JFK on secrecy and freedom of the press – 1961

On the eve of the assasination of John F. Kennedy 50 years ago I was exposed to a quote  by John F. Kennedy on secrecy and freedom of the press:

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.

I was able to find the source of this quote; it was a speech of JFK to the newspaper publishers on April 27, 1961.  You can listen to it on Youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gpmi7dBet0c.

It is a strong speech that is more relevant today than it was when he held it.  “Uncle Sam has become big brother” is not only a quote of progressives, but also of Representatives of Congress like Alan Grayson (D-FL).  The exposure of secrecy and illegal surveillance is more important today than ever before.  We need the p

The freedom of the press is one of the most precious part of our democracy.  JFK reminds newspapers of their duty:

“…that is why our press was protected by the First (emphasized) Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution
— not primarily to amuse and entertain,
–not to emphasize the trivial and 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.”

Please listen to President John F. Kennedy’s speech on secrecy and a free and democratic society. It’s short but incredibly relevant.

Here is the transcript:

“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 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 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.”

For we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies 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.”

“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 newspapers to support the 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 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 (emphasized) Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution– not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and 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 so it is to the printing press–to the recorder of mans 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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