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Ike’s Mystery Man: Peter Shinkle with Bill Goldstein
January 14 | 7:00 pm
In the summer of 2006, journalist Peter Shinkle first heard that his great-uncle Bobby, also known as Robert Cutler, had a secret that could have brought down the Eisenhower presidency: he was gay, at a time when gay people were barred from employment by the federal government. According to Shinkle’s aunt, Patricia Cutler Warner, “Bobby didn’t bother to hide it when he wasn’t at work.” At work, he was the nation’s first Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (now called National Security Advisor), the closest confidante in the President’s inner circle. The likes of McGeorge Bundy, Henry Kissinger, Zbignew Brzezinski, Condoleeza Rice, Susan Rice, and four men since the start of the Trump presidency, would later fill his shoes. Shinkle reveals Cutler’s full story for the first time, and shows how valued he was by Eisenhower as a trusted friend and advisor on security and Cold War policy.
Shinkle read Cutler’s autobiography, and started digging through thousands of pages of formerly-secret documents at the Eisenhower Library. An archivist introduced him to Stephen Benedict, a White House colleague of Cutler’s who is gay. Benedict gave Shinkle Cutler’s six-volume diary. In these volumes, Cutler poured out his feelings for Skip Koons, a member of the National Security Council staff. Benedict had also preserved photos, audio recordings and hundreds of letters written among Bobby, Skip and himself in which they shared professional and personal news and concerns, ranging from concerns that the FBI would discover their sexual orientation to the possibility of nuclear Armageddon. Bobby kept his diary secret, but Shinkle says in the book’s introduction: “I am confident that his love for Skip was so great that if he were alive today—with our era’s liberated view of homosexuality—he would want this story told.”
Peter Shinkle worked for 19 years as a reporter at various news organizations, including most recently the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He covered the federal court system, and also wrote investigative stories on subjects ranging from improper disposal of radioactive waste to contamination spread by a lead mining company. Shinkle is the great-nephew of Robert Cutler. It was during a family vacation in 2006 that his mother, Judith Cutler Shinkle, and his aunt told him that their “Uncle Bobby” was gay. That sparked a 12-year endeavor to explore the story of the man who was one of President Eisenhower’s closest advisors.
Bill Goldstein, the founding editor of the books site of The New York Times on the Web, reviews books and interviews authors for NBC’s “Weekend Today in New York.” He is also curator of public programs at Roosevelt House, the public policy institute of New York’s Hunter College. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Goldstein received a PhD in English from City University of New York Graduate Center in 2010. His book, The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature, was published by Henry Holt in 2017. He is now writing a biography of Larry Kramer.