Contradictions Within Robert Caro’s Works: Exposing a Legacy Built on Mythology?

Within my 12/03/2020 blog titled “Lyndon B. Johnson’s World War II Service – and “War Experiences” I described different aspects of the ever-changing official version of LBJ’s and the federal government’s pronouncements about his being awarded the Silver Star for his WWII “combat experience.” 

In a rather paradoxically-humorous manner, there are so many versions of what amounted to LBJ’s 13 minute joy-ride in a WWII fighter-bomber story — entirely due to Johnson’s own numerous renderings of this tale — that in some cases the responses from the same source depend upon the date upon which the question was asked.  

Flight and Ground Crew of the “Heckling Hare” (B-26 Martin-Marauder) Who Disabused LBJ’s Lies About His Own “Heroism”

The best illustration of the point relates to the three versions Robert Caro, the widely-recognized preeminent biographer of Lyndon Johnson, wrote about, from 1990 through 2012. In three steps he steadily moved, from a clearly critical position, to one of mild acceptance of Johnson’s claims, and finally to a complete capitulation to LBJ’s most absurd lies, all in direct opposition to what is now known:

[1] In Caro’s second (1990) book, Means of Ascent (pages 46 – 53):

Mr. Caro quoted from “lead sentences in the articles that appeared — ‘Lyndon Johnson came home from the wars Monday’: ‘Fresh from the battlefields of the Southwest Pacific, with the boom of cannon from hostile aircraft still echoing in his ears’ . . . in the Congressman’s own words about the ‘suicide mission on which he had flown,’ and about ‘the harrowing flight home under fire’ from Japanese Zeros’.” In another such declaration, Johnson would tell audiences that God had helped him stay alive: “There are no non-believers at 12,000 feet with Jap Zero fighters around.”

Caro then did an admirable job of summarizing much of the hyperbole about Johnson’s alleged “exaggerations,” calling it a “normal aspect of war stories, only to be expected. With Johnson, however, exaggeration spilled over into something more—until the story of his wartime service bore little resemblance to the reality.” (emphasis supplied).

He then referenced a quotation (implicitly endorsing it, in context) from Texas journalist Ronnie Dugger: “He not only let falsehood pass for truth, he faked his record himself. Telling me about the mission over Lae, he said that when twenty Zeroes attacked them, ‘it was like shooting fish out of a barrel.’ Fourteen of the planes got the hell shot out of them. He saw Colonel Stevens’ plane go down. He said that everybody who survived that mission got a Silver Star; everybody who died got the Distinguished Service Cross.”  

That none of those assertions had a scintilla of truth came through ”loud and clear.”

[2] Within a 2001 CNN report, The Story of LBJ’s Silver Star, by Jamie McIntyre (CNN military affairs correspondent) and Jim Barnett (CNN producer), quoting Robert Caro: 

CARO: “The most you can say about Lyndon Johnson and his Silver Star is that it is surely one of the most undeserved Silver Stars in history. Because [even] if you accept everything that he said, he was still in action for no more than thirteen minutes and only as an observer. Men who flew many missions, brave men, never got a Silver Star . . .I would say that it’s an issue of exaggerations. He said that he flew on many missions, not one mission. He said that the crew members, the other members of the Air Force group, were so admiring of him that they called him Raider Johnson. Neither of these things are true.” (emphasis added by author).

The incoherence of the phrase “if you accept everything that he said, he was still in action for no more than thirteen minutes and only as an observer” is obvious:  How can one believe that that airplane was able to take-off, experience a mechanical issue and return to the airbase within 20 minutes, obviously not getting anywhere near the target, yet still accept “everything he said” as the predicate for further analysis? 

Of course, it is an “issue of exaggerations” . . . on steroids.  In the process of moving a bit away from his earlier, more critical statements, he manages to avoid a direct “verdict” as to whether “anything he said” could be the truth—possibly because he fully intends to lead the reader into that rabbit-hole, and leave it at that, forgetting entirely that he has already, repeatedly, proved the point that LBJ was a notoriously well established chronic liar; this was the man for whom the term “Credibility Gap” was invented, an expression once widely used in the mid-1960s by journalists, late-night comedians and millions of people around the world in routine conversations.

[3] Within Caro’s last book, The Passage of Power (2012)

The latest, most confusing and contradictory (and shortest, only two sentences) statement was merely a sliver of the Silver Star story that appeared twenty-two years after Means of Ascent, when he published his fourth tome on Lyndon Johnson. Caro wrote  in the middle of his account of Johnson’s actions riding in the Dallas motorcade just as JFK was being murdered, as if to emphasize LBJ’s “coolness” under pressure (a brazen absurdity)  that, for future political points:   “. . . he had to be able to say he had at least been in a combat zone, he went to the South Pacific and flew as an observer on a bomber that was attacked by Japanese Zeroes. And as the Zeroes were heading straight for the bomber, firing as they came, its crew saw Lyndon Johnson climb into the navigator’s bubble so that he could get a better view, and stand there staring right at the oncoming planes, ‘just as calm,’ in the words of one crew member, ‘as if he were on a sight-seeing tour.‘” (p. 314). Caro left nary a word about whether this was merely LBJ’s hallucination (which of course it was) or what apparently was to be taken as his latest and final declaration of allegiance to the mythological legacy of the 36th POTUS.

That is arguably the most outrageously banal, intrinsically false and totally absurd statement Caro or anyone else, for that matter ever wrote about LBJ’s “war experience,” even anything else pertaining to him.


In this case it would appear that Mr. Caro’s renowned talent for capturing a moment most eloquently was not in the “On” position.  Had he left it at the first sentence, even the lack of a qualifier, such as “rumored to have been attacked . . . “, he would have still been basically true to his earlier work.  The next sentence (the italic, underlined, boldfaced one), was all complete rubbish, as has been proven over and again, as stated, for example, within the July 9, 2011 CNN video and article by Jamie McIntyre referenced above, which includes statements from the aircraft’s navigator, Billy Boothe Sr.: “Anybody with any sense could have looked it up and proved it to themselves that we couldn’t have flown over the target,” the senior Boothe is quoted in the December 17, 1986, newspaper account. 

In the article, Boothe says he refused to talk to two authors who wrote The Mission, a 1964 book that gave a glowing account of Johnson’s courage under fire.  Boothe, who was an Air Force major still on active duty in Germany at the time, said he was told by his superiors not to comment if he could not support the account of Johnson’s bravery.  “I called Air Force intelligence, said that I didn’t necessarily go along with the book that was being written and what should I do? And they said don’t make any comments unless I could go along with what was being said,” Boothe says in the 1986 article. (Emphasis added)

The treatment received by Boothe Sr. is representative of that given to numerous other involved-actors and eyewitnesses, in each and every one of the 1960s series of political assassinations, all of which can be traced back to Lyndon B. Johnson and/or J. Edgar Hoover (among others, of course, under their ultimate control as documented within my books and other blogs at this website). 

It is amazing how many people ignore that obvious point as they seek to put all blame on the CIA, or the Mafia, or the Cuban rebels (et. al., and inter-alia too).

For those who question the use of the “Mastermind” term with respect to the JFK assassination discrediting his ability to pull that off perhaps someone could explain LBJ’s comparably obvious involvement in numerous other murders (17 altogether, according to the vindicated Billie Sol Estes, up to and including JFK).  And while they’re at it, an explanation of how anyone other than Johnson himself (who at least presumed that he would profit from it, as detailed in my third book) would have been the beneficiary of the false flag attack on the USS Liberty; I would be eternally grateful for such an explanation assuming it is a factually accurate, honest and convincing attempt—a feat which has never been done to date.

In the wake of JFK’s murder, upon becoming President, Johnson’s later involvement in several other murders is all but certain, likely provable in court with what we now know had he lived to be put on trial, and presuming that politically-driven coverups were effectively squashed. In each case, acting as either the key provocateur or as a co-conspirator with J. Edgar Hoover, they stand accused of all of these murders:  John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X andto a “highly likely, very strong case”that the Johnson-Hoover double-team is the only realistic possibility.

Other murders of Black leaders (e.g. Fred Hampton, one of several) were the target of then-Director J. Edgar Hoover, always acting implicitly with the blessing or acquiescence of his old friend, neighbor and collaborator, Lyndon B. Johnson. Those cases have been detailed in my published books and other blogs at this site. 


Yet there were more unresolved deaths that must also be considered:

Three Cold Cases — and One Single Person Who Uniquely Hated and Feared All of Them

The three men named here would have only been personally selected for termination by Johnson, who knew they could potentially do great harm to him if he did not eliminate that risk. Therefore, they would not have been on Hoover’s enemy list. It is noteworthy that these murders were carried out in other countries — akin to an implicit “reverse red herring” (an overt, non-diversionary violent action which directly insinuates the CIA’s obvious involvement).

Thusly we may plaintively raise a red flag and presumptively conclude that: 

LBJ is the most likely candidate for having  ordered the CIA to orchestrate the assassinations of Thomas Merton (Thailand, 1968), Australian PM Harold Holt (Australia, 1967) and Adlai Stevenson (London, 1965). 

(Click on the Names to go to the respective blogs)


Why Did Caro Do What He Did?

Robert Caro’s works began with two books that proved he was once a brutally honest, objective, highly trained journalist beyond reproach.  Those books, especially the first one, were filled with many signs that he was a serious searcher looking for essential truths, many of which exposed Lyndon Johnson for what he was.  One example, of many, was the following excerpt from his first book, which fully illustrated this point (and is probably what rankled Lady Bird so much that she had him barred from the family’s federal LBJ Library and Museuma building designed under LBJ’s own influence to look more like a very large mausoleum).

This example is also arguably the single best illustration of Mr. Caro’s famed eloquence:

Johnson’s hunger was for power “in its most naked form, for power not to improve the lives of others, but to manipulate and dominate them, to bend them to his will . . . it was a hunger so fierce and consuming that no consideration of morality or ethics, no cost to himself—or to anyone else—could stand before it (Caro, The Path .., p.xix — emphasis added).

The two books that followed, however, beginning with the third LBJ book in the series, The Master of the Senate and the fourth — and the worst of the series: The Passage of Power — something changed, dramatically so, altering his objectivity. In fact, it can be said that they are both seriously flawed, as I have explained HERE (for how Caro missed the story of Johnson’s usurpation of JFK’s power over the Pentagon and all Intelligence agencies)  and HERE (See section subtitled “How Robert Caro Misrepresented John Connally’s Visit JFK to the White House”). 


UPDATE 12/6/2022:

One of Robert Caro’s biggest, most obvious “misses” — to anyone having merely a half-scintilla’s knowledge related to the historic facts related to Lyndon Johnson’s rise in power — was how he missed the thousands of newspaper articles that were written about Billie Sol Estes during a six month period starting in March, 1962. But anyone following the story closely (e.g. this author, at age 17) eventually figured out that the only reason the story jumped from the local news columns in Pecos, Texas to the national news — the stuff coming out of Washington and New York — was because of Billie Sol’s association with Lyndon B. Johnson.

How can anyone honestly assert that they “turn every page” when so many uncountable thousands of pages are being left unturned? These few examples of the more famous ones making national news infer, as well, how often it was reported on radio and televisions news shows all spring and summer of that year.[1]


Caro’s story of how, in 1960, JFK had always wanted LBJ to run as vice president was completely ludicrous, contradicting what everything numerous witnesses had to say about that. Mr. Caro devoted forty-four pages (the entire Chapter 4: “The Back Stairs”) to a lengthy but non-sourced argument that John F. Kennedy had long before decided that Lyndon Johnson should be his vice-presidential nominee in 1960. In Caro’s rendition of Johnson at that point in time, practically all critical analysis disappeared, replaced by many examples of portraying him as having been “calm” during the motorcade and after, at Parkland and on board Air Force One. How Caro ignored so many people who were on board that flight said otherwise “speaks volumes.”

The photo shown below (courtesy of Pinterest) does not reflect much joy and celebrating that morning for the Kennedys, after LBJ had accepted the token “offer”one which numerous people stated Johnson had expected but repeatedly promised he would not accept.

Dozens of people—from JFK aides like Clark Clifford, Arthur Schlesinger and Hyman Raskin, to CBS news reporter Nancy Dickerson — made very strong cases that were 100% contrary to Caro’s version, as I’ve detailed within blogs and books, as noted further below.

The four pertinent pages from Schlesinger’s account (consistent with the other personal witnesses who had observed it first hand) may be found HERE.

Thursday morning, July 14, began, according to Bobby Kennedy, “‘the most indecisive time we ever had,’ a period hopelessly snarled by confusion, miscommunication, and murky, mixed intentions.” (Ref. Chapter 5 of my “Mastermind” book for all citations. Photo courtesy of Pinterest).

Robert Kennedy was referring, of course, to their experiencing “stunned disbelief” when Johnson accepted the offer immediately, and held it tightly throughout the day as Robert and John Kennedy agonized over their dilemma. Lyndon Johnson was the last person they would have wanted on the ticket, as numerous people attested.

Caro’s sources for accepting this myth as fact, apparently, were authors such as Harry Provence, who four decades previously took the bait that Johnson used and attempted to spread it further.

Caro even defended the most obvious rebuttal of that, which was the furious reaction to be expected of such a plan by his own brother, Bobby.

In 1962-63, JFK realized that he had to move very carefully to “dump” his vice president, thus he repeatedly denied any such intent in all of his public utterances and many private conversations as well (obviously that included even his long-time friend “Red” Fay, whom Caro uses as his primary base), in his attempt to dampen the ubiquitous rumors. 

Caro seems to have exploited those few clearly politic assurances in his brazen attempt to reframe this key topic, and thusly shore up the mythical legacy of his primary subject.   His exercise in wordsmanship – unusually, in this case – takes at least one re-reading to completely decipher, while the reader must simultaneously contemplate a seemingly endless series of “leaps of logic” that eventually lead to the desired result. After several pages devoted to describing this theory, Mr. Caro then summarized it by saying that the scenario he described would suggest that those purported actions of Jack Kennedy’s would have to be based upon his “cold calculation.”

He even acknowledged that this explanation, and how it meant that it would have required that Kennedy keep his intentions secret from his own brother, was no more “definitive” than any other explanation. The glib manner he used to obfuscate the credibility of his own analysis is stupefying:

Caro’s assertions are tantamount to saying, “let’s just table that one for now and leave it for someone else to figure out after we’re all gone . . . we’ll just settle it for now by a ‘flip of the coin’ and assume that JFK really wanted LBJ for his vice president—even though his name was not on anyone’s list of potential candidates, and the Clark Clifford/Stuart Symington story be damned—just as Johnson had always said.”

This stunningly arbitrary and incomprehensible treatment of one of the keystone events of his subject’s lifetime—after his painstaking research and intensive writing on some of the most minute, arcane details of Johnson’s life, and after having already invested over four decades of his own to writing four volumes, as he now, for over a decade, works on his fifth—suggests that Mr. Caro has effectively capitulated to Johnson’s lie on this singularly key issue.

In fact, it was Lyndon Johnson, not Jack Kennedy, who was taking an action that was “coldly calculated” when Johnson forced his way onto the only path that would lead to his becoming president should JFK not survive his first term. All of it was planned by LBJ, as explained in my first book, beginning tangibly in 1958 when he had the Texas legislature change the state law to allow him to run, in 1960 for reelection to the Senate while also being on the national election ticket.

In yet another example of how Mr. Caro missed “turning a page” that story does not appear in any of his four volumes already published. This excerpt from my book LBJ: The Mastermind of the JFK Assassination explains not only the details but the source of this point:

Left unsaid by author Haley was why Johnson was determined all along to get on the 1960 ticket—not as the presidential nominee, but the vice-presidential nominee. It was because he knew that he would have been unsuccessful at the top of the ticket, given his Southern / Western background. The “Occam’s razor” explanation of why he so wanted to become vice president, despite the obvious “step down” of the political ladder that entailed, was that he already knew that was the only realistic path he could take to get into a position to succeed John F. Kennedy when he would die—one year before the 1964 election, giving him plenty of time to prepare for a landslide victory the following year, based upon his proven “performance.”

That Robert Caro would “miss another page” about that important step Johnson took in 1958 is as revelatory as it is stunning. It also suggests that any person, place or event that he and his primary editor, Mr. Gottlieb, determined was a bit “too hot to handle” would be set aside and hidden.

The PR campaign about how Caro was always trained to “turn every page” is proven largely by his discovery of often inane details relating to discussions with others which occurred at men’s room urinals—for one such example. His prose is famously built around many such settings, the details provided in large part by interviews where that, or similar, points was repeated.

It is the contrast between Mr. Caro’s flushing out the most incriminating matters—while drilling down on details about some of the more banal subjects—that is a bit alarming as to his motives related to extending his rationalization of Lyndon Johnson’s crimes.


There were other errors too, some so seemingly benign that it might seem to border on nit-picking to bring them up – unless one looks intensely at “WHY” they “stick out like a sore thumb.” 

Let us examine, in detail, just one example of such a “minor” glitch in Caro’s fourth (last) book: 

It relates to a strange Index entry regarding Robert Kennedy included on page 703:  on dumping LBJ from 1960 ticket, 265-6.” 

But the narrative on those pages actually related to the many rumors of LBJ being dumped in 1964 — unlike the 1960 attempt, that incident became a very public rumor, even reported widely — though the only two references to 1960 were about comparing his status in late 1963 to what it had been in the 1960 campaign. 

There was nothing about how RFK had secretly planned to sabotage Johnson’s chances of gaining any type of nomination win (i.e. either the Presidency, or Vice Presidency) at the 1960 DNC Convention. 

Hidden from all known accounts — including contemporary newspapers, and all public and government records — was the fact that Robert Kennedy, in the spring and summer of 1960, did indeed take extraordinary action in the weeks before, by having sent to Texas a specially selected “Swat Team” of twelve professional criminal investigators to dig deeply into local records, and interview knowledgeable citizens for information about Lyndon Johnson’s crimes.  

That ad-hoc investigation was kept a secret and is still unknown to [most] practically all researchers. 

In a future blog, I will describe what happened on July 3, 1960, in Cotulla, Texas when an investigator (one of twelve dispatched by RFK to Texas to dig out the “dirt” on Johnson) was murdered. In a fashion evoking the methods used by LBJ’s hit-man Mac Wallace, someone attempted to cover it up by arranging the body of the murdered investigator to look like he was killed when he attempted to jack up his car to remove a flat tire, such that it appeared he was crushed underneath the car when the jack supposedly slipped.  Everyone involved who knew what had actually happened were muzzled through threats to themselves or their families. 

When the national convention was convened the following week, the furious feud between Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy was already raging due to that completely unreported incident. To say that it heightened the tension between the two — who had been fighting since the time they originally met nearly a decade before — is a tremendous understatement. Yet, due to the chaotic situation then unfolding, both Johnson and Robert Kennedy were forced by circumstances to keep the matter hushed; the need to keep that out of the public domain meant that both of them also had to act quickly to cover it up. 

The curious note in Caro’s last book, about a 1960 “dumping of Johnson,” might have simply been a typo error (uncaught by Knopf’s editors) of course.  Or a Freudian Slip, also a possible explanation. But just as likely, it might have been put there originally because Caro had included a reference to that still-secret incident within his original draft copy, thus the need for a citation. Since the Index preparation is the last step before the galley proof, when page numbers are added, the only realistic explanation for why “special circumstances” demanded it, is that the galley proof was submitted to a higher-level authority for clearance.  An order “from above” to have the content — but, inadvertently, not the note — removed before the book went to press would explain everything:  Only such an order, at a very late point in the publishing cycle, to remove / adjust the narrative, from someone of very high authority, might explain this incongruity.     

We’ll never know for sure, but all of it raises the troubling question of whether Robert Caro, the de facto “official historian/biographer of LBJ” — whose expansive knowledge of practically Lyndon B Johnson’s entire life to the day, if not the hour — also knew all about that rather alarmingly violent, deadly incident; either he, or someone else at the last minute, might have decided not to report it after all. 

While it is acknowledged that the above postulation does involve a degree of speculation (the extent of that being highly subjective), returning to the original question as to the source and reality of that “error,” the possible causes are a finite number. 

Given the superb construction of Caro’s publisher’s bookbinders in creating physical books, probably the highest standards of the publishing industry are met. The quality of publisher’s entire staff—especially the caliber of the editors at Alfred A. Knopf, a subsidiary of Random House—assure the reader that very few errors, whether production-related, grammatical, syntax, spelling, etc., or even the factual accuracy, will ever survive their impeccable quality controls. 

Thusly should it be clear that the existence of a seemingly “minor error” like this would have certainly been caught under normal circumstances.

Yet this error made it through, somehow.

Ergo, it follows that such a “trivial” glitch like that must have been due to a very rare occurrence in the publishing cycle that exposed it to a “Murphy’s Law” situation resulting in a significant “chink” in the armor of Robert Caro.


[1] On that point, I fondly remember the bus tour our small (24 ppl.) high school class took to Washington DC in the spring of 1962 (May, as I recall). I remember hearing the news shows over the bus’s radio and seeing newspaper headlines about the “Billie Sol Estes” investigations. This was happening in the local papers in Wabash, Ft. Wayne and Marion, Indiana, and in the papers where we stopped for the night in Pittsburgh (this was before the widespread existence of interstate highways) as well as the major newspapers encased in the numerous street-side news stands of Washington DC.

At that point, through Lyndon Johnson’s political muscle, his name was rarely associated with these news articles. And, not realizing there was way more to the story that was not being said, I remember the utter confusion of all of those stories: Why are they making such a big deal about a financial scandal involving a big-time farmer from West Texas? I could understand why it was exactly that in Pecos, or Midland even. Maybe even Dallas, Houston and San Antonio (etc.).

I remember thinking, as if were yesterday: “But why is it even a big deal here in Washington too?”

Needless to say, I eventually figured it out, but it would take decades for me to understand the depth of evil that I would encounter on that trip to Washington. The only way I can describe it is that it resembles a dark, bottomless pit—deep inside a Southwest-Texas cave, with rabid bats flying in, out, and about—so remote that there is little sign of human life anywhere near it.


6 thoughts on “Contradictions Within Robert Caro’s Works: Exposing a Legacy Built on Mythology?

  1. Just absolutely spot on Phil! It is definitely something that needs to be brought to light. Amazing work.

    Like

  2. Sometimes, an author will purposefully misinterpret a word or phrase because the misinterpretation helps fit their view of a subject. This does a disservice to readers.
    Such does this author misinterpret the phrase “in action” regarding Lyndon Johnson and Robert Caro. The author is correct, of course, that it would be very unusual for a war plane to take off, be attacked by numerous enemy planes, and then return to base all in 13 minutes. In that kind of instance, one would certainly expect the base itself to fall under attack. That of course is not what happened, even in Johnson’s exaggerated storytelling. What Johnson did claim is still complete nonsense, but the claim was that the attack by Japanese “Zeros” went on for 13 minutes. That is what any soldier, sailor or airman will tell you is meant by “in action.” You’re not “in action” when traveling to a battlefield or eating in the Mess, and no veteran would say they were.

    Only a person with their mouth on Jumbo would believe anything that came out of Pres. Johnson’s mouth or any other orifice. It’s not necessary to stretch in this way to find things to criticize him about.

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    1. Not sure what this particular “quibble” is about, but what was more interesting is that you evidently found nothing more consequential than that to criticize. Which proves one thing: You had decided long before reading that post that your sole intent was to do a “drive-by shootdown’ with whatever you could find to attack the article which documents a number of Mr. Caro’s errors and omissions, as I’ve cited. Instead, you set out to find a misstatement (that incorrectly framed the “13 minute action within a longer flight” a sentence admittedly not very artfully worded) and VIOLA!, you found one.

      Evidently, only one. If not, then please fill me in on all the others.

      That you noticed this rather benign “error” — in the face of a virtual mountain of substantive misstatements by Mr. Caro, of which you overlooked — is telling. But thanks for calling me out on it, I will make the needed adjustment.

      [Reedited/revised 8/5/2022 6:55 PM EDT]

      Like

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