John F Kennedy’s opposition to secrecy

The President and the Press: Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association
President John F. Kennedy, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York City, April 27, 1961

Ladies and gentlemen, 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 secret proceedings.

We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweigh the dangers which are cited to justify it.

Even today there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating it’s arbitrary restrictions.

Even today there is little value in ensuring 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 who wish to expand it’s 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.

For we are opposed, around the world, by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy, that relies primarily on covet means for expanding it’s fear 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. It’s mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned. No rumor is printed. No secret is revealed.

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 newspaper to support an 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 the dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.

I not only could not stifle controversy from 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 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 or entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and sentimental, not to simply give the public what it wants, but to inform, to arouse, and to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mould, and 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 attention to greater 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 it’s possible information, outside the narrowest limits of national security.

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 his assistance, confident that with your help, Man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.

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7 thoughts on “John F Kennedy’s opposition to secrecy

  1. Vince J

    During the Government of JFK the US begun the ‘militarization of the governments of South America.
    He was just another bastard.

  2. Vince J

    “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.”

    What a load!!!! Did the American people knew what the American Government was doing in Latin America???

  3. Francisco Velasco

    Neverthless… under the circunstances of today’s governments behaviour and secrecy, all around the globe, everyone should read several times this statement of intentions, as nostalgic and chimeric as it may look.

  4. DE Teodoru

    Hey Vince, did you read the Great Seymour Hersh’s book on the Israeli nukes?

    Israel was using its “French Connection” to betray its promise to JFK that it won’t build nukes with its French-Jewish Zionist allies in the 4eme Republique. The American Jewish Congress offered to fully fund JFK’s campaign if he gives them total control of his foreign policy. That sure pissed him against the Zionists. So, can you imagine what he had planned to do to Israel when he discovered that it’s betrayal of America risked destroying the anti-nuke-testing accord he was working out with Khrushchev? And, given what they’ve done to their “enemies list” since, can you imagine what the Mossad might have done to preempt him in November 1963?

    History is full of mysteries, isn’t it?

  5. Norman

    Seems as though the allies have been playing a roll in the policies of the United States for quite some while now. Goodness, what conspiracy buffs might do with all this information available to them on line. Starts to make sense about how the Government wants to put the “Genie” back in the bottle now, doesn’t it! I wonder how long this might take, before it’s written? Senator Lieberman, I understand is spearheading legislation to try & do just that, or to just shut down the Internet by decree of the P.O.T.U.S. That would go a long way in cutting communications between those who disagree with the censorship, wouldn’t you say? Just another block in the wall that builds the prison within. Of course, there’s always the unknown factor, being made up of more than just one unit, being made up of many. The lessons of the past, are never fully learned by those who think they can control the masses. Like Moore’s law, what might have been yesterday, has been exceeded by an exponential -N- tomorrow. Corruption & cover-up, requires the cast of characters to grow in order to keep the game going. Any of the participants who feel slighted or left out, can become the weak link. Usually they can be neutralized, but I’m afraid in this situation, it’s hopeless to believe so. Why? Because that would entail eliminating far too many people. So, criticizing Wikileaks for publishing on line along with several media outlets, exposes the secrets that the Government practices in the name of the Country. There has been and always will be whistle blowers, just as Governments come & go. As to where the U.S. goes from here, only time will tell, though I’d venture to say that we won’t have long to wait.

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