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Kessler, Ronald 1943–

(Ronald Borek Kessler)

PERSONAL: Born December 31, 1943, in New York, NY; son of Ernest Borek (a biochemist) and Minuetta (a pianist) Kessler; married second wife, Pamela Johnson (an author), 1979; children: Greg, Rachel. Education: Attended Clark University, 1962–64.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—Potomac, MD. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer and journalist. Worcester Telegram, Worcester, MA, reporter, 1964; Boston Herald, Boston, MA, editorial writer and investigative reporter, 1964–67; Wall Street Journal, New York, NY, reporter, 1967–70; Washington Post, Washington, DC, investigative reporter and staff writer, 1970–85; NewsMax.com, reporter and chief Washington correspondent.

AWARDS, HONORS: First prize award in news writing, United Press International, 1965; Sevellon Brown Award, Associated Press, 1965; Freedoms Foundation Award, 1966; public affairs award, American Political Science Association, 1967; science award, American Dental Society, 1968; Washingtonian of the Year award, Washingtonian Magazine, 1972; Baltimore-Washington Newspaper Guild Front Page Award, 1972; George Polk Memorial awards, 1972, for community service, and 1979, for national reporting; public affairs award, American Association of University Women, 1973; top prize for business and financial reporting, Washington Chapter of Sigma Delta Chi; first place award in investigative reporting, Association of Area Business Publications.

WRITINGS:

The Life Insurance Game, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (New York, NY), 1985.

The Richest Man in the World: The Story of Adnan Khashoggi, Warner (New York, NY), 1986.

Spy vs. Spy: Stalking Soviet Spies in America, Scribner (New York, NY), 1987.

Moscow Station: How the KGB Penetrated the American Embassy, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.

The Spy in the Russian Club: How Glenn Souther Stole America's Nuclear War Plans and Escaped to Moscow, Scribner (New York, NY), 1990.

Escape from the CIA: How the CIA Won and Lost the Most Important KGB Spy Ever to Defect to the U.S., Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Inside the CIA: Revealing the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Spy Agency, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1992.

The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1993, revised and updated edition, 1994.

Inside the White House: The Hidden Lives of the Modern Presidents and the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Institution, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995, revised and updated edition, 1996.

The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, Warner (New York, NY), 1996.

Inside Congress: The Shocking Scandals, Corruption, and Abuse of Power behind the Scenes on Capitol Hill, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997.

The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America's Richest Society, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002, revised edition, 2003.

The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign against Terror, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.

A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush, Sentinel (New York, NY), 2004.

Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS: Former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter Ronald Kessler has used his skills as an investigative journalist to pen a number of best-selling exposes, including books on the White House, the KGB, the CIA, and the FBI. Kessler's 1998 volume, Inside Congress: The Shocking Scandals, Corruption, and Abuse of Power behind the Scenes on Capitol Hill, depicts, according to Don Wismer of Library Journal, "an institution out of control, which exempted itself from the laws under which we live and spent rampantly, on behalf of those special interests that funded the members' elections." Raymond L. Fischer of USA Today noted: "Kessler terms the one-man, one-vote system a cruel joke. Instead of people at large, Congressmen represent the special interests that can raise the most money…. [He] documents not only the trips, junkets, and pork-barrel projects, but the lack of accountability and the lavish individual spending." In the course of writing the book, Kessler interviewed 350 Capitol Hill insiders. He includes eyewitness accounts from police officers, doormen, clerks, pages, and many others to substantiate his charges of not only financial chicanery but sexual misconduct and general lawlessness. Declaring that "Kessler has catalogued decades' worth of corruption and scandal involving our nation's elected officials," Alex Tresniowski of People also noted that he "isn't shy about naming names…. Republicans and Democrats alike." In contrast, Wismer found Inside Congress to be "an uneven effort that [bogs] down in salacious detail and anti-Gingrich partisanship." Wismer felt that the true value of the book was not in its expose of Congressional misconduct, but in Kessler's argument, based in part on the Clean Elections Act adopted by Maine voters in 1996, "that public financing of elections would remove much of the tendency toward Congressional corruption."

The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI offers a detailed history of the FBI from the bureau's founding in 1908. The book is structured around the FBI's numerous directors, with the bulk of the attention paid to J. Edgar Hoover's nearly fifty years as the bureau's head man. Kessler describes a number of the FBI's clandestine and sometimes illegal activities, including dodging surveillance laws, creating illegal information files on thousands of people, and ignoring legal limits to pursuing its own agenda. He relates how law enforcement measures combating organized crime came to prominence within the FBI. Kessler covers many of the scandals originating with the bureau, including some surrounding legendary director Hoover. Finally, he offers details on a number of significant cases investigated by the FBI, including the Oklahoma City and World Trade Center bombings. Library Journal reviewer Charles L. Lumpkins called the book "an absorbing, fast-paced narrative based upon his extensive access to FBI files and personnel," while Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, concluded that "Kessler's access to reliable sources results in a richly detailed overview."

Inside the White House: The Hidden Lives of the Modern Presidents and the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Institution approaches its subjects in a similar vein as Kessler's other insider-based books, described by Ralph Novak in People as "Not so much political science as high-toned gossip, this best-seller sketches the behind-the-facade world of American Presidents, their families and entourages." Kessler goes to inside sources such as White House workers, Air Force One crewmembers, members of past administrations, and others to uncover stories of the presidents and family members who have occupied the White House. Much of his material revolves around Lyndon Johnson, but Kessler also finds gossip on other presidents and administrations. For example, he unearthed an affair within the Carter family and discovered that the majority of presidential children were not well liked by the staff members and Secret Service men assigned to serve and guard them. He relates the sexual misadventures of John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. Kessler also reports on the extraordinary costs of running the White House, and how several administrations have hidden costs and juggled the books to conceal out-of-control spending. "Kessler seems to have uncovered just about everything that goes on behind the scenes at the White House," commented Raymond L. Fischer in USA Today. "He persuasively and comprehensively documents the names, events, and relationships."

Kessler turns his biographer's attention to another White House insider with Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady. Kessler bases his book on direct access to Laura Bush, but he also sought out various sources for his biography, including friends of the family, well-known members of the Bush administration, and even old boyfriends, noted Vanessa Bush in Booklist. Kessler describes the influence that Laura Bush has on her husband and on the presidency, ranging from her efforts to increase funding for the arts to her opinions on presidential appointees. He portrays her as literate, charming, and the pinnacle of good taste, even while implying that the previous first lady, Hillary Clinton, was none of those things. Some critics found the book to be lacking in critical insight into its subject, such as a Publishers Weekly reviewer who stated, "this inoffensive biography examines Laura Bush without ever quite explaining her." Others, such as Booklist reviewer Vanessa Bush, were more positively inclined. Bush called Kessler's biography "a portrait of a modest, self-assured woman, who has a subtle influence on the Bush administration."

In the course of researching a book on Joseph P. Kennedy, Kessler spent some time in the wealthy resort community of Palm Beach, Florida. He found life in Palm Beach to be so bizarre that he felt it warranted its own book. The result is The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America's Richest Society. An island off the east coast of Florida, Palm Beach first became a winter retreat for America's very rich in the late nineteenth century when it hosted multimillionaires such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan. By 1999 the names had changed to those such as Donald Trump, Roxanne Pulitzer, and Rod Stewart, but the wealth and conspicuous consumption remain the same. Kessler's stays revealed that Jews are excluded from some of the island's private clubs, mistresses are commonplace, until recently those servants belonging to certain ethnic groups were legally required to be fingerprinted, and "that the super-rich can be as painfully insecure … as the rest of us," related a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. "While all of that may be nothing new," the Publishers Weekly writer concluded, that world is "characterized by almost as much cliquishness, pettiness, and gossip as high school."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Alberta Report, November 4, 1996, review of The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded, p. 45.

Booklist, November 15, 1999, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America's Richest Society, p. 597; May 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, p. 1559; October 15, 2003, Vernon Ford, review of The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign against Terror, p. 384; January 1, 2006, Vanessa Bush, review of Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady, p. 21.

Entertainment Weekly, February 10, 1995, "Oval Offering," review of Inside the White House: The Hidden Lives of the Modern Presidents and the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Institution, p. 64; March 22, 1996, Mark Harris, review of The Sins of the Father, p. 64.

Insight on the News, September 20, 1993, Jerry Seper, review of The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency, p. 38.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2006, review of Laura Bush, p. 122.

Kliatt, September, 2003, Vivian E. Berg, review of The Bureau, p. 59.

Library Journal, April 15, 1998, Don Wismer, review of Inside Congress: The Shocking Scandals, Corruption, and Abuse of Power behind the Scenes on Capitol Hill, p. 135; November 1, 1999, Kimberly A. Bateman, review of The Season, p. 113; May 15, 2002, Charles L. Lumpkins, review of The Bureau, p. 112.

Middle East Quarterly, spring, 2005, Daniel Mandel, review of The CIA at War, p. 89.

People, March 13, 1995, Ralph Novak, review of Inside the White House, p. 26; August 18, 1997, Alex Tresniowski, review of Inside Congress, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1994, review of Inside the White House, p. 56; November 1, 1999, review of The Season, p. 70; January 16, 2006, review of Laura Bush, p. 48.

USA Today, January, 1996, Raymond L. Fischer, review of Inside the White House, p. 96; January, 1998, Raymond L. Fischer, review of Inside Congress, p. 80.

ONLINE

National Review Online, http://www.nationalreview.com/ (August 9, 2004), Kathryn Jean Lopez, "W., Beyond the Caricatures," interview with Ronald Kessler.

Ronald Kessler Home Page, http://www.ronaldkessler.com (November 1, 2006).

Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (November 3, 1999), Peter Kurth, review of The Season.

Spartacus Educational, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/ (November 1, 2006), biography of Ronald Kessler.

Kessler, Ronald 1943–

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