December 12, 1999
Where was Godfrey Hodgson when Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert Kennedy?
Copyright © 1999, 2016 by Dan E. Moldea
(Also see DEM's other online reports about the RFK case)
2106 Update: Godfrey Hodgson simply cannot stop lying about me. In his 2015 book--JFK and LBJ: The Last Two Great Presidents (page 258, endnote 83)--Hodgson wrote:
"Dan Moldea, the author of a book about Robert Kennedy's murder that I reviewed unfavorably in the Washington Post maintained online that I had not been in the hotel that night: I was in fact accompanied there by a whole team of highly respected reporters who were my colleagues and who could and would vouch for my presence."
Hodgson's latest lie? As the discussion below clearly documents, I never questioned Hodgson's presence at the Ambassador Hotel on the evening that Sirhan Sirhan, acting alone, shot Senator Kennedy in June 1968. Instead, I questioned Hodgson's clearly false implication that he was present at the actual crime scene at the moment of the shooting.
In the November 28, 1999, issue of the New York Times Book Review, I noticed that British journalist Godfrey Hodgson, a frequent contributor to a variety of respected book-review sections, had published a critique of Adam Clymer's new biography about Edward M. Kennedy.
Hodgson praised Clymer's work but took the time to highlight Senator Kennedy's shortcomings, including his dismissal from Harvard for cheating, his "intermittent arrogance," and his "overreaching" for facts to justify his political positions. To be sure, Hodgson is a harsh critic.
In a previous article in London's Independent, Hodgson also warned that President Bill Clinton "faces the danger that his name will be forever associated not with a sexual escapade but with far more damaging images: petulance, evasiveness, lying and loss of control."
Clearly, Hodgson views himself as an arbiter of truth and a determinant of truthtellers in American politics. After all, Hodgson is the director of the Reuter Foundation Program for journalists at Oxford University. And, God knows, journalists never cheat. They certainly never exhibit "intermittent arrogance." They never overreach for their facts. And, of course, they never lie.
Or do they?
In 1995, Hodgson reviewed my book, The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy--which had earlier received two favorable reviews in the New York Times, among many other publications. In his piece for the Washington Post, Hodgson taunted me for the description of my journey from believing that two guns had been fired at the crime scene to accepting that Sirhan Sirhan had acted alone. Specifically, Hodgson wrote: "What do we make of a writer who, having spent 300 pages suggesting that the conventional view of a historical event is all wrong, suddenly turns around and tells us it was right all along? We might even be tempted to say, in Moldea-speak, 'This [expletive] guy has been lying to us all along.'" [Emphasis added.]
Apparently, Hodgson could speak with authority about the Kennedy murder case, in which the assassin sprang out of a large crowd and opened fire. Hodgson even boasted: "As it happens, I was in that crowd, a few feet away from the senator, on my way to a promised interview with Kennedy for the London Sunday Times. I have an indelible memory of the grief and confusion of that moment."
After reading this statement, I went to my files and found a copy of the crime-scene witness list. Even though Hodgson had clearly claimed to be a witness to the shooting, his name wasn't on the list.
Then, I pulled a copy of Hodgson's book about the 1968 Presidential campaign from my bookcase. Giving another version of events, Hodgson stated on pages 353-354 that he was on his way to "Kennedy's press conference . . . [which] was not going to be all that easy to get to. . . . It was clearly impossible to get there through the body of the crowd, now pressing slowly toward the bottleneck of the entrance" [to the main ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where Kennedy had just delivered his victory speech after winning the California Democratic primary].
Hodgson continued in his book: "Kennedy had vanished" into the crowd near the doors of the kitchen pantry where Kennedy was shot less than a minute later. Hodgson added that he could not follow the senator because of a "dense column" of people around Kennedy that had blocked access to the pantry.
Consequently, Hodgson took a completely different route than the senator: He and a colleague ran down a flight of stairs, around to the main entrance of the Ambassador. "Then a brisk sprint along a sunken passage, lined with costly shopfronts, and up a curving stairway [which] brings you out onto the broad main lobby outside the [ballroom]," Hodgson wrote. "At the top of the stairs, we saw that there was something wrong with the people."
According to his own account, Hodgson did not even learn about the shooting until someone in the crowd told him about it!
The day after Hodgson's review of my book, while I was drafting my response to the Post, a former FBI agent, who is a close friend, called and said that he had seen Hodgson's review. As I started to recite my complaints with Hodgson, the FBI man ordered me to hang up the phone and go to my fax machine.
A few minutes later, I received a fax of the report that detailed the FBI's interview with the Hodgson.
The following is the text of my response to the Washington Post, which was published on July 16, 1995:
Dear Editor:In his reply to my letter, Hodgson continued to insist: "I was 'in that crowd' and 'a few feet away from the senator.' . . . I did not state or imply that I was an eyewitness or in the pantry when Kennedy was killed."
It is particularly disturbing to me that Godfrey Hodgson, in his June 25 review, implies that my book, The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy, is premised on 300 pages of "lying." Then, he quickly retracts that charge, because he knows he cannot support it. Still, planting the idea, Hodgson writes: "We might even be tempted to say, in Moldea-speak, 'This [expletive] guy [Moldea] has been lying to us all along.' That wouldn't be quite fair: teasing us, maybe, to make the most of a losing hand, but not lying."
Earlier in the review, Hodgson makes a statement about himself that brings this issue of "lying" into sharper focus.
Following Kennedy's emotional speech after winning the June 1968 California Democratic primary, his aides pushed to get the senator out of the hotel's jam-packed Embassy Room and over to a press conference in the adjacent Colonial Room. To get there quickly, they decided to take a short-cut.
Describing his proximity to Kennedy, Hodgson states in his review:Instead, as he was hustled through a kitchen pantry in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after a victory rally with his campaign workers, Robert Kennedy encountered a young Palestinian Christian called Sirhan Bishara Sirhan and was shot to death.Clearly, Hodgson includes this personal account in his review to establish his authority when writing about the Kennedy murder and to give greater weight to his opinion of my work. After all, he appears to have been an eyewitness.
As it happens, I was in that crowd, a few feet away from the senator, on my way to a promised interview with Kennedy for the London Sunday Times. I have an indelible memory of the grief and confusion of that moment." (Emphasis added.)
But was he really?
According to the LAPD's official list of the 77 known persons in the kitchen pantry at the moment of the shooting, Hodgson is not mentioned either as an eyewitness or as even being present in the room!
In fact, according to his own 1969 book, An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968, Hodgson detailed on pages 353-354 that he was on the floor below the kitchen pantry, perhaps even outside the hotel, while Kennedy was upstairs being gunned down!
Remarkably, a third version of these events comes from Hodgson's own statement to the FBI. According to the FBI's official report of the Hodgson interview--dated July 8, 1968, just over a month after the murder--Hodgson "furnished the following information . . .As soon as KENNEDY finished his speech and before he began to move through the crowd, HODGSON [and two colleagues] left the Embassy Room by going down an iron staircase to the parking lot. They did this to avoid getting trapped in the crowd. They did not know which way the Senator would go after making his speech or what his exact plans were.
While outside HODGSON heard about the shooting and he went back inside the hotel. He went towards the kitchen area but was unable to enter the area because of the crowds. He did not see the Senator or SIRHAN at that time.
Hodgson's now-embellished claim that he was just "a few feet away from the senator" deceitfully gives the impression that he was an actual eyewitness to this terrible event. This gross exaggeration--debunked by LAPD and FBI records, as well as his own 1969 book--is as dishonest as his review of my work.
The reader can judge what Hodgson really said on three different occasions--and what he was trying to get away with in his review of my book.
After passing judgment on the honesty of President Clinton, Senator Kennedy, and me, Hodgson will be publishing his biography of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan next year.
Bring on the fact-checkers--or, better yet, a polygraph.