Kathleen Kennedy Townsend stood for no phonusbolonus during a Summer TV Press Tour 2013 discussion about her uncle, President John F Kennedy.  Earlier in the day, PBS announced details of a series of primetime programs airing November 11-13, commemorating the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. Among them, American Experience franchise is airing a four-hour, two-part JFK biography, which takes a new look at the enigmatic president. During that program’s Q&A, historian Tim Natfali said JFK “was a very smart man who was not an ideologist. He was a problem solver” and that “given that our world today is so ideological, it’s refreshing to meet a self assured leader who didn’t have to pretend to be an ideologue.”

Townsend, appearing via Skype, objected in a pretty big way, saying Natfali’s description makes her uncle sound as though he didn’t have a view of the world in which he had “a moral vision.”  “He had a real vision,” she insisted, ticking off his work and positions about building democracy in Latin America, the “moral issue”  of civil rights, etc. Naftali wilted. “That’s a very good point to raise,” he said obsequiously, adding, “We ‘ve forgotten you can be a pragmatist with values. In my humble estimation, Kennedy was a pragmatist with values.” That seemed to settle Townsend down. But, a few minutes later, a TV critic in the room said he was taken aback by reports of Kennedy’s womanizing and asked the panel on stage,  “Can you put any of that in perspective in terms of how common or uncommon that was, and what impact it did or did not have on his presidency?”

“It was not just at that time,” Townsend snipped.  “It’s been true since Troy!” That ended that line of talk. Later, another TV critic, who said he was old enough to remember Kennedy’s assassination, said that when he speaks to young staffers in his office, their understanding of Kennedy is “assassination, and Marilyn Monroe.” Someone on stage made a dismissive comment about our culture’s “tremendous ability to distill, down to inanity,” setting Townsend off again.

“I have a point to say about this,” she jumped in.  “When I’m with African-Americans of any age, they clearly have a very strong sense of President Kennedy, and my father {Robert Kennedy] and what they did for the civil rights movement. That’s the conversations I have…with so many different people I talk to. They have a much richer understanding and sense of history,”  she sniffed, ending that line of talk.