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The Unsolved Mystery of a Kennedy Mistress' Death

Biographer Nina Burleigh talks about Mary Pinochet Meyer who it is believed was a mistress of President John F. Kennedy. She was found shot and murdered a year after Kennedy's assassination. Burleigh has written about Meyer's life in "A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer. (Bantam)


Other segments from the episode on October 13, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 13, 1998: Interview with Scott Anderson; Interview with Nina Burleigh.


Date: OCTOBER 13, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 101301np.217
Head: Eyewitness To War
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

War is hell, but as my guest Scott Anderson says, for many young men war has always been an adventure of intense fascination. Viewed as life's ultimate test, it's most awful thrill.

Anderson confesses that he first went to war because he thought it would be exciting. He didn't go as a soldier, but as a journalist. He has filed from Beirut, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Chechnya, and Northern Ireland. He co-wrote with his brother, John Lee Anderson, "War Zones: An Oral History Of Modern War."

Now Scott Anderson has written a new novel called, "Triage" about a photojournalist who was wounded in war -- wounded physically and psychologically. The novel is filled with Anderson's reflections about how war changes people.

Let's start with a reading from the novel. The photojournalist has been wounded in Kyrgastan. He regains consciousness in a cave that functions as a guerrilla hospital, with no running water and no medicine. Doctor Telzany (ph) is making his way down the rows of wounded performing triage.

SCOTT ANDERSON, AUTHOR, "TRIAGE": "Triage. Mark had already seen it, photographed it. He felt fatigue wash over him pushing down towards sleep. He shook his head violently to keep it at bay. To be alert, that was the important thing. You had to be alert when Telzany came for you because triage was done quickly. If you were asleep when he came, if you were too slow with your answers, these could be taken as signs and the blue plastic tag placed on you.

"Your faith, decided by the color of plastic. Get a yellow and be shunted aside, get red and be treated, get blue and die. On several occasions, when Mark had been a photographer in Herrare (ph) instead of a patient, he had seen those given blue's beg Telzany, cry to him, offer him money and houses and wives, but the doctor was incorruptible.

"He turned to see the white coat drawn nearer, just seven or eight beds away. The dark at the edge of his eyes grew, took more and more of his vision."

GROSS: Scott Anderson, I'm wondering if you were ever wounded, and if you ever experienced firsthand triage in a war zone.

ANDERSON: Well, I haven't seen quite the dramatic degree in -- that's in the novel, but certainly I've been in situations where, after battle -- basically what triage refers to is a term the French came up with, which is a sorting out of war wounded into three categories: those that can't be saved, those that need medical attention right away to be saved, and those that can wait -- they can be dealt with when time permits.

The problem with those three neat categories is there's a floating scale. Of course it all depends how you grade people, depends on the sort of time you can give them. In a situation where somebody has a wound that might take two hours for a doctor to, in order to save their life -- what happens to that person when a whole new batch of wounded come in, and they don't have two hours to work on you. Well, what happens is he gets shunted aside to die. So the triage of the three categories tends to be this very fluid grading system.

Certainly, in situations I have been in -- I've seen situations where in a different circumstance somebody could have been saved. But the decision is made that just because of the time factor involved, how long that person would take to be saved, they can't be.

GROSS: Were you ever wounded while covering a war?

ANDERSON: No, I haven't.

GROSS: Did you have friends who were close to you who were wounded or killed?

ANDERSON: I've known several people who've been killed, but not really close friends. Usually photographers -- but not anybody that is really close to me, no.

GROSS: You have a character in your novel who is a photographer. Do you think photographers are more likely to get wounded than print journalists are?

ANDERSON: Statistically they are. They're much more likely to be wounded and I think it's endemic to the profession -- if they always, when something happens they want to be right up front. I think there's a funny sort of psychological thing that happens to them. I have always been struck at how differently photographers seem to experience war than reporters.

I think that there's a funny detachment that sets in with photographers that the world becomes almost like a movie passing in front of their eyes, and they are able to be rather dispassionate at least for the short-term. Everything is a series of images, a series of frames in front of their eyes, and I don't think -- I think because reporters are so much more involved in those places, in the landscapes; you're interviewing people, you're schmoozing people, you don't have that remove. I think that's why so many photographers get killed.

I have been aware at times, working with photographers, where it seems to me that they really have no concept of how dangerous something is. And they just keep going forward, where reporters are sitting back and looking all around not just into a view finder -- you know it's time to go back.

GROSS: The main character in your new novel is haunted by a wounded friend who cries "save me, save me!" I think those words are very potent to you. You have a story in which someone was saying to you "save me, save me!" And there was nothing you could do.

ANDERSON: Right. It happened many years ago, in 1987 I was in Sri Lanka and was with one of the guerrilla groups in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers, who, incidentally, are still carrying on their war. It was out in this guerrilla camp that was coming under increasing attack by the army and was about to be wiped out. There was very much a sort of, paranoid bunker mentality had set in with the Tamil Tigers, and very suspicious of me; thinking I was a spy and they brought in a 36 year old woman who they claimed had been a spy.

A woman, a mother of six children, who they had been torturing, and said: she is a spy. They played this very perverse sort of psychological, in my opinion, psychological torture thing of basically letting my brother who was with me -- my brother and I tried to negotiate to save her life. Even though they had no intention of saving her life, and they sat her down across from us and she spoke a little bit of English, and she knew that we were her last, very last chance to be saved. And she just begged us to try to save her.

The thing that was very difficult about that situation was that we tried -- by trying to negotiate, by trying to reason with the rebel commander, but at a certain point it became clear to us that we were just getting deeper into trouble. We were coming under deeper suspicion by our efforts to try to save this woman. So, we had to stop, we just had to stop talking. And I will always remember the moment when she was sitting about four feet from me, and she realized it, too, and she just sort of sat back and knew it was over, and that was it.

GROSS: And they shot her in front your eyes?

ANDERSON: No, I didn't see her execution. She was executed the next day and then we left the camp and a -- the camp itself was wiped out about a week later and pretty much everybody there was killed. Obviously, if they had tried to force us to watch her execution I guess we would have had to have done so, but that would have been something that I would, I really would have tried and resisted. I had no desire to watch that.

GROSS: What was the point of them trying to get you to defend her against the charges of being a spy. Did you know her?

ANDERSON: No. She was just a local peasant woman. Apparently what had happened was the army had grabbed two of her children, and almost beaten her husband to death. This is what happens with civilians in modern wars. They get whipsawed by both sides.

A short time before her husband had almost been beaten to death by the army, accusing him of being a Tamil Tiger, and they grabbed two of her children and basically held them hostage and said: we'll give you your kids back if you tell us what the Tigers are doing in the area.

Apparently that's what she did. She was passing sort of very basic information onto the Army in an effort to try to get her children back. The Tigers found her and so they were going to kill her. So, on one hand, the Army is almost murdering her husband, and on the other side the guerrillas are murdering her.

GROSS: What impact did this experience have on you?

ANDERSON: It had a really rather profound impact. I was 28 at the time; I had been going to war for the previous five or six years, and really for the first time with that incident in Sri Lanka I think I felt complicit in -- all of the sudden I wasn't just a bystander, I wasn't an observer. The fiction of sort of being an omniscient viewer, in being an outsider, that all collapsed away.

I remember feeling I think for a very long time -- well, for a very long time afterward I never went back to a war zone. And I felt that I had played a role, played a hand in her murder. And I kept playing the scene back over in my mind trying to think if there was something else I could've said, something else I could've done that might have saved her.

GROSS: Usually soldiers are on the battlefield because they either believe in a cause or their government has given them no choice. They are drafted and they have to be there. But when you're a journalist and you're on the battlefield your cause is telling the story. Is that why you were there, for that cause of telling the story. Do think there were other more complicated reasons that kept you in war zones for so long?

ANDERSON: I think there's always more complicated reasons. And I think a lot of -- frankly, I think a lot of journalists and photographers as well -- they use that platitude of: well, you know it's important that the world knows what's happening, and that's why we go and cover these places, cover these wars. I think that, ultimately, that's never really the true story. I think most people keep going back for a combination of a lot of different reasons, most of them rather unsavory.

I know that for me, a huge part of it, for a long time was just the excitement of it, frankly. The adrenaline blast you get by being around combat enabled by not being a combatant and sort of the conceit that: well, because I'm not a combatant, and I'm an outsider nothing is going to happen to me.

Courage is just as much like the stupidity of thinking you are immune to it. But I think there's something undeniably thrilling about combat and its something that when you say that, it's something that people have a really hard time with. And I think most people have a very hard time admitting to the experience.

But I think this is actually one reason why Vietnam vets have a very difficult time -- vets in general have a very difficult time in readjusting. It's not as simple as -- like the horrible things that happened to them on Okinawa or happened to them in Vietnam. It's also the excitement they had in Okinawa and Vietnam.

How, you know, you're a 19 year old kid and you're back in the States somewhere and you're aware the most exciting period of your life has passed you. And I think it's very difficult to adjust to that. I don't know if I ever really believed very much the idea that I was there trying to educate the world on the bad things that were happening. I think people have known for a long time that war is a pretty bad thing.

There's just enough times when say, a photograph or a piece of video does change history. I think maybe writers, photographers can -- what drives them on, or the excuses that they can tell themselves, is that they are waiting for that moment to change history. But for the vast majority of us it doesn't happen. It certainly hasn't happened to me. I can't think of anyone -- or any situation in a war that's somehow been ameliorated or improved by my presence in it.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Scott Anderson, and he's reported from many war zones over the past 15 years, and he's the author of a new novel about a war photographer, and the novel is called "Triage." Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Scott Anderson. He's a journalist who has reported from many war zones and has now written a novel about a war photographer, and the novel is called "Triage."

You grew up in Southeast Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia during the Cold War in the 1960s. It wasn't until you were 14 that you moved to the United States. What kind of work did your father do that brought you to Southeast Asia?

ANDERSON: He was an agricultural adviser for the American government. For a branch of the State Department called the Agency for International Development. At that time, it's quite different now, but at that time South Korea and Taiwan were basically considered underdeveloped countries. He was primarily involved in setting up agricultural cooperatives.

GROSS: So in what sense did those experiences bring you closer to the sense of war?

ANDERSON: Certainly in Taiwan, where I spent the most amount of time, five years, this was from 1963-1968. At the time when the Vietnam War was very much escalating, and Taiwan became both an R & R stop for GIs fighting in Vietnam, and a back base for the American military.

That, in combination with the government of Chiang Kai-shek which kept -- always maintained this sort of low-grade war hysteria in the air. The idea that the Red Chinese, as we called them back then, that the Red Chinese were going to come across the 90 miles of Formosa Straits at any moment.

One of my most distinct memories as a kid was of going to my school, an international school in Taiwan, and there was a manned anti-aircraft gun in the driveway with two Chinese soldiers with binoculars constantly scanning the skies looking for the Red Chinese coming over the horizon.

I think what happened with me, because there was such a military presence and such a war kind of being on the wind, I always thought it was inevitable that war was coming...

GROSS: Let me stop you here. I always thought it was inevitable that war was coming, too. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the United States in the '50s and '60s during the Cold War. We had the air raid drills where you hide under your desk in case of a nuclear bomb.

Grew up with constant war movies, you know, mostly World War II movies on television. And I always thought war was inevitable, I was always preparing for the nuclear weapons. But I was terrified of it, to me this was like the worst nightmare imaginable.

The last thing in the world I would've wanted to do or that I'd want to do now is to be in a war zone. I'm wondering if we're both kind of like part of the girl-boy stereotype: you want to get closer to war, and me thinking that war is the worst thing imaginable. Or whether something else is in play here?

ANDERSON: Yeah, I wonder if it's a difference being of -- just always seeing military on the streets. At the time, Taiwan was under an official state of siege. That was the government -- kind of beyond Marshal Law. I don't know what it was, but I was really rather impatient I wanted the war to just finally get there, I just wanted to see what it would be like.

GROSS: When you first went to Lebanon, that was your first war zone, you went there as a stringer; you hadn't really reported from a war zone before. So, what was it like to see the real thing for the first time?

ANDERSON: Yeah, well, I actually went there trying to be a stringer, but I was a failed stringer because I just couldn't find any work there. It was August of 1983, and the American marines had gone in as part of the multinational -- the so-called peacekeeping force there. It was really a rather astonishing experience for me. I had been traveling through Europe for four or five months before then, just basically being a young American abroad with a backpack.

I just had not wanted to go home, and somebody said: well, you can find stringing work. So I went to Beirut and the level of fighting at that point was just starting to escalate. The American Embassy had been blown up a few months before, the marines in Beirut were getting shot -- shot at. It was just before the marine compound out by the airport was blown up.

I think, to me, the moment when I really realized just what I had gotten myself into -- going back to the idea of what soldiers represented to me as a kid, and I'd always wanted to be a soldier. And then to be in Beirut and to talk to some of the marines -- these were 18-19 year old kids and absolutely terrified. They didn't know why they were there, they were getting shot at, and they just wanted to get out.

The whole concept that I had always had of soldiers being sort of brave and fearless, and the sort of Hollywood idea of what it's like, was just very quickly stripped away. These guys just wanted to get the hell out.

GROSS: Journalist Scott Anderson. His new novel is called "Triage." We'll talk more in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross

Back with journalist Scott Anderson. He has reported from many war zones around the world, now he's written a new novel called "Triage" about a photojournalist who is wounded in war. When we left off we were talking about Anderson's early experiences reporting from war zones.

What kind of risks did you take on early in your reporting experiences when you felt immune, like this immune bystander?

ANDERSON: Well, really stupid ones because I really did have this idea -- I think this is the old cliche of why you make the 18 year olds soldiers rather than 25 or 30 year olds because on this some deep core level you fundamentally don't believe you're going to die. And I think it was very much that same way with me. So I would get into situations, and it started in Beirut, where bullets were popping around me or there would be a firefight going on and I would rush down to get as close as I could to the firefight.

It was just basic stupidity, just assuming that nothing was going to happen to me, and that changed the more I experienced it, the more I went back to wars. I started becoming much more cautious and -- it's funny, the last real war I was in was Chechnya about two and half years ago. I went with this 22 year old guy who was acting as my translator -- interpreter. And I saw so much of him in me of 15 years earlier, really rather oblivious to danger just as I had been. And just not picking up on clues or appreciating just how scary the place was.

GROSS: You had an article in "Harper's" about a year ago about your war journalism experiences, and in that you wrote, this was after having been to a lot of war zones, you wrote: "I had walked through killing fields and felt human bones break beneath my feet. I picked up the skulls of murdered children and rearranged them with an eye to photograph a composition. I had cajoled, intimidated, or charmed scores of people into revealing their most intimate horrors, and then I had thanked them perfunctorily and walked away."

You say that after that you deserved to be punished for the things you had seen. Why?

ANDERSON: I think that over time and of seeing so many horrific things taking place in front of me, there developed almost a sense of guilt at it. I think the guilt manifested as something that in fact, I should be punished for. I think -- you know we were talking about how the myths of why people keep going back, you know, why reporters, why photographers keep going back to war zones.

Over time those myths just didn't work for me anymore, and when I would see awful things my inability to do anything good to help a situation made me feel complicit in the situation, and made me feel that -- I wasn't there as a relief worker or as a doctor, I wasn't doing anything fundamentally to help anyone.

I mean, what was I doing? I was writing about people being killed, and people were reading it, and that was it. There wasn't a hell of a lot of good reason for me to be there. I think after a time I felt my complete impotence in those places, it was just something that deserved to be punished.

GROSS: I guess I do believe, though, that it is really important for people outside of the war zones to understand what is at stake, what's been fought about, who is being killed and why, what is being lost and why. Didn't you feel that that was important?

ANDERSON: I did and I do. I do now, I mean looking at Kosovo right now. I think it's absolutely vital that people report on what's happening there. I think it's vital that photographers take photos of these elderly people who are being murdered.

Because otherwise -- I mean if you look at Kosovo in particular this is a conflict that the American government and a lot of other governments around the world would just love to ignore altogether. It's because reporters are going there and writing about it and photographers are taking photographs that they're not able to do that, and I think that is a very good thing.

But I think that doing that for the people who go and do that which I have been one on occasion, it extracts its own price and I think it's over time I realized what a price it was extracting.

GROSS: Do you feel that you finally were punished for what you had seen?

ANDERSON: I don't know if I was punished; I was certainly, I think I finally got spooked. When I was in Chechnya, which was the last really bad place I was in, I think that I that got myself into situations where I finally realized: man, you can't keep doing this. You're sort of going on borrowed time.

I think, certainly, when I'm in a war zone I'm incredibly superstitious as I think most journalists are, most soldiers are. You develop a set of superstitions of the things that keep you safe, and also a way of explaining when things go bad. One of the standard superstitions is once you lose your nerve, once you get spooked, that's when bad things happen to you. I think that kind of happened to me in Chechnya where...

GROSS: Was there an experience that brought that on?

ANDERSON: Kind of a series of experiences. I was writing a story about a man who had disappeared there, an American relief worker who disappeared there about six months earlier and was in an area of Chechnya that -- Chechnya right off the bat was a really, probably the most terrifying war zone I never been to.

And in the area of the country where he disappeared was even worse. And the idea that I was over there snooping around trying to find out who had actually killed or disappeared this man, just sort of -- just seemed like the danger level was multiplying exponentially. And there were a series of incidents, but on both sides, both the Chechen rebels with the Russian soldiers, where I and the people I was with were incredibly luckily to have gotten out.

GROSS: It seems, from having read some of your work, that in some ways the historical, religious, and political explanations of war strike you as almost beside the point. You seem to think it's in man's nature to go to war and that there's just always going to be war. No matter what we do and a matter how we explain them.

ANDERSON: Right. Both beside the point, and kind of dangerous in their own way, I feel. The explanations, the focus on causes of war, because I think that it ends up very quickly being both a rationalization for war and often a rationalization for doing nothing.

For instance, in the case of Bosnia, very quickly the history -- and history being another form of mythology. The mythology that's attached to Bosnia was that: oh well, these people have been at each other's throats for centuries. And that became its own, the so-called history of the Balkans, became its own reason for not doing anything.

On another level, I think that the danger of offering explanations of why war happens tends to legitimize it. I think I've developed a sort of very cynical, but I think in a way, healthily cynical attitude towards why war happens.

I think often it's just a case of the bunch of guys, usually guys, almost always guys, almost always young who have just -- it's the most exciting thing they can think to do. It's a lot more interesting than working the family rice patty; it's more interesting than sitting around watching reruns in your council flat in West Belfast.

GROSS: Your next book is about Fred Cuney (ph), the global relief worker who built a water purification system in Bosnia during the war, went to Chechnya and as you described was lost there and then, finally after a long search, presumed dead. I'm wondering if you felt that in some ways that he was a kindred spirit in the sense that he spent a good deal of his life in war zones.

ANDERSON: Yeah, although he spent his time in war zones actually doing something good. He -- an amazing man, had spent 25 years dealing with both natural and man-made disasters which is another way of saying war. And had really done just astonishing stuff.

Projects around the world, as you mentioned the water project in Sarajevo which really saved, at a very crucial moment saved the city of Sarajevo from falling when the Serbs cut off the water supply.

He went to Chechnya and -- went to Chechnya once, was there very briefly; found it a really horrifying place. Came back to the States and refused to let this war just fall off the world's consciousness, and then went back -- and when he went back disappeared very quickly. Just within a day of getting back.

I think that I felt a -- it was interesting in writing about him that also someone like Fred Cuney, war had that same very complex sets of allures for him. Certainly, along with him was compassion, a desire to save people, to improve their lives, but there was also the excitement side of it.

Here's a guy who had spent a quarter of a century zipping around from one disaster zone to the next. I think that there was a quality of, as time went on the excitement level, the thrill level drew him to worse and worse places. And he finally found the very worst place, which was Chechnya, and as did I. He, unfortunately, did not come back. I did, but I think I kind of crossed some little threshold with that whole experience.

GROSS: Scott Anderson thank you very much, and I trust that you're not headed back into a war zone now.

ANDERSON: Not anytime soon. Thanks a lot.

GROSS: Scott Anderson has written a new novel called "Triage."

Coming up a new book about one of JFK's secret lovers.

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Scott Anderson
High: War correspondent Scott Anderson talks about the many wars he has witnessed. He has reported from Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Beirut. He has just written his first novel "Triage" which is about the toll war has on a war photographer. He is also the co-author of "War Zones," and is a contributing editor to "Harper's" magazine. His stories have also appeared in "The New York Times Magazine," and the "Boston Globe."
Spec: War; Media; Scott Anderson

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Eyewitness To War
Date: OCTOBER 13, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 101302NP.217
Head: JFK's Mistress
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: As Congress prepares for impeachment hearings, a new book has just been published about Mary Pinochet Meyer, who was one of JFK's secret lovers while he was in the White House. The Secret Service logged her in on 17 evenings. The affair coincided with the heating up of the Cold War. According to the book, Meyer was with Kennedy on the night he went on TV to warn the American people about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Mary Pinochet Meyer was shot to death less than a year after Kennedy's assassination. Yesterday was the 34th anniversary of her murder. It is unsolved. The new book about Meyer is called "A Very Private Woman." My guest is the author, Nina Burleigh. She is an editor at "New York" magazine and a former reporter for "Time" magazine.

Nina Burleigh says, historically, people are interested in mistresses to find out what they reveal about famous men. Burleigh was interested in the impact of Kennedy on Meyer's life. I asked Burleigh if she thought the affair between Meyer and Kennedy was just sexual or if they were close friends as well.

NINA BURLEIGH, AUTHOR; EDITOR, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE: I think that they were very close, and that the sexual part of the relationship was somewhat secondary. I think that they were friends before being lovers and that they were friends after they became lovers.

GROSS: Did Jackie Kennedy know about it?

BURLEIGH: That's a good question. The women that I'd talk to who were close to Mary, and also were part of a circle of people -- women who were kind of having occasional flings with the president--said that they never really knew how much Jackie knew about the other women in her husband's life.

But that she was -- she seemed to be acquiescing to, at least, having women around who her husband liked and in one case, for example, I interviewed a woman who had a fling with Kennedy and she recalls that Jackie seated her on one side of Kennedy, and Mary on the other side at a White House dinner.

And so the feeling that I got from this was that Jackie had a very sort of sophisticated attitude, if you will, towards her husband's behavior and that she felt, perhaps, that he needed to be allowed these daliances. Now, whether she knew that they were actually having sex together, I cannot answer.

GROSS: Mary Meyer had been married to a man who was in the CIA. A man you describe as being most famous for being the brains behind the CIA's infiltration of American student organizations. Did that make the CIA, do you think, any more or less interested in monitoring her relationship with Kennedy?

BURLEIGH: I think it probably didn't have that much effect on their interest in her as a romantic interest with the president because I think that the intelligence community was interested in any woman that he, the president, had relationships with.

GROSS: Now, what were their concerns?

BURLEIGH: Well, I would think their first concern was always blackmail, and then the second concern would be that these women were uncontrollable, that they might be answering to other men or they might be telling other men things about Kennedy that they might be giving -- lobbying Kennedy, sort of, in bed. I think that they feared these women to some extent.

GROSS: Your interest in the story isn't just an interest in a presidential affair. You're interested in who Mary Meyer was as a person; you're interested in her in her own right. So, I'd like you to tell us a little bit about who she was as a person.

I mean some other things that define her is that she was an artist, she experimented with Reichian (ph) therapy, she was a friend of Timothy Leary's and was likely to have taken LSD in its experimental phase. You describe her as someone who went from a fairly conventional suburban wife type of role to her marriage becoming much more adventurous.

BURLEIGH: Yes, to some extent you're right about that. But I think that she was -- she was born to a family, the Pinochet in Pennsylvania, a very wealthy, somewhat bohemian family that appreciated skepticism and had a certain strain of radicalism, actually. I mean her father Amos Pinochet was a founder of the American Progressive Party. And actually split off from the Progressive Party because he was too radical, because he was too much of a trust-buster.

So she was raised by -- and her mother was also rather unconventional. Her mother wrote for "The Nation" and was a working woman in the 1920s when that wasn't always common, lived in Greenwich Village and was very close with Max Eastman, and so Mary grew up in a household that sort of was more skeptical and more bohemian maybe than, let's say, Jackie did, although they were of the same class. So, she started out more likely to be a kind of an experimental woman.

GROSS: The story of Mary Meyer's death not only figures into the story of John F. Kennedy's behavior in the White House, but it figures into the conspiracy theories about JFK. How does it relate to those theories?

BURLEIGH: Well, she was murdered just a few weeks after the Warren Commission Report came out. So those who see a conspiracy here see that as significant timing. That's one way that it's related. The other is that she was married to a top CIA official. She had been divorced from Cord Meyer before she and Kennedy got together, but she was still in touch with Cord Meyer, and Cord Meyer certainly was in the loop on things like the Castro assassination plots and -- those who believe that there may be a conspiracy here think that she was aware of some of the CIA secrets.

That she would've been aware of them via her husband, and that knowing her politics, knowing her sort of roguish experimental lifestyle--certainly in terms of the more conventional Georgetown wives whom she was friendly with--she may have been ready to tell these stories, and that's what the conspiracy people believe. That she just new more than she was opposed to.

GROSS: Do you buy any of that?

BURLEIGH: I think that she probably knew more than the average American wife and maybe knew more than average woman in Washington, but was she in on the assassination plot, if there was such a plot, to assassinate Kennedy? I seriously doubt it. I don't think that Kennedy certainly was telling her state secrets. So, I don't buy that she knew things that would have led to her being killed that day.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Nina Burleigh. Her new book about Mary Meyer is called "A Very Private Woman." We'll talk more after our break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest, journalist Nina Burleigh, is the author of a new biography of Mary Meyer who was one of JFK's lovers while he was in the White House.

Just after Mary Meyer was found murdered, her good friend Anne Truitt called Meyer's sister, Toni Bradlee, who was then the wife of Ben Bradlee, the editor of "The Washington Post." She had called to tell Toni Bradlee about Mary Meyer's diary. What did she want her to know about the diary?

BURLEIGH: She wanted Toni to know that there might be material in the diary that would be embarrassing, and that Mary would have preferred it not to be made public.

GROSS: And what happened to the diary?

BURLEIGH: Well, that's a good question. The night after the murder, the Bradlees and counter-intelligence chief James Angleton, and perhaps some other people, found the diary in Mary Meyer's studio. James Angleton took the diary along with a box of letters and papers, basically all the written material that recorded her life.

Took it to the CIA and he called certain people, including one of Mary's lovers, a man named Kenneth Noland (ph), an artist, and said he had destroyed the letters that Ken Noland and Mary Meyer had exchanged, and then he told people that he had disposed of the diary. At least Ben Bradlee thought he had. And then a few years later, he presented it to Toni Bradlee who by this time was divorced from Ben, and Toni, according to Anne Truitt, burned the diary in the presence of some of her friends and Mary's friends.

Other information that I got after that was told to me indicate that the diary may actually still exist in the Milford, Pennsylvania family home of the Pinochet's. But they did not concede that, and they did not make it available to me. So I have to assume it's either burned or locked away in the Pennsylvania estate.

GROSS: What do you think was in the diary?

BURLEIGH: I think that Ben Bradlee described it. It was a -- an artist's sketch book with lots of colors in it and some writing, and it recorded her meetings with Kennedy. I'm not sure how she recorded them, but she certainly made it clear to a reader like Ben Bradlee that she was having a, you know, a romantic relationship with the president.

GROSS: How is writing this book about the affair between Mary Meyer and JFK affected your thoughts about whether President Clinton should be impeached?

BURLEIGH: When I consider the notion of President Clinton being impeached over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and the lies that he apparently told about it, I can't help but think about all of the literature that is now available, and all of the gate logs that are available at the JFK library that prove that Kennedy was engaged in far more reckless behavior with women than what we know President Clinton was engaged in. And for that reason, I find it ridiculous that we have got into this pass.

As a woman, I am offended by both of their behaviors and I think that the women who were involved with Kennedy were used, and they feel used now, those are still living, when they think back on it. And that the relationship with Kennedy was damaging to these women, and I think that it's going to be the same for Monica Lewinsky and any other women who may have had relationships with President Clinton.

As a feminist, I'm put in a bad position because I find it abhorrent that these women were treated this way, but at the same time I think back to 35 years ago and a president that is revered in American history who was engaged in the same kind behavior.

GROSS: Nina Burleigh thank you for talking with us.

BURLEIGH: You're welcome.

GROSS: Nina Burleigh's new biography of Mary Meyer is called "A Very Private Woman."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Nina Burleigh, Author
High: Biographer Nina Burleigh talks about Mary Pinochet Meyer, who, it is believed, was a mistress of President John F. Kennedy. She was found shot and murdered a year after Kennedy's assassination. Burleigh has written about Meyer's life in "A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer. Burleigh is a contributing editor to "New York" magazine. She is also a former contributor to "Time" magazine.
Spec: Mary Pinochet Meyer; John F. Kennedy; Media; Murders; Death

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: JFK's Mistress
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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