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President Kennedy was an inveterate gossip. Here he is gossiping on the phone with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., one of his aides, about the Profumo sex scandal in Great Britain. (pp. 689-690)

Book Excerpt
Audio clip 15, pp. 689 - 690

"What is the scandal?" Kennedy asked with delicious anticipation.

The president was on the telephone with Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who on March 22, 1963, had just returned from England with a precious piece of political title-tattle. Kennedy treated gossip like chocolate bonbons, a pleasant little addiction that he enjoyed tasting several times a day. Schlesinger had a particularly sweet item about John Profumo, the British war minister, who had gotten himself in a wicked fix.

"Well, he has written a number of letters to a girl who turns out to have been the mistress of a Soviet military attaché," Schlesinger said.

"Is that the girl that was written about in this morning's paper?" the president asked, already up to the moment on the story.

Kennedy treated the scandal as if it were happening to some exotic species of political animal. He himself had indulged, however, in precisely the same behavior that doomed Profumo's political career, carrying on with a woman who was also involved with one of his nation's enemies. The president, moreover, had done so with reckless nonchalance, learning nothing from the debacle with Judith Campbell Exner, continuing with liaisons that were even more dangerous.