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Kennedy hypocrisy harms the public interest

By Dan Kennedy, assistant professor of journalism, Northeastern University

Central to the idea of censorship is that it’s an action taken by the government. But it appears that the Kennedy family may have come up with a new form of censorship: suppression of government documents by a private person.

Boston Globe reporter Bryan Bender writes that Max Kennedy, one of Robert Kennedy’s children, has barred full access to his father’s papers dating back to his time as attorney general. Historians tell Bender those documents could prove embarrassing given what they might reveal about RFK’s actions with regard to Cuba and civil rights.

For censorship aficionados, Max Kennedy’s e-mail to Bender is a classic:

There are many requests to see them, and frankly, many of those requests come from people with poorly-conceived projects. It is my responsibility, as custodian of the papers, to grant use responsibly. That does not mean that every book must be cloyingly positive; I do not think that for a moment, and I would be doing a disservice to my father if I acted that way. But I do believe that historians and journalists must do their homework, and observe the correct procedures for seeking permission to consult the papers, and explain their projects.

In other words, freedom of information is too precious to grant it to just anyone. What a repulsive example of hypocrisy.

Those papers were created at public expense and belong to us. It’s been 50 years. I’m not sure why Max Kennedy even has a say in the matter. But since he does, it’s long since time for him to put the public interest above the possibility that his father’s legacy will be tarnished.

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