The “Georgetown Set” consisted of a coterie of affluent, well-educated, and well- connected civilians living in a fashionable Washington, D.C., neighborhood says the author Gregg Herken, in his new book of the same title (Knoff, 2015) wherein he describes the impact, the likes of Phil and Kay Graham (publishers of “The Washington Post”), Joe and brother, Stewart Alsop (columnists and journalists), and a host of other inhabitants of this cozy, yet affluent D.C. suburb, rendered on the “cold war” politics of the 1940’s through the Nixon era. The majority of Herken’s focus is on Joe, followed closely by the Grahams, Stewart and a host of CIA and related operatives, politicians of the day and other journalists. The book starts with Joe’s return from the war, and when along with his brother, started writing a syndicated column entitled “Matter of Fact” (which appeared 4 times a week in two hundred newspapers in the U.S. and around the world during the 1950’s) and authored many articles in the “Saturday Evening Post” and elsewhere. The brothers developed an “access journalism” methodology through their covetous contacts with well-connected insiders with special knowledge including various presidential staff members- and in a few instances, the president himself (Kennedy and Nixon mostly), and other intelligence gatherers, with varying degrees of success. Joe was obsessed with the idea of the U.S. losing the Vietnam War, Russian aggression, and their nuclear capabilities; he arduously advocated in his columns against simple U.S. containment policies and continued doing so long after the Vietnam war was a lost cause.
The Alsop brothers were most successful when they were among the first to combat and expose Joseph McCarthy and Edgar Hoover for the psychopathic frauds they were. Hoover’s “private files,” clandestine tapings of private citizens, and other hypocritical indiscretions are mentioned. At a time when many good citizens were fearful of McCarthy, the author explains how the Alsop brothers gradually exposed him for what he was by writing numerous columns depicting him as a dangerous man. Intimate details of some of the superstars of the day are revealed, many of such events, having come to light at the private and elaborate soirees hosted by Joe at his Georgetown abode.
“Watergate” and the “Pentagon Papers” are issues largely ignored by Joe, as he can’t seem to correct his tunneled focus on Russian dominance and worldwide nuclear destruction, probably he believes, at the hands of either Russia or later, China), as is his failure to heed the new generation’s rapidly evolving mistrust of government; at the end of the day, Joe doesn’t change with the times and becomes somewhat irrelevant and is frequently the brunt of jokes made by other journalists. That is not to say that he was not, for several decades, a political pundit and a force to be reckoned with. Joe was also gay and could be faulted, certainly by today’s standards, for not openly saying so- he also must be censured for his occasional negative comments and hypocritical stance on issues of homosexuality. Moreover, he was less than honest when he failed to come to the aid of his source (and alleged friend), Walter Jenkins, a long-time chief assistant to President Lyndon Johnson who was arrested for having sex with a man in a YMCA men’s room blocks away from the White House in 1964. After his arrest, Jenkins was so stressed out about the harm his arrest may cause the president, he quit and moved back to Texas but not before he was admitted to a hospital and placed on a suicide watch. Johnson simply distanced himself from Jenkins even though the former attorney general, Ramsey Clark had said “Jenkins was the heart of the staff,” and author Bill Moyer once said, “If Lyndon Johnson owed anything to one human being other than Lady Bird, he owed it to Walter Jenkins.”
This is a very detailed and excellent historical accounting of the self-serving efforts made by a colorable collection of determined wealthy citizens to shape the world during this period. I recommend the book.