction author, a publicist and, for one brief shining moment, United States senator – remains the heart and soul of the enterprise.
Blumenthal buried the less flattering aspects of Salinger's persona in paragraph 14 of 17.
[Salinger's widow] tells how Mr. Salinger, prone to conspiracy theories, continued to believe that an errant American missile from a Navy ship, not a mechanical malfunction, brought down T.W.A. Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996, killing all 230 aboard. Mr. Salinger said French intelligence sources had given him a document pointing to a cover-up, but the F.B.I. said the account was baseless.
Completely skipped was Salinger's reflexively liberal anti-GOP hostility, like this quote from a November 2000 column, a few days before the election pitting Gov. George W. Bush against Vice President Al Gore: "I don't want any more Bush Presidents. If Bush wins, I'm going to leave the country and spend the rest of my life in France."