The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

JFK and the New York Times again

The purpose of all these trips down Memory Lane is to chip away at the pernicious notion that objective journalism ever existed. And the Times is in the frame because it's the top paper, and everyone talks about it. Not to mention, to it.

One would expect the Cuban Missile Crisis to find the Times in genuflectory mood. The period of, and running up to, the Crisis features in small window of online transcripts of the Kennedy tapes from July 28 to October 28 1962 [1], and provides some material on the subject.

The story starts (p237a Vol 1) with a July 26 piece of Hanson Baldwin, long-serving defence correspondent, on the level of Soviet strength in ICBMs. The information had come, it seems, from an NIE. JFK was unchuffed, and directed brother Bobby to get the FBI working on the leak straight away.

Robert McNamara was the only recipient of the NIE who admitted to talking to Baldwin - and he said he hadn't leaked. The Feds doorstepped Baldwin at his home - in Chappaqua, of all places - and, after he asked them to leave, they put a wiretap on his phone.

A meeting of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board on August 1 recommended that Kennedy meet Times publisher Orville Dryfoos to impress on him the need for caution. Clark Clifford said (p249)
I'm sure he doesn't recognise all the implications. I'm assuming he's a loyal American. If he knew what this did to our national security, then I believe there might be less likelihood of this happening in the future.

Later (p252), Clifford suggested that the other papers would take their lead from Times -
generally considered the most influential

So, on September 13, JFK met Dryfoos (p193a Vol 2). According to a note on p194a, the information on the meeting is drawn from a note made by Dryfoos - presumably, it was not taped.

Kennedy arranged a little piece of theatre: he handed Dryfoos
a top secret report, codeword Keyhole, that identified Soviet missile launch sites on the basis of satellite information. Then he briefly left the Oval Office while Dryfoos read.

On his honour, at the very centre of the Free World, with a top secret document in his hands: That's the way to do it!

When JFK returned, he outlined a new system for the CIA to keep tabs on contacts between DOD officials and the press:
Dryfoos was impressed by the Keyhole document and said that Hanson Baldwin would not have submitted his story had he understood the sensitivity of his information. Nevertheless he argued strongly against the President's idea of using the CIA as a watchdog, citing the First Amendment and the importance of an informed electorate in a democracy. President Kennedy, however, kept coming back to the importance of his CIA plan. Finally, Dryfoos asked whether the President planned to announce this plan publicly. When Kennedy said no, Dryfoos cautioned him that this was the type of plan that Hanson Baldwin would be the first to find out about and it would make great front-page material.

If that's a fair report, it says something for Dryfoos' character that, after JFK's stunt, he should stand up to the President in the Oval Office.

The account ends
Following this meeting, the President went to the pool.

No doubt Fiddle (or Faddle) was available to sooth his strains [2].

What was the result of the Dryfoos-Kennedy encounter? Baldwin receives just one further namecheck in the volumes of transcripts: on October 23, at an ExComm meeting, during a discussion on press relations, McGeorge Bundy refers to a Baldwin piece (p147 Vol 3) as
perfectly right
and McNamara (as explained by the footnote) makes a joking allusion to Baldwin's being a regular receptacle for Navy leaks.

The ICBM leak farrago seems to be long over.

The story continues - I'll come back to it - with the Times agreeing to hold off printing a story on ExComm discussions. But I have no feeling right now for the depth of the Times kow-tow - national security was a clearly a genuine concern at the time, as well as being a pretext for censorship (and self-censorship) of the merely politically embarrassing.

  1. Three volumes cover the three month period, at a very frugal 2MB or so each. Further transcripts are promised. (Annoyingly, the files are copy-protected.)

  2. I learn that Fiddle was a girl called Priscilla Wear and Faddle Jill Cowan. I am not sufficiently motivated to find out whether these gals were on hand on September 13 1962.


A 1995 piece in The Militant (!) fingers Gay Talese's 1969 The Kingdom and the Power as the source for the story about Kennedy getting Dryfoos and James Reston to sanitise Tad Szulc's April 7 1961 piece on Bay of Pigs invasion preparations.

The chapter Kennedy and the Press 1960-63 of David R Davies dissertation An Industry in Transition: Major Trends in American Daily Newspapers, 1945-1965 (mentioned before, I think) gives useful background - to judge from a brief scan.

Context for the Hanson Baldwin phone tap is provided in a (the?) report of the Church Committee (PDF) - how this section ties up with this listing of all Church Committee stuff, I leave to those with sufficient interest and patience.

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