The President and the Press: Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961

“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 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.”




5 Responses to “The President and the Press: Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, April 27, 1961”

  1. Given the anti-Americanism endemic to the vast bulk of the modern leftist media the idea that they retain the “right” to speak and publish as they wish is ridiculous in any and all matters of security or foreign policy – though, due to the risks involved in censoring them, domestic “reporting” needs to remain unhindered for now.

    • I think JFK was claiming more responsibility from the press before releasing information that could result harmful even to american interests.
      I included this speech precisely because it’s about the power of a President was appealling to a responsible autonomy of another power called press, regardless the country, ideologies, political side… It is about handling a crisis in the most democratic way I can think of.

      • You’re probably right about JFK’s intent, but that was long ago and things have changed.

        Now the press should have to prove their responsibility before they’re allowed access to anything of importance.

  2. I understand your point of view, but its’ weak link is that relies on the assumption that all major issues are managed unobjectably by governments and we must trust this as a dogma. I’m reluctant to trust any power, and I simply reject the option of having to take a side, unless it’s ours (people’s).
    Since governments, press, business and corporate leaders prooved enough times to be all of them equally unable or unwilling to avoid crashes and crisis to citizens, we need to build new measures to demand the expected accountability from all of them.

  3. Besides I don’t see any problem in looking back in time if we find valuable sources of wisdom.

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