How could we possibly think that MAX KENNEDY doesn't believe in the free and open exchange of ideas? No, the ninth child of the late Robert Kennedy won't let just anyone see the 54 crates' worth of documents that were compiled during his father's time as attorney general. But Max has got, you know, responsibilities.

"There are many requests to see them, and frankly, many of those requests come from people with poorly conceived projects," Kennedy told the Boston Globe's Bryan Bender this past January. "I do believe that historians and journalists must do their homework, and observe the correct procedures for seeking permission to consult the papers, and explain their projects." Besides, he added, he'd already let some historians, including Evan Thomas and Robert Dallek, have full access. What could be the problem?

Max Kennedy, taking advantage of law the sanitize his father's legacy
As John Tierney (a former Boston College political-science professor, not the New York Times reporter) blogged at the Atlantic, Max Kennedy's response was "classic stonewalling." Tierney wrote that "there is something deeply wrong about a policy that lets one person, Max Kennedy, decide whether the public will have access to this important information after the passage of five decades."

Indeed there is. Unfortunately, there's not much to be done about it. Following the abuses of the Nixon era, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act, which mandates (loopholes and exceptions notwithstanding) that a former president's papers at some point pass into the public domain. But it only applies to presidents from 1980 on, and in any case does not apply to a Cabinet secretary such as Robert Kennedy.

Despite the largely admirable record compiled by the Kennedy White House, there were dark moments, too. And Bender's reporting suggested that among the dark moments from which Max Kennedy was trying to protect the family legacy was the extent of his father's involvement in the extra-legal efforts to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Robert Kennedy's papers aren't public records. They do not fall under the purview of the Freedom of Information Act. Yet they are a vitally important part of history, for good or for ill. At this late date Max Kennedy is doing far more harm to his famous family's reputation than anything we might conceivably learn in those documents.

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