4/27/61, “John F. Kennedy Speeches," “The President and the Press: Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961″
“President John F. Kennedy, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, April 27, 1961,″ JFKLibrary.org
“Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:
I appreciate very much your generous invitation to be here tonight.
We are told that foreign correspondent Marx, stone broke,
and with a family ill and undernourished, constantly appealed to
Greeley and managing editor Charles Dana for an increase in his
munificent salary of $5 per installment, a salary which he and Engels
ungratefully labeled as the “lousiest petty bourgeois cheating.”
If only this capitalistic New York newspaper had treated him more kindly; if only Marx had remained a foreign correspondent, history might have been different.
And I hope all publishers will bear this lesson in mind the next time
they receive a poverty-stricken appeal for a small increase in the
expense account from an obscure newspaper man.
My topic tonight is a more sober one of concern to publishers as well as editors.
I want to talk about our common responsibilities in the face of a common danger. The events of recent weeks may have helped to illuminate that challenge for some; but the dimensions of its threat have loomed large on the horizon for many years. Whatever our hopes may be for the future–for reducing this threat or living with it–there is no escaping either the
gravity or the totality of its challenge to our survival and to our
security–a challenge that confronts us in unaccustomed ways in every
sphere of human activity.
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society;
and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret
societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long
ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of
pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify
it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed
society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring 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 is in my control. And no official
of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or
military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor
the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold
from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.
But I do ask every publisher, every editor, and every newsman in the nation to reexamine his own standards, and to recognize the nature of our country’s peril.
In time of war, the government and the press have customarily joined in
an effort based largely on self-discipline, to prevent unauthorized
disclosures to the enemy. In time of “clear and present danger,” the
courts have held that even the privileged rights of the First Amendment
must yield to the public’s need for national security.
Today no war has been declared–and however fierce the struggle may
be, it may never be declared in the traditional fashion.
- Our way of life is under attack.
- Those who make themselves our enemy are advancing around the globe.
The survival of our friends is in danger.
- And yet no war has been declared,
- no borders have been crossed by marching troops, no missiles have been fired.
If the press is awaiting a declaration of war before it imposes the self-discipline of combat conditions, then I can only say that no war ever posed a greater threat to our security. If you are awaiting a finding of “clear and present danger,” then I can only say that
- the danger has never been more clear and its presence has never been more imminent.
It requires a change in outlook, a change in
tactics, a change in missions–by the government, by the people, by every
businessman or labor leader, and by every newspaper. For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy
Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced,
not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no
secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time
discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.
Nevertheless, every democracy recognizes the
necessary restraints of national security–and the question remains
whether those restraints need to be more strictly observed if we are to
oppose this kind of attack as well as outright invasion.
- have been available to every newspaper reader, friend and foe alike;
that the size, the strength, the location and
the nature of our forces and weapons, and our plans and strategy for
their use, have all been pinpointed in the press and other news media to
a degree sufficient to satisfy any foreign power; and that, in at least
in one case, the publication of details concerning a secret mechanism
whereby satellites were followed required its alteration at the expense of considerable time and money.
The question is for you alone to answer.
No public official should answer it for you. No governmental plan
should impose its restraints against your will. But I would be failing
in my duty to the nation, in considering all of the responsibilities
that we now bear and all of the means at hand to meet those
responsibilities, if I did not commend this problem to your attention,
- and urge its thoughtful consideration.
I have no intention of establishing a new Office of
War Information to govern the flow of news. I am not suggesting any new
forms of censorship or any new types of security classifications. I have no easy answer to the dilemma that I have posed, and would not seek to impose it if I had one. But I am asking the members of the newspaper profession and the industry in this country to reexamine their own responsibilities, to consider the degree and the nature of the present danger, and to heed the duty of self-restraint which that danger imposes upon us all.
It is the unprecedented nature of this challenge that also gives rise to your second obligation–an obligation which I share. And
that is our obligation to inform and alert the American people–to make
certain that they possess all the facts that they need, and understand
them as well--the perils, the prospects, the purposes of our program and the choices that we face.
Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive.
is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen
to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by
the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution-
-not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and
the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to
inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices,
to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion....