Did Ted Sorenson Ghostwrite Profiles in Courage?--

In the course of mulling over Ted Sorenson's eloquent 2004 Commencement Address to graduating students at the New School, I began to think that it was a a bit odd that Sorenson should speak so eloquently about integrity, since I did't think that he had ever delineated the nature of his contributions to the writing of JFK's Profiles in Courage.

For those interested in the question, Cecil Adams in The Straight Dope reports what historian and JFK biographer Herbert Parmet determined when he went through JFK's papers:

The most thorough analysis of who did what has come from historian Herbert Parmet in Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980). Parmet interviewed the participants and reviewed a crateful of papers in the Kennedy Library. He found that Kennedy contributed some notes, mostly on John Quincy Adams, but little that made it into the finished product. "There is no evidence of a Kennedy draft for the overwhelming bulk of the book," Parmet writes. While "the choices, message, and tone of the volume are unmistakably Kennedy's," the actual work was "left to committee labor." The "literary craftsmanship [was] clearly Sorensen's, and he gave the book both the drama and flow that made for readability." Parmet, like everyone else, shrinks from saying Sorensen was the book's ghostwriter, but clearly he was.

Actually, it appears that JFK's contributions to the book were more substantial than I had thought. Apparently, at least the book was JFK's idea, and he was intimately involved in putting it together, even if he wrote very little of it.

And Adams says that Parmet "interviewed the participants," including presumably Sorenson, though from Adams's account Parmet's conclusion seems to be based more on the Kennedy papers than on the interviews.

Nonetheless, has Sorenson ever publicly admitted that he wrote almost all of the text?

Would readers who have Parmet's JFK biography (vol. 1) in their library check to see what he reports Sorenson as having said on the question of authorship (and post the results in the comments)?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Did Ted Sorenson Ghostwrite Profiles in Courage?--
  2. Political Commencement Addresses.--
  3. Conservative Commencement Speakers Not Welcome.--
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
I always thought Ted Sorenson found his call basking in the back-seat warmth of, and derived his identity from, Jack Kennedy, and hasn't known quite what to do with himself since the President's assassination. Although from time to time, he tries to convince us that we, too, can believe Kennedy is still alive- or if only he were.

"Nonetheless, has Sorenson ever publicly admitted that he wrote almost all of the text?"

I believe he has not; I am not an authority.

I don't believe anyone ever nailed (because they're all un-nailable) Joe for engineering the Pulitzer Prize, either.
5.7.2006 5:56pm
Jared K.:
I'm confused. Is the implication that Sorenson displays a lack of integrity because he won't take credit for writing a book away from an assassinated President? A President for whom he was employed as a speechwriter?

A speechwriter's job is to write words for someone else and not take credit for them. I'm not saying he needs to lie, but if all he's doing is refusing to say "JFK didn't write it; I did," I guess I don't see what's so dishonest about not "admitt[ing] he wrote almost all the text."
5.7.2006 7:07pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Sorenson displays a lack of integrity to the extent he is a co-conspirator in perpetrating a fraud. Normally the person who does the most work gets to claim credit as the author. The author is that person who writes the words in the book. What other meaning of the word "author" do you want to use? If that person was Sorenson then he is the author. Unfortunately today ghostwriting seems to be running rampart. I've heard that Tom Clancy no longer writes his thriller novels. He gets an idea and contracts the writing out. His name sells the book. The university system has produced hordes of very competent writers who need the work and will work cheap. It's a form of outsourcing.
5.7.2006 7:47pm
James Lindgren (mail):

When Drew Pearson suggested that the book was ghostwritten, he and ABC were threatened with a lawsuit for defamation. Here is Wikipedia's version:

Sorensen also had an important role in researching and drafting Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Profiles in Courage, prompting some controversy over the book's authorship. Drew Pearson, a prominent journalist, alleged that Sorensen ghostwrote the book, leading Kennedy to demand a retraction, which was provided after JFK presented handwritten notes and Sorensen signed an affadavit attesting to Kennedy's authorship.
5.7.2006 7:48pm
hey (mail):
Tom Clancy has several franchises to which he contributes little. These are distinguished by the name "Tom Clancy's XXX by YY ZZ".

These books came about from some work that Tom was doing in terms of TV, his game work, and then the success of the limited authorship books. They are very much pulp fiction (and by people much less skilled in the art than early Tom Clancy) but sell well and there is little attempt to deny that there is another author involed. He was involved in creating the concepts for the initial books and creating the universe the stories take place in, but not the actual work of each book. It's very much a difference in kind from not giving the actual author credit. Tom is more a titled executive producer, like some of Jerry Bruckheimer's action movies, than attempting to take credit for another author's work.

If you read his mainline works, you will note that it is obviously Tom who is writing them in toto. To have so much padded exposition in a book, you need to be a platinum plated guaranteed success. The ghost writers get a very hard wordcount and noone is afraid of giving them a vigourous edit. It's only the Tom Clancys and Steven Kings of the world who don't get edited. If anyone believed that there was someone else in the chain that they could bully/scare, they would do so to try and make them more readable. I'm saying this as a FAN of Clancy, even his recent books, but he's had so much success that no one can control him. He's veering towards George Lucas territory.
5.7.2006 8:51pm
Glenn W Bowen (mail):
James Lindgren-

I found wiki's article rather slanted, in fact I amended some text from something like this:

Despite the fact that these were unfounded or exaggerated, Sorensen's nomination was foiled


Despite the fact that these fears may have been unfounded or exaggerated, Sorensen's nomination was foiled

I don't know if Kennedy was a senator or president at the time of the authorship coming into question. Given the times it occurred, and the power the Kennedys held, I suspect the retraction of the charge, and a signed affadavit from a subordinate might be questionable to a degree.

I have read in more than one accounting of suspicion of Joe Kennedy's hand in the Pulitzer Prize.
5.7.2006 9:50pm
James Lindgren (mail):
JFK was a Senator at the time.
5.8.2006 1:40am
MarkW (mail):
I always approach any book "written" by a politician with the prior that it was probably ghostwritten. While a handful of political figures may write their own books, it's probably safe to assume that a vast majority do not.

George Nash revealed years ago, in his history of modern American conservatism, that Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative was ghostwritten by L. Brent Bozell, Bill Buckley's brother in law.

David Reynolds recent book, In Command of History, documents how most of the writing of Winston Churchill's World War II memoirs was farmed out to a committee of assistants.

I doubt the practice will end soon; both politicians and publishers have an interest in having authorship of these ghostwritten books credited to the well-known politicians who attach their names to them.
5.8.2006 2:32am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I always approach any book "written" by a politician with the prior that it was probably ghostwritten. While a handful of political figures may write their own books, it's probably safe to assume that a vast majority do not.
Probably true. But isn't it taking dishonesty to another level (assuming that PiC was in fact ghostwritten) to accept an award for a book that one didn't write?
5.8.2006 4:30am
They should change the title to "While Jack Slept"
5.8.2006 11:26am
Jared K.:
Fair enough. I knew little about the situation and was reacting mostly to the post as written. I'm still not sure as to whether or not any of the claimed events happened, but I'm willing to accept that if they all took place as you and others claim, that could reflect a lack of integrity.
I would guess, however, that to Sorenson the issue now seems less like he's perpetuating a fraud and more like he's preserving the memory of a great man. (Lest we get into a new discussion about the relative greatness of the man, note that I say it in the context of what Sorenson believes.)
5.8.2006 2:03pm
MarkW (mail):
Probably true. But isn't it taking dishonesty to another level (assuming that PiC was in fact ghostwritten) to accept an award for a book that one didn't write?

A legitimate criticism, but one which would apply to Kennedy, not Sorenson (and which one could also apply to Churchill).
5.8.2006 2:11pm
dave (mail):
Reagan, of course, was the sole author for his autobiography "Where's The Rest Of Me?"

The Reagan library has the crayoned pages to prove it.
5.8.2006 7:56pm