The list of sins is long. He made passes at his daughter's friends, he had his eldest daughter Rosemary lobotomised for political reasons, he bribed a woman to cry rape to frame a rival, he made his wealth from bootlegging and connections with organised crime, he admired Hitler, he had a nine-year affair with his Hyannis Port secretary, Janet Des Rosiers, he introduced John to pornography at 14, he never went to church but posed as a devout Catholic.
Said the 52-year-old author, married to former Washington Post reporter Pamela Kessler, from his Potomac home in Maryland in a telephone interview: "My agent Robert Gottlieb gave me the idea. It seemed a fun book to do for two reasons: Joseph Kennedy was such a complex man and it was a challenge to get the inside story. It took me two years. Each time I do a book I enjoy the experience immensely but this was especially interesting."
With his remarkable exposes Inside the CIA and The FBI, which brought down FBI director William S. Sessions, a first-hand account of Adnan Khashoggi (The Richest Man in the World), a bestseller on the hidden lives of presidents, The White House, as well as a series of books on espionage and security breaches in the KGB and the CIA, Kessler has earned himself quite a name.
He started in 1964 in Worcester Telegram, and spent three years with Boston Herald. In '68, he hopped to Wall Street Journal. In '70, he joined Washington Post and continued there till 1987. In '85, Kessler wrote his first investigative account in the book, The Life Insurance Game, an expose on the industry in the US. And never looked back. Today, he has 16 journalism awards to his credit, including two George Polks—one for national reporting and the other for community service. He also got the American Political Science Association's Public Affairs Reporting Award, Associated Press' Sevellon Brown Memorial Award and the Washingtonian of the Year title from Washington magazine.
Factual, spicy and engaging, The Sins of The Father is a voyeur's delight. The history of the anti-Semitic, Irish bootlegger—who ran his family like a tyrant, and for whose sins his children paid with their lives—holds you because of the rich concoction of interviews culled from diverse sources.
Never before has any Kennedy book—including the two most popular, Arthur Schlesinger's Robert Kennedy and His Times or Laurence Leamer's The Kennedy Women —so bravely exposed the warts. Kessler shows how Jack's womanising, Bobby's emotional imbalances and Teddy's alcoholism were a direct result of Joseph's influence.
Was it difficult to get people to talk about the most powerful dynasty in the US? "Not as difficult as I thought. Certainly not as tough as getting information for the CIA, FBI books. I guess trust was a major factor in getting people to talk. Secretary Janet, for instance, confessed she had been Joe's mistress in an interview in August '94.
" What about the family and friends? "John's Harvard buddies never really held back. The hard part was getting Joe's associates to speak up because they were handpicked by him and, of course, some were intimidated by the Kennedy name."
And the immediate family just clammed up. Kessler recounts in his notes how after repeated requests for interviews with Ted Kennedy and his sisters, Ted's press secretary Melody Miller conveyed a firm no.
The man says there's a lot of writing left in him. "As long as there's hypocrisy in public life, there'll be fields to plough," says he. His favourite hero, not surprisingly, is Superman.