Robert Kennedy and the American press

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Bickers, Patrick M.
Mitchell, J. Paul
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
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This dissertation is a study of Robert F. Kennedy's images in the American news media. By using a geographically representative sample of widely-circulated daily newspapers as well as periodical magazines, Kennedy's career was examined from 1953, when he was Senator Joseph McCarthy's assistant counsel, to 1968 when he was a Presidential candidate. The examination was keyed on a number of sensitive issues in which Kennedy was involved: McCarthyism, civil rights and the war in Vietnam, to name three. Sometimes Kennedy himself was the issue, such as when he was appointed Attorney General and when he ran for the offices of United States Senator and President.Robert Kennedy's career was a controversial one. As Chief Counsel for the Rackets Committee and as Attorney General he was widely perceived as a tough and tenacious enforcer of the law. Some members of the press approvingly saw Kennedy as a scrupulous defender of what was right and decent in American society. Others condemned him as self-righteous and a true disciple of Joseph McCarthy.With President Kennedy's assassination, Robert Kennedy's career was radically altered. He was elected to the Senate in 1964, where he became increasingly outspoken on a broad range of Johnson administration policies. Most controversial, however, were the positions he took on the war in Vietnam. Increasingly Critical of the United States role in the war, Kennedy was pictured by a few editors as a man trying to come to grips with a national emergency. Many more thought Kennedy was using the war to attack President Johnson for his own political purposes.As early as 1962, editorialists speculated about Robert Kennedy's political future and the Presidency. The speculation was heightened by the murder of John Kennedy. Furthermore, the more critical senator Robert Kennedy became of President Johnson, the more imminent a final break between the two politicians seemed. When the final break came, in March 1968, few in the press were surprised. Some were outraged, however, particularly supporters of Eugene McCarthy who was already running for President on a platform similar to Kennedy's. The Presidential race was the most controversial period in Robert Kennedy's career and it was also the period which was most intently covered by the press. Between 1953 and 1968, two separate and in some ways antithetical images of Robert Kennedy emerged. One Kennedy was ruthless and obsessed with power. The other was a bold spokesman for the underrepresented and outcast.