By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Leo Damore was in a state of high dudgeon. At this moment, his fury knew no bounds.
Damore did not bother to pull punches, as authors do when they talk about each other's work.
He accused McGinniss of "lifting" everything in the excerpt from an earlier book on Ted Kennedy by Damore. The other, nastier word often used in this connection is "plagiarism."
"It's ironic," Damore said, "that McGinniss, this shabby, drunken Irishman, thinks he is entitled to make off with my work. He is like a failed priest. You know, of course, that he went to Holy Cross. I don't know if he is morally capable of having an epiphany, but how can this lowlife, Irish son of a bitch sleep at night?
"And these are supposed to be smart guys at both Vanity Fair and Simon and Schuster, the house which published the book. How did he ever manage to con them?"
Damore then harrumphed forcefully over the telephone from his home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. I am familiar with his speaking style. Damore has apparently not changed since we were undergraduates together at an Ohio college which shall remain unnamed, because we are both ashamed of it.
"I look at the Vanity Fair piece, and I see 40 pages of wholesale theft," Damore said.
"I've always wanted to own a magazine. My lawyers will be calling them up the first thing Monday morning.
"What should I have expected?" Damore adds. "After all, this is the same guy who lost a libel trial to a serial killer."
Damore was referring to McGinniss' unfortunate experience with Dr. Jeffrey R. MacDonald after the writing of a true-crime book called Fatal Vision, which became a best seller.
Dr. MacDonald, who was convicted of his crimes, actually sued McGinniss for betraying his confidences in the book, and was actually awarded more than $300,000 by a jury.
So McGinniss and Vanity Fair must have anticipated Damore's rage. They displayed some caution in publishing the work that Damore considers his own.
In an unusual preface to the Vanity Fair piece, McGinniss wrote that the facts and quotations of his Chappaquiddick story "have been drawn from published sources that I believe to be reliable. For example, for the excerpt below, Senatorial Privilege: The Chappaquiddick Cover-Up, by Leo Damore, was especially helpful."
"Especially helpful,'" Damore shouts into the telephone. "This son of a bitch came to my house on September 29, 1989.
"My book was still on the New York Times best-seller list. I fed him pasta. I served him red wine. I told him I would help him all I could, and wished him luck.
"Then he turns around and steals my book. How could he do that?
"I have now read McGinniss' The Last Brother in its entirety. It just drones on until it reaches Chappaquiddick. Only then does it take off. You know why? Because it's me.
"Suddenly, there is narrative thrust, characterization, movement. I had the whole enchilada going for me, and this asshole Irishman had the nerve to do this to me. He stole everything I had."
Damore said he didn't realize the extent of the "borrowing" McGinniss had done until he read a 165-page excerpt which was sent to booksellers.
With this release, it became apparent that McGinniss had borrowed heavily from the authors of three previous books about the Kennedys: William Manchester (The Death of a President), Doris Kearns Goodwin (The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys) and Damore.
Manchester found out about the pilferage first, and called Damore. The two met for lunch.
Manchester, who was coerced by the Kennedy family into donating his share of the proceeds from his book to the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, was outraged to learn that McGinniss' advance on The Last Brother was $1 million. Manchester recalled that he had donated more than $1 million to the library and had never even received a thank-you note.
Damore recalls Manchester, now 71, downing six martinis and muttering over and over again: "We'll get this fucker."
Damore is equally upset, because of the nightmarish experience he underwent in even getting his own manuscript published.
Damore's experience is a publishing-world classic of its own. It demonstrates not only his writing and researching ability, but also his courage in the face of seemingly impossible odds: in this case, the power of the Kennedy family and its powerful friends to crush anyone who stands against them.
Damore was an iconoclastic, fiercely independent young reporter for the Cape Cod News on July 18, 1969, when a drunken Senator Ted Kennedy ran off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, drowning his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.
The death of the 28-year-old woman and the subsequent cover-up was the biggest story of Damore's journalistic career. He pounced on it.
The fact that Senator Kennedy acted in a calculating and cowardly manner that night, leaving the young woman to drown and then attempting to alibi his way out of responsibility, became a part of the dark side of American political history.