In that turbulent time, says Talbot, Bobby Kennedy gave him a ray of hope. "I was a very alienated, angry kid, and Bobby Kennedy, when he emerged that year, just seemed like the only hope, that he would resolve my personal problems, with this military school and the war. He touched me in a way no other figure had before."
The publication of Talbot's book coincides with the arrival of another Kennedy murder inquiry -- Vincent Bugliosi's "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy."
When Talbot stepped down from Salon to launch his Kennedy research, incidentally, Bugliosi had already been at work on his book for 18 years. Bugliosi's painstaking effort (and, at 1,600 pages, painfully long in the view of some reviewers) reaches an opposite conclusion. While Talbot makes a familiar argument that a confluence of anti-Castro Cubans, rogue CIA elements and the Mafia were behind Lee Harvey Oswald's murderous act, Bugliosi insists there was no conspiracy, that Oswald acted alone (and that anyone who doesn't understand that is a fool or worse). Talbot is not so dismissive, however, and says he is trying to arrange a verbal duel with Bugliosi to be held in public. (So far, no response from the Bugliosi camp, Talbot reported Friday.)
"This whole area is a rabbit hole, a dark labyrinth, and I was determined not to get lost in it," Talbot says over coffee at The Times. "I think Vincent Bugliosi got lost in it. My way was to use Bobby Kennedy as a light, and to explore what he thought happened. I think he was looking at the CIA and their secret war on Castro in which they used militant Cuban exiles and mobsters to carry out their dirty work. I think Bobby thought that was the operation that turned its guns against JFK."
Talbot marshals the evidence and presents it engagingly, but nothing can be proven because many of the principals have died of old age (or died early under mysterious circumstances); many CIA files are still under lock and key and there has been little political will to reopen the wound with a formal investigation. (This, says Talbot, despite the fact that nearly three-fourths of Americans polled said they believe a conspiracy was behind the JFK slaying. As recently as last year, almost two-thirds of Americans told pollsters they believed that Saddam Hussein had strong links to Al Qaeda, so maybe this is just an example of that famous American paranoid strain in politics rearing its ugly head.)
Shocking and juicy
History buffs may already know that John Kennedy thought it was possible that the Joint Chiefs of Staff could consider a coup under the right conditions, or that the CIA suspected he was being led down a path of "peace, love and drugs" by his mistress, Mary Meyer, the bohemian ex-wife of a CIA agent, who introduced him to marijuana and possibly LSD. Her 1964 death was never solved.
But for those with only a passing knowledge of the era, or who are wishing for a refresher course on the turbulent politics of the early Cold War or the stunning internecine battles waged during the Kennedy administration over commies, Cubans and civil rights, "Brothers" is a bracing retelling of a familiar tale, full of shocking moments and juicy tidbits. Talbot, naturally, hopes the book will find its way to the big screen. "Message to George Clooney," he says, with a chuckle. "I thought he would be perfect to produce it because his aunt, Rosemary Clooney, was singing at the hotel when Bobby was shot and had a terrible nervous breakdown afterward."
Meanwhile, though he helped invent the brave new genre of online journalism, he never managed to get rich. Salon, where he is still chairman of the board, paid him a decent salary (though less than $200,000, according to news reports), and he says he ended up with something north of $100,000 when he cashed out his stock. But, he says cheerfully, ink-stained wretch style: "I am an old-fashioned guy. I started out deeply in debt, and I'm still deeply in debt."