On April 27th 1961, Kennedy gave a speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York. Most people believe that President Kennedy was trying to cryptically warn the American people of some vast conspiracy being perpetrated by the Military – Industrial Complex. Most people are wrong.
First of all, you have to listen to the entire speech — not just the little 2 to 5 minute out-takes being passed around on the internet; you have to listen to his words in their proper context.
President Kennedy starts off his speech with the customary banter typical of his administration — lighthearted jabs at both the press and the government. At about the 5:00 minute mark, Kennedy goes into a brief description of the challenges of dealing with a very aggressive Soviet Union. He then makes a couple of statements which could possibly have contributed to his assassination, depending upon who you happen to believe was behind it — he did, after all, make a lot of enemies during his term as President.
“The dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweigh the dangers which are cited to justify them.
Even today, there is little value of opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating it’s arbitrary restrictions.
Even today, there is little value in ensuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.
And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.
That, I do not intend to permit, to the extent that it’s in my control.”
In that one statement, it would seem that Mr. Kennedy plainly stated his commitment to the continuation of a free and open society here in the United States, with only the narrowest of secrecy being used on the basis of “national security”. And this principle would have been anathema to the Military – Industrial Complex.
In any case, President Kennedy goes on to speak to the traditional freedom of the press during peacetime and the obligation of the press to censor themselves during wartime. President Kennedy points out that America is in a unique period of undeclared war with, and in unstated danger from, “a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy” — quite obviously the President is speaking of the Soviet Union rather than the Military – Industrial Complex that many have cited as the warning contained in this speech.
President Kennedy points out that the Soviets have openly boasted that they obtain better information from the open press than they would traditionally obtain by employing agents and spies because of the unguarded nature of the reporting by the US news media at the time.
I grew up during the early 1960’s; I remember reading of the building of missile silos and troop movements in the newspaper. I lived just a few miles from a major Nike interceptor missile base in the Los Angeles area, and I remember reading in the Los Angeles Times about how this base would protect Los Angeles in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union’s ICBM’s, for Christ’s sake! President Kennedy had ample reason for the topic of this speech, because our news media at the time was a virtual sieve of information — all the Russians had to do was read the newspaper!
Those of you who didn’t grow up in the era of “Camelot” have absolutely no idea of the love affair that the American public had with the Kennedy’s. President Kennedy had a charisma about him that could disarm even the toughest newspaperman — and this speech was simply John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s simple and charismatic way of asking the news media to kindly STFU.