Stephen Ambrose, the best-selling historian who wrote or edited more than a dozen books about Eisenhower as general and president, based his fame in large part on what he said were his interviews with Ike – but now, eight years after Ambrose’s death, an official at the Eisenhower Library in Abeline says the interviews never took place.
In his first and biggest Ike book, “The Supreme Commander,” published in 1970, Ambrose listed nine interviews with the former president. But according to Richard Rayner of The New Yorker, that’s not true. The deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, Tim Rives, told Rayer that Ike saw Ambrose only three times, for a total of less than five hours, and that the two men were never alone together.
Ambrose wrote more books about Ike after “The Supreme Commander,” including a two-volume biography. As the books got longer, the footnotes got fuzzier – instead of specific dates, readers found footnotes reading simply “Interview DE.” But “as the citations grew more nebulous,” Rayner writes, “the range of subjects that the interviews allegedly covered grew wider: the Rosenberg case, Dien Bien Phu, Douglas MacArthur, J.F.K., quitting smoking, the influence of Eisenhower’s mother, Brown v. Board of Education.”
It turns out Ambrose was making it up. You might call that "lying."
Ambrose often waxed eloquent about interviewing Ike — on C-SPAN, and “Charlie Rose,” Rayner reports, Ambrose described “how his life had been transformed by getting to know the former President and spending ‘hundreds and hundreds of hours’ interviewing him" during the five years before Eisenhower died in 1969.
In one C-SPAN interview, cited by Rayner, Ambrose went so far as to say he didn’t approach Ike; instead, he said, Ike approached him. After that, “I’d walk in to interview him,” Ambrose said, “and his eyes would lock on mine and I would be there for three hours and they never left my eyes.”
Rives told Rayner that’s not what happened. The records of Ike’s schedule are extremely detailed. Ike’s staff “demanded that anyone wanting an appointment with him needed to begin the process months ahead of time. His declining health also limited access, especially for scholars. He simply didn’t see that much of Stephen Ambrose.”
Ambrose, who sold over five million books during his lifetime, faced a barrage of plagiarism charges in 2002 when The Weekly Standard and Forbes showed that his bestseller "The Wild Blue" contained passages that had already appeared in eight books by other authors. Three other Ambrose books were also found to have contained plagiarized passages — for the Ambrose plagiarism story, see my book "Historians in Trouble."