Digital Edition – October 2020 (#235)

Honouring One of the Best-Loved American Presidents

John F. Kennedy




This month we are observing the words of a man whose footprints across the pages of history are indelibly tattooed into the global psyche in such a manner as never before seen in modern history.


That the world is still fascinated by this man’s life and compellingly by his death lies not so much within the allegory of the mythic hero being cut down in his prime on his quest for the Holy Grail but more in the words that he left behind.

The following abridged transcript is one of the most significant speeches of Kennedy’s presidency, the address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27th 1961, seven months before his untimely death on November 22, 1963, Dallas, Texas, United States.

This speech is highly noteworthy especially in light of the words of the Presidents who preceded Kennedy’s tenure, words that in their time did not receive the broad recognition that they deserved. It now behoves us to accept that sometimes you have to trust someone, and as we hear time and again, that our governments would not do anything bad or lie to us, then we must look to these powerful men of yesterday, and take the lesson.

As we digest the following words perhaps a moments reflection on the current US elections, the calibre of the candidates and their platforms which could give one pause for thought and regret. Regret that these are the best the US can offer the world at a time of such importance when our collective future is under such threat and when the distractions of the ‘Bread and Circuses’ of mass entertainment threaten the coming generations to the rumours of war.


The Speech

(abridged by elocal)

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate very much your generous invitation to be here tonight….

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 a far greater public information; and, second, to the need for far greater official secrecy.

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 labour 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 rumour is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a wartime 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…

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…

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 does not 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 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.

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…

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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elocal Digital Edition – October 2020 (#235)

elocal Digital Edition
October 2020 (#235)


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