JFK, April 1961: The President, the Press, secret societies


Richard Moore

It seems that the JFK speech that is circulating on video (eg, 
http://www.brasschecktv.com/page/209.html) was edited from a much 
longer speech.  It appears that he is talking about the 'communist 
conspiracy' rather than an internal conspiracy, as implied by the 


Original source URL:

John F. Kennedy Speeches
"The President and the Press"
April 27, 1961, American Newspaper Publishers Association

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Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:
I appreciate very much your generous invitation to be here tonight.

You bear heavy responsibilities these days and an article I read some 
time ago reminded me of how particularly heavily the burdens of 
present day events bear upon your profession.

You may remember that in 1851 t. he New York Herald Tribune, under 
the sponsorship and publishing of Horace Greeley, employed as its 
London correspondent an obscure journalist by the name of Karl Marx.

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."

But when all his financial appeals were refused, Marx looked around 
for other means of livelihood and fame, eventually terminating his 
relationship with the Tribune and devoting his talents full time to 
the cause that would bequeath to the world the seeds of Leninism, 
Stalinism, revolution and the cold war.

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

I have selected as the title of my remarks tonight "The President and 
the Press." Some may suggest that this would be more naturally worded 
"The President Versus the Press." But those are not my sentiments 

It is true, however, that when a well-known diplomat from another 
country demanded recently that our State Department repudiate certain 
newspaper attacks on his colleague it was unnecessary for us to reply 
that this Administration was not responsible for the press, for the 
press had already made it clear that it was not responsible for this 

Nevertheless, my purpose here tonight is not to deliver the usual 
assault on the so-called one-party press. On the contrary, in recent 
months I have rarely heard any complaints about political bias in the 
press except from a few Republicans. Nor is it my purpose tonight to 
discuss or defend the televising of Presidential press conferences. I 
think it is highly beneficial to have some 20,000,000 Americans 
regularly sit in on these conferences to observe, if I may say so, 
the incisive, the intelligent and the courteous qualities displayed 
by your Washington correspondents.

Nor, finally, are these remarks intended to examine the proper degree 
of privacy which the press should allow to any President and his 

If in the last few months your White House reporters and 
photographers have been attending church services with regularity, 
that has surely done them no harm.

On the other hand, I realize that your staff and wire service 
photographers may be complaining that they do not enjoy the same 
green privileges at the local golf courses which they once did.

It is true that my predecessor did not object as I do to pictures of 
one's golfing skill in action. But neither on the other hand did he 
ever bean a Secret Service 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.

This deadly challenge imposes upon our society two requirements of 
direct concern both to the press and to the President--two 
requirements that may seem almost contradictory in tone, but which 
must be reconciled and fulfilled if we are to meet this national 
peril. I refer, first, to the need for far greater public 
information; and, second, to the need for far greater official 

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 

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 that relies primarily 
on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence--on 
infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, 
on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night 
instead of armies by day. It is a system which has conscripted vast 
human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, 
highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, 
intelligence, economic, scientific and political operations.

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.

For the facts of the matter are that this nation's foes have openly 
boasted of acquiring through our newspapers information they would 
otherwise hire agents to acquire through theft, bribery or espionage; 
that details of this nation's covert preparations to counter the 
enemy's covert operations 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 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 newspapers which printed these stories were loyal, patriotic, 
responsible and well-meaning. Had we been engaged in open warfare, 
they undoubtedly would not have published such items. But in the 
absence of open warfare, they recognized only the tests of journalism 
and not the tests of national security. And my question tonight is 
whether additional tests should not now be adopted.

That 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 

On many earlier occasions, I have said-and your newspapers have 
constantly said-that these are times that appeal to every citizen's 
sense of sacrifice and self-discipline. They call out to every 
citizen to weigh his rights and comforts against his obligations to 
the common good. I cannot now believe that those citizens who serve 
in the newspaper business consider themselves exempt from that appeal.

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 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.

Every newspaper now asks itself, with respect to every story: "Is it 
news?" All I suggest is that you add the question: "Is it in the 
interest of the national security?" And I hope that every group in 
America-unions and businessmen and public officials at every 
level--will ask the same question of their endeavors, and subject 
their actions to this same exacting test.

And should the press of America consider and recommend the voluntary 
assumption of specific new steps or machinery, I can assure you that 
we will cooperate whole-heartedly with those recommendations.

Perhaps there will be no recommendations. Perhaps there is no answer 
to the dilemma faced by a free and open society in a cold and secret 
war. In times of peace, any discussion of this subject, and any 
action that results, are both painful and without precedent. But this 
is a time of peace and peril which knows no precedent in history.

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.

No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from 
that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes 
support or opposition. And both are necessary. I am not asking your 
newspapers to support the Administration, but I .am asking your help 
in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. 
For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our 
citizens whenever they are fully informed.

I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers--I welcome 
it. This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for, 
as a wise man once said: "An error doesn't become a mistake until you 
refuse to correct it." We intend to accept full responsibility for 
our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country 
can succeed-and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian 
law-maker 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.

This means greater coverage and analysis of international news--for 
it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It 
means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well 
as improved transmission. And it means, finally, that government at 
all levels, must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest 
possible information outside the narrowest limits of national 
security--and we intend to do it.

It was early in the Seventeenth Century that Francis Bacon remarked 
on three recent inventions already transforming the world: the 
compass, gunpowder and the printing press. Now the links between the 
nations first forged by the compass have made us all citizens of the 
world, the hopes and threats of one becoming the hopes and threats of 
us all. In that one world's efforts to live together, the evolution 
of gunpowder to its ultimate limit has warned mankind of the terrible 
consequences of failure.

And so it is to the printing press--to the recorder of man's deeds, 
the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news--that we look 
for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will 
be what he was born to be: free and independent.

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