Michael Kinsley's New Year's Day diatribe on my book, "The World of Armand Hammer," and its subject ("Executive Porn," op-ed), deserves a reply. I respect Kinsley's career at Washington editorial desks, but when he attacks journalists who have been in the field, like Walter Cronkite, for his "sycophantic" introduction to the book, and then plays fast and loose with the facts of the work, he soils his own professional integrity.
My own credentials, which are, perhaps, building blocks to the project, were not totally earned at a desk. For more than eight years I was a correspondent, bureau chief and picture editor on the old weekly Life magazine. Subsequently I have worked as a photojournalist around the world, not only for Life, but for such publications as Time, People, New York, The London Sunday Times Magazine, Paris Match, Der Stern and many others. In 1983 I was given the Award for Outstanding Photojournalism by the American Society of Magazine Photographers. As far as I know, no editor has ever questioned my professionalism, honesty or objectivity.
The book began as a story for Life that ran for eight pages of color in October 1982. It seemed to me to be the genesis for a fascinating book, though I had no idea that it would require another two years and a million miles plus of travel with Dr. Hammer on his plane, Oxy One.
The book is a documentation of that period, not a biography. I included his early days and some historical pictures, but otherwise I recorded what passed in front of my eyes and camera. Hammer never, in any way, endeavored to shape the project or to dictate what pictures would be used or to direct the thrust of the text. He read the text for factual errors, but he left us completely alone.
Kinsley begins his assessment 10 years ago, when Hammer was in trouble in Federal Court when he was accused of making illegal campaign contributions to Nixon, implying that Hammer's court appearance in a wheelchair, surrounded by doctors, was a sham. In truth, seven eminent cardiologists, including three appointed by the judge, advised that Hammer was critically ill. His recovery, after he was put on probation and fined, is described by Kinsley as "a miraculous medical recovery when his legal troubles ended." Losing weight, exercising, under the constant care of a cardiologist, Hammer recovered.
Kinsley says that Cronkite's introduction "restates the fiction that Hammer is the 'son of a Russian Jewish immigrant doctor, turned socialist and Unitarian.' In fact, Julius Hammer was a founder of the American Communist Party . . ." My book states, in great detail, the life and career of Dr. Julius Hammer, stating that he was "A driving force in the formation of the American Communist Party."
Kinsley writes that Hammer only met Lenin once for an hour. Numerous meetings and references to Hammer by Lenin are included in the official and sacrosanct multi-volume Russian bibliography, "V. I. Lenin, Letters and Documents," which is the Soviet effort to record every word and communication of the departed master.
I was present in the great Hall of St. George in the Kremlin after the Andropov funeral, when Constantin Chernenko, the new head of state, held Hammer's hand and said that he was the only person present who had also stood in a place of honor in Red Square at Lenin's funeral some 60 years before.
As for Kinsley's sneers about Hammer's status as a folk hero in Russia, I have been present when strangers introduced themselves and asked to shake his hand (no autograph request in Moscow).
Writes Kinsley: "Apart from one obvious customer, is there a market for this preposterous book?" To date, over 10,000 copies have been sold in the bookstores, according to Paul Gottlieb, publisher of Harry N. Abrams, Inc. "I can tell you," says Gottlieb, "if any publisher sells this many books at this price, they would be happy."