Below are exceprts from a speech given
by John F. Kennedy in 1961 to the American
Newspaper Publishers Association.
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
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, labor leader and newspaper.
For we are opposed around the world by
a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that
relies primarily on covert means of 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 wartime discipline no democracy would
ever hope or wish to match.
Listen to JFK give the full speech at
the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
and Museum website here.