1961 April 27

President Kennedy Asks Press to Self-Censor National Security News


Following the disastrous American attempt to invade Cuba (the Bay of Pigs Affair), President John Kennedy gave a speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association (ANPA) on this day, asking the press to not publish stories that might jeopardize national security. The speech generated immediate and strong criticisms from the news media, and Kennedy quickly backed off. It remains one of the few cases in which a president explicitly stated the view that virtually all presidential administrations held with regard to news coverage of national security issues.

Kennedy’s speech was one part of a controversy over his administration’s attempt to “manage” the news, which erupted almost as soon as Kennedy took office (see January 25, 1961). Then, on December 6, 1962, a Pentagon press official stated that it was “OK for the government to lie to save itself” (although he did not specify whether he meant to protect the nation or to protect the administration from embarrassment).

President Kennedy: “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.”

Read the Speech: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=8093

Read Kennedy’s press secretary’s first-hand account: Pierre Salinger, With Kennedy (1966)

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