Abstract

After the failure of the April 1961 Bay of Pigs intervention in Cuba, senior officials from the Kennedy administration, including the president, devoted two days to off-the-record briefings for more than 200 journalists. Although President John F. Kennedy refused to assign blame, other officials were less circumspect, disagreeing about whether the Central Intelligence Agency or another part of the government was responsible for the failure. The most notable aspect of this episode is not that senior administration personnel discussed a covert action in the presence of journalists but that the briefings subsequently remained unknown. Some newspapers briefly mentioned them, but no book on the Bay of Pigs—from the 1960s through today—has mentioned that such briefings happened or described their content. Using primary-source materials (including fragments of the briefings’ transcript) plus some newspaper accounts, this article describes the conflicting opinions voiced at the briefings and explores why and how the Kennedy administration succeeded in keeping the encounters mostly unknown.

Introduction

The U.S.-sponsored intervention in Cuba in April 1961, aiming to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro, was the most spectacular, publicized, and bungled covert action in the then fourteen-year-old history of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as the three-month-old history of John F. Kennedy's presidency. Significant failures had occurred under President Harry S. Truman (such as sending East European exiles back into their home countries to provoke uprisings, an effort that failed miserably but went unpublicized at the time) and under Dwight D. Eisenhower (including trying to overthrow Indonesia's Sukarno and instead having an agency aircraft shot down and an operative captured, but with only modest attendant publicity to the CIA's role in the operation). The much publicized U-2 event in 1960 was not a covert action but an intelligence-gathering operation, albeit a highly secret and intrusive one. By contrast, the Bay of Pigs venture was an actual unsuccessful attempt to overthrow a government, for which—following intensive, worldwide attention to the operation—President Kennedy publicly took responsibility.

The story of how the CIA trained and sent 1,400 anti-Castro Cuban exiles to their native land, of how Kennedy held back U.S. air support, and of how Castro's forces emerged triumphant has been well- and extensively told by many writers. This article does not recount that history; instead, it traces a never chronicled off-the-record encounter between leading officials from the Kennedy administration and more than 200 journalists in Washington, DC, just days after the failed incursion. The article then poses the question of why the briefings have remained a non-event in histories of the Bay of Pigs, the CIA, and the Kennedy administration.

A few aspects of this encounter are remarkable. First is that it happened at all. Several department heads who played key roles in planning, approving, or directing the operation went before the journalists one at a time and—to varying degrees—talked about what went wrong and who was to blame. That such an event, spread over two business days, could occur under government leaders’ presumption that their remarks would be kept secret seems remarkable, at least from the vantage point of nearly six decades later.

Second, the remarks of the participants—among them, President Kennedy, Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) Allen Dulles, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk—did remain mostly secret, despite having been made in the presence of those 200-plus journalists and despite the contradictions that emerged, with the DCI laying blame for the failure on the White House and the military, and with Secretary Rusk chiefly blaming the CIA. The president spoke to their finger-pointing while declining to engage in it. One can search at length, but in vain, for a press account of these off-the-record briefings in the literature on Kennedy, Bay of Pigs, and the CIA. Nor are substantial records of the event available in a single archive.

In 2013, I titled a presentation on this topic, “The Best Document I Never (Quite) Found.” After learning years earlier of the occurrence of the off-the-record briefings that followed the Bay of Pigs (in a CIA memorandum noting that angry blood-letting had ensued) and after finding that they had not been described by any published histories, I spent considerable time searching at the National Archives in suburban Washington, DC, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, and elsewhere for records of it. I was eager to find transcripts or detailed notes of the event because everyone familiar with the story of Bay of Pigs has heard about the extensive finger-pointing and backstabbing among U.S. policymakers after the event, but has heard about that phenomenon only secondhand. A lengthy transcript of such remarks would be a fascinating find.

Eventually, after many days at the National Archives, where I found other useful, if less spectacular documents, I opened a regulation-size archive box and saw a State Department folder labeled “Foreign Policy Briefing Conference of the Daily and Periodical Press, April 24 and 25, 1961.” Those off-the-record briefings had an official name, it turned out. Alas, unlike folders in the box with transcripts of subsequent briefings, this folder's contents were minimal. Clearly, it had once held the transcript of the entire event, but all that remained was the beginning of the transcript, featuring a list of all the participants and the time and day of their appearances, plus the welcoming remarks of Rusk and a transcript of his later interactions with the journalists. Neither box nor folder contained any record indicating the fate of the rest of the transcript. I held hope, though, that I might find it at the Kennedy Library, and, indeed, I did one day open a folder containing President Kennedy's remarks and his answers to the print journalists.1 Unfortunately, no other transcripts or extensive notes of what was said at the two-day event were to be found.

Only by piecing together some other fragments of evidence, mainly a few memoranda and some brief mentions in newspapers after the off-the-record briefings, did I develop a glimpse of that encounter.

Speaking On-the-Record about “That Unhappy Island”

As the Cuban exiles were dying on the beaches of Cuba or being rescued by U.S. forces or captured by Castro's forces, President Kennedy spoke with diverse advisers, none of whom had a good solution to the operation's collapse. The event was over by 19 April, leaving the sleep-deprived president angry and humiliated. As a skilled politician, though, he found time during the crisis and its immediate aftermath to consider how to rescue his standing with the public and the U.S. news media. On 20 April, the same day he met with political rival Richard Nixon to discuss the failure, he spoke to the annual meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which usually met in Washington, DC and had invited Kennedy well before the disaster in Cuba. But he had decided only in “the last 24 hours,” he said, to speak about events on “that unhappy island.” Although he acknowledged that he had refused to engage in “unilateral American intervention” in Cuba, he warned that “our restraint is not inexhaustible.” Kennedy expressed hope for some good yet to come of the incursion, describing a rebel leader on the beaches who had refused an evacuation offer:

He has gone now to join in the mountains countless other guerrilla fighters, who are equally determined that the dedication of those who gave their lives shall not be forgotten, and that Cuba must not be abandoned to the Communists. And we do not intend to abandon it either!2

Kennedy also promised a reorientation of U.S. military forces to fight “subversion, infiltration, and a host of other tactics” used by enemies around the globe.3

What the president did not do was say anything about how the United States had been involved in the intervention, much less about how or even whether he had authorized it. Nor did he take questions. These would come, it was widely presumed, at a presidential press conference, scheduled for the next day, Friday, 21 April. But at the large State Department auditorium where the president held most such events, he began the latter session by telling reporters he would say nothing about the Cuban event that went beyond the previous day's remarks.

I do not think that any useful national purpose would be served by my going further into the Cuban question this morning. I prefer to let my statement of yesterday suffice for the present. I am pleased to announce that the United States has offered concrete support to a broad scale attack by the United Nations upon world hunger.4

Reporters were stunned, if somewhat cowed, by the president's apparent refusal to speak at all about the Bay of Pigs, but they were not inclined to ask questions about world hunger. “You could almost hear our minds churning, as we strove to think up substitute questions,” one columnist told his readers.5 After Kennedy rebuffed one direct question about Cuba, another reporter tried a different tack: “Mr. President, this is not a question about Cuba, it's a question about Castro,” which provoked a good deal of laughter from the assemblage but no substantive presidential response.6 All the rest of the questions were, as Kennedy directed, about topics other than Cuba, with a single exception: NBC reporter Sander Vanocur referred to “a certain foreign policy situation” that was causing the United States to take a “propaganda lambasting” around the world. Therefore, Vanocur asked, “Why is it not useful, sir, for us to explore with you the real facts behind this or our motivations?”7

Only then, and grudgingly, did Kennedy make brief statements that won some admiration in press accounts for days to come and in history books ever since:

There is an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan, and I wouldn't be surprised if information is poured into you, in regard to all the recent activities. Further statements, detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility, because I am the responsible officer of the government.8

As with his speech the day before, he did not mention the U.S. role in training and transporting those who went into the Bay of Pigs, the CIA, the U.S. military, or his decision-making process of the preceding weeks.

Regarding his expressed assumption that information was being “poured into you, in regard to all the recent activities,” the president was no doubt correct. Simultaneously, though, he had been instructing loyalists to do the same thing. Speechwriter and part-time foreign policy adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., attended a breakfast on 21 April where Kennedy gave his aides firm instructions to challenge and seek “corrections” of certain accounts that were emerging in news outlets.9Time Magazine’s Hugh Sidey later wrote that on Thursday and Friday, 20 and 21 April (the latter being the day of the president's press conference), the White House did its own hatchet work. Reporters were summoned to background sessions and informed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had selected the landing beaches and that the CIA had promised a native uprising that never materialized. Some attempts were made to fasten responsibility on the Eisenhower administration.10

Though shrewdly attentive to television journalism's emerging importance, Kennedy's obsession was the print variety. After some newspaper editorials appearing the morning after his press conference criticized his refusal to answer questions on Cuba, he bristled with resentment, telling his press secretary, Pierre Salinger,

What could I have said that would have helped the situation at all? That we took the beating of our lives? That the CIA and the Pentagon are stupid? What purpose do they think it would serve to put that on the record?11

Curiously, in light of what happened the following Monday and Tuesday, Vanocur had prefaced his press conference question with the statement, “To my knowledge, the State Department and the White House have not attempted to take a representative group of reporters and say, ‘These are the facts as we know them.’”12 Although Vanocur's suggestion was not the reason, hundreds of editors and columnists from newspapers around the United States, plus reporters based in Washington, DC and accredited to cover State Department press conferences, assembled in the same State Department auditorium the following Monday morning.13 They were to hear from nearly all the administration's key foreign policymakers one at a time, and ask questions of each of them, over the course of two days. They were welcomed by Rusk the first morning and sent off by the president, following his own remarks and answers to journalists’ questions, late Tuesday afternoon.

How Did the Off-the-Record Event Come About?

The briefingn its conception (though not its occurrence) had nothing to do with the Bay of Pigs. Instead, it had been the idea of State Department press relations officials who, just weeks into the new Kennedy presidency, wanted to innovate in explaining the challenges of foreign policy to journalists. On 6 February 1961, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Roger Tubby explained to Rusk that, increasingly, newspaper columnists and editorial writers, as well as radio and television commentators, had emerged around the country who did their own writing on foreign affairs, without reliance on “networks and press associations.”14 This “newly emerging group throughout the country, having no such direct access to Department briefing officers, will require special attention, if they are to have a sound background of information.”15 Therefore, the department should invite 300 radio and television journalists who worked at locales outside of Washington, D.C., for a “Foreign Affairs Policy Briefing Conference” on 3 and 4 April.16 Then, on 24 and 25 April, the department should host “a like number of editorial page editors from leading newspapers.”17 Broadcast and print “correspondents and commentators regularly covering the Department,” and thus stationed in the capital, also would be invited to attend.18

Both conferences, Tubby wrote, “should be conducted at the highest level,” with President Kennedy, Secretary Rusk, and “other principal substantive officers of the Department and other agencies” speaking and taking questions.19 On 17 February, Rusk approved the idea.20 After winning the president's agreement to participate, Rusk then invited others. To Dulles, he wrote on 7 March,

President Kennedy and I plan to participate personally in both of the meetings, and I am hopeful that you will be able to join us and to present a 20-minute briefing on the role of intelligence as an essential contribution to national security and foreign policy. Your presentation would be followed by a ten-minute question and answer period.21

Planning proceeded, and the first of the two events, with broadcast journalists from around the country, occurred on 3 and 4 April. A recently declassified transcript of Dulles's remarks at that event, just two weeks before the Bay of Pigs occurred, shows him speaking and answering questions discreetly. One journalist asked, “Mr. Dulles, could you give us an indication as to whether or not your organization is backing one of the Cuban exile groups with money and help?”22 The director replied, “Even if I were backing one, I don't think I would give you that information.”23 (With unintended irony, he also spoke of the value of an independent CIA: “If you are wedded to a policy, you get very stubborn and you don't look at facts that say the policy isn't the best one, particularly if you invented it.”)24 Three weeks later, following the earth-shaking events in Cuba, print journalists had their turn to hear from and question senior officials.25

Speaking Off-the-Record about Bay of Pigs and Other Troubles

Fortified by coffee and convened to order by Tubby at 9:58 on the morning of Monday, 24 April, reporters applauded Secretary of State Rusk, who welcomed them “for these background briefings on some of our problems in foreign policy. This should be an interesting two days because we have lots of problems.”26 The reporters laughed appreciatively. Not only had Bay of Pigs occurred, but French military leaders in colonial Algeria were attempting a coup against the French government of Charles de Gaulle, and the Soviet Union was basking in the glow of its triumphal launch and first-ever space orbit of a human being (Yuri Gagarin) just before the attempted overthrow of Castro. But, Rusk said, “I must go away … to meet with the President and President Sukarno, who are conferring in just a moment.”27 The irony of Rusk departing one meeting that would focus substantially on a failed covert action to attend another meeting devoted to repairing relations with a foreign leader the United States had covertly tried to overthrow three years before may have been noted by some well-informed journalists in the audience.

When Rusk returned around noon, he started with France:

I think it is quite clear that the generals’ revolt in Algeria was a surprise both to the French government and to us. The French government had been keeping considerable track of the generals who had indicated their disaffection, and it is hard to understand exactly how too much of an effort could have been organized without the knowledge of some of the French authorities.28

He followed this implication of involvement by unknown French leaders in Paris with a statement that some in the audience took to be a judgment of the CIA: “Our own intelligence didn't alert us to this.”29

Why did the events in Algeria and France matter?

This is not a time when we can afford for France to be engaged in a deep civil war. There are very tense problems between the Sino-Soviet bloc and the free world, and it is important for NATO to be strong and unified … if the generals succeed in establishing either complete independence in Algeria or control in France and then resume the war in Algeria, then the prospects for settling that question on a long-term, workable basis would be, I think, postponed for a considerable period.30

As Rusk had reminded the journalists in his earlier welcoming remarks, his comments were “on the background.”31 They could not quote him, and they could not attribute particular thoughts to him. He and his colleagues were offering “candor” in exchange for “discretion” from the journalists, he said.32 The logic behind this was, “We felt it would not be profitable for you to come to Washington DC for two days just to hear us say what we could normally say in public anyhow.”33 Rusk actually did speak with a reasonable degree of candor. It would have been unthinkable for any earlier secretary of state to have spoken openly about the failure of “intelligence” to “alert” policymakers, not to mention the possibility of generals taking “control in France,” as the French-Algerian crisis remained under way.34

Rusk had no particularly revealing remarks to make about Laos and no criticisms of intelligence regarding that country. Then he offered “a few comments” about Cuba.35 The U.S. government had trained the Cuban exiles since 1960, but he absolved former President Eisenhower of any responsibility for decisions “since January 20.”36 In the present administration, there had been “every opportunity … to choose the lines of action.”37 He, the president, and colleagues had engaged in “a very complex computation of problems, as to whether to let these fellows do what they wanted to do.”38 They had decided to train and equip the exiles, who had decided for themselves, Rusk said, to return “to Cuba for the purpose of attempting to set off a large-scale reaction against the Castro government.”39

Then he turned to intelligence:

There was a very considerable miscalculation on both the Cuban [exiles’ side] and the American side on two vital issues: one was whether there could or would be a substantial response from inside Cuba, which could link up with these people—[i.e., the U.S.-trained Cuban exiles]—and help move the situation to a complete success. The other was the pace and extent and weight of Soviet Bloc arms, which had already reached Cuba and were in operational condition. I think these two things were fairly critical to the problem.

The group that got ashore ran into much heavier and much quicker opposition than was anticipated.

Had there been a substantial popular revolt and had this thing gotten a headway, and a new government could have established itself there which could have been recognized and supported, this would, of course, have been a real possibility.40

Rusk apparently then recognized he was talking about things that might have occurred but had not, and so he quickly concluded his remarks about Cuba. Perhaps because it was past the scheduled time for a lunch break, the secretary easily got away without taking questions. Some members of his audience noted that he had not mentioned the CIA by name but had spoken of a “considerable miscalculation” that was “critical to the problem.”41

“Dean Rusk said ‘intelligence’ had failed to alert our government.” So wrote a key CIA official in a private summary of Monday's briefing.42 Word of Rusk's remarks had quickly reached the agency, where feelings were raw over the operation's failure. Though there is no record of it, so, too, perhaps, had the words of Adlai Stevenson, the ambassador to the United Nations, and Adolf Berle, a longtime specialist on Latin America, who had been advising the new President Kennedy. They and others had also spoken on the first day. Dulles addressed the print journalists the next day, as did Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles, and General Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others.

The transcript of Dulles's remarks on Tuesday, 25 April, is among those missing from the folder that presumably once contained the full transcript whose creation was documented at the time.43 Reporting on his comments hardly occurred. The New York Times, the nation's most influential newspaper, reported nothing at all about the off-the-record briefings in the days and weeks that followed.44 Nonetheless, reporting by a few other newspapers suggests that the DCI responded vigorously. Warren Rogers of The New York Herald Tribune attended the briefings. Paradoxically, though, his story summarizing the event does not mention its occurrence. The frontpage story of The Herald Tribune’s 26 April edition led with the following:

President Kennedy's top advisers are in sharp disagreement over whether faulty intelligence caused the Cuban fiasco. Most of them say the Central Intelligence Agency miscalculated the temper of the Cuban people and the strength of Cuban Premier Fidel Castro's Communist weapons and police-state tactics. But the CIA disputes this, it was learned today. The CIA insists its information was accurate and was correctly analyzed. The fault, in this view, was not an intelligence miscalculation but a military failure—the inability of the anti-Castro forces to hold a beachhead.45

On the same day, The Washington Post’s John Norris (who also attended the briefings) described what had been said, also without mentioning the event, in a page-twelve story. It led with a prediction by Senate majority whip Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) that the CIA would be shorn of its covert action role, then reported on remarks by Dulles, without naming him:

Meanwhile, a top U.S. official denied there was any CIA intelligence “miscalculation” involved in the failure of the Cuban invasion. This official, giving a version of what occurred that differed completely from any that has been passed to newsmen by other high—and equally anonymous—government sources, said:

  1. There was no misjudgment of the general temper of the Cuban people or the control that Premier Fidel Castro's security police had over the country.

  2. Quite accurate information was passed to the White House as to the military strength of the Cuban army, navy, and air force.

    Other officials have said privately that intelligence errors contributed greatly to the failure of last week's invasion attempt. They declared:

  3. That both the CIA and the Cuban rebels underestimated Castro's police state controls, which prevented local uprisings and the prospects of such a popular overthrow of the regime.

  4. That the Castro military forces hit the rebel beachhead with more planes, tanks, and other modern arms than the United States believed they had and moved more swiftly than had been estimated.

Yesterday's denial of the earlier statements of top officials left the picture unclear.46

Not all journalists found the situation unclear, though. Some thought Dulles had greatly clarified matters. John Leacacos, the Washington, DC bureau chief of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, “sends you his ‘regards and esteem,’” press aide Stanley Grogan told Dulles.47 “He listened to you lay it on the line at State yesterday and is glad that you did.”48

The powerful and feared columnist Drew Pearson apparently did not attend the briefings, but he had one or more sources there. In a radio broadcast, Pearson violated the guidance about not referring to the event and not attributing remarks to specific individuals. He reported,

Central Intelligence Director Allen Dulles is feuding with Secretary of State Rusk over who is to blame for the Cuban fiasco. Rusk, who always thought the plan was a shoestring operation run by amateurs, talked out bluntly in an off-the-record session this week before a group of editors. He said the CIA fell down in under-estimating Castro's tanks and air force and foolishly believed that the Cubans would rise up as the Hungarians did, to help the invaders. Dulles was burned up when he heard this. When he talked to the editors the next day, he flatly denied this. CIA accurately warned of Castro's military strength, he said and correctly analyzed the outlook for the White House. Rusk and Dulles are now scarcely speaking to each other.49

(Pearson reported this on his radio program, not his syndicated print column, which did not treat the briefings, for reasons unknown. Although the Post placed Pearson's column on a page with its comics, the column was widely read in Washington, DC and ran in hundreds of newspapers around the country. His radio broadcasts never created the stir that many of his columns did.)

The day after Dullesspoke to journalists, Grogan informed him that numerous calls were coming into his press relations office, “requesting clarification or interpretation of your remarks of yesterday.”50 Unless a transcript of the event is found, it is impossible to know with certainty all that Dulles said to reporters that inspired those calls and the few news articles. A plausible approximation of his remarks exists, however: notes of Dulles's comments that same day to a secretive congressional subcommittee charged with overseeing the CIA. In a meeting with the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee, Representative Carl Vinson (D-GA), along with a few others, Dulles summarized what had happened over the preceding weeks:

Inasmuch as CIA is not a military agency, we went to the military for advice on the operational plan and had military specialists assigned as advisers and operations directors. A special group was sent down to the training base by the Joint Chiefs to survey the training and invasion plans. The project was discussed weekly in a special group for policy guidance from the President, State, and Defense.

The plan was based on the assumption that the Cuban Air Force would be destroyed before the invasion. A strike on D-minus-2 put out of commission approximately one-half of the Cuban Air Force, but due to policy considerations, an additional planned strike on D-Day was called off [words redacted]. As a result, two ships which accompanied the invasion force into the bay were caught by the Cuban planes and sunk. The rebels thereby lost much of their communications gear and their resupply of ammunition. This was a key element in the failure.51

As a result, he said, “there had been no real test of whether there could be a popular uprising against Castro, as there had to be an occupied area in being and available before the defections could start.”52 The words redacted from the document quoted above probably refer to who “called off” the second air strike.53 That would have been the White House, of course.

Without mentioning names, Dulles had adeptly trashed the president, the advisers who had urged the second strike's cancellation, and the Joint Chiefs. The only failure of CIA mentioned by Dulles in the entire hearing was “that some of the T-33s were flown” by Castro's forces with “a vigor and skill that was better than expected.”54

Details in Dulles's two presentations and answers to questions on 25 April could have differed somewhat, of course. But in light of Norris's reporting in The Herald-Tribune that an “official” (identified by CIA records as Dulles) gave journalists a “version of what occurred that differed completely from any that has been passed to newsmen by other high—and equally anonymous—government sources,” and in light of Grogan's memorandum to Dulles about numerous reporters’ phone calls the next day seeking “clarification or interpretation” of his remarks at the briefing, there is no reason to think the differences were significant.55

There is no known extant record of what others said at the briefing before President Kennedy capped off the two-day event. Secretary of Defense McNamara was likely among those who staunchly defended Kennedy, however, and General Lemnitzer, who is known to have faulted the White House and the CIA in private conversations for the failure, likely defended the Joint Chiefs of Staff.56

At precisely 5:00 on the afternoon of 25 April, President Kennedy walked onto the stage of the State Department auditorium to do as his subordinates had done: offer an overview of challenges facing the United States in world affairs and then take questions. He said nothing of substance about the failed Cuban operation in his opening remarks, but the journalists quickly drew him out on the subject. “How badly damaged do you think United States prestige abroad has been, as a result of our involvement in the abortive Cuban invasion attempt?” one of them asked.57 “Well, I think the prestige of the United States has been hurt because a failure hurts.”58 The nation's “prestige” and even its “survival are all at stake, and will be for the next ten years,” he said.59

The press reporting before the Bay of Pigs showed how “faction-ridden this operation was,” perhaps showing that “it was an ill-founded one,” said one journalist, who then acknowledged that many believed the press had done “a disservice by the extent of its reporting.”60 Which view did the president support? In a lengthy, wandering answer, Kennedy suggested that such reporting had been “extremely damaging to us,” and he urged journalists to consider, “as a profession, not merely individually,” what sort of reporting it should do regarding future covert actions.61

Another journalist asked, “Mr. President, if you had the Cuban decision to make over again, what would you have done differently?”62 This provoked laughter from his colleagues before the President responded:

I will say here, speaking privately, many meetings were held on this matter. Many people—whose experience had carried them through many years—judgments were reached, in both military and other branches of the government. And this was not—when the decision was made, those who were most involved thought that this effort would be worthwhile, on the assumption that if it did not succeed there, that they could carry on as guerrillas.

But it failed. So quite obviously, with the advantage of hindsight, a good many different decisions would have been made. But I must say that a good many able people, with long military experience and all the rest, looked at this, and were wrong.63

The President's tone throughout the question-and-answer session was somber, even pessimistic, as he eventually realized. To a reporter who spoke of having “heard nothing but sad news the last few days,” he said:

On the other hand, the news from Algeria this afternoon is encouraging. So I don't want you to come down here and get put through the wringer and feel that everybody in Washington is—I just think that these problems require the best judgment of all of us, and I suppose, to know where we are going, we must know where we have been, and I think that there is a good deal of soul searching now going on in this administration, which I think is a good thing.64

The last substantive question of the briefing alerted the president, if he did not already know of it, to Dulles's earlier analysis. “The man who makes the intelligence,” meaning Dulles, had “denied” that the operation was a “failure of intelligence” and implied “it was more a question of the failure of military tactics. I wonder if you can give us your ideas on this?”65

Well, I think it is most unwise to make any judgments about it now and that is … one of the reasons why General [Maxwell] Taylor is pursuing this entire matter, not to attempt to find out who is wrong, because a good many people were wrong, but to find out how they could have been wrong, and what we can do in the future to improve any relationship between intelligence and military operations and decisions. So, I'm not familiar with what was said, but I would reserve judgment on the question of failures. I have my own opinion, but I don't think there is any use in saying what was wrong was the military or what was wrong was the intelligence.66

Days earlier, the president had appointed Taylor to lead a study group, joined by Robert F. Kennedy, Dulles, and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke, to study the Bay of Pigs failure as a way of preventing such fiascos in the future. Ultimately, Taylor spared Kennedy from direct, severe criticism, attributing the failure to a mistaken belief that so large an operation “could be plausibly disclaimed.”67 The White House also should not have given its “top-level direction … through ad hoc meetings of senior officials.”68 But the agency would take a bigger hit for, among other things, its failure to make clear “with sufficient force and clarity” to the president and secretary of state the ramifications of some of Kennedy's decisions before and during the operation.69

Finally, a journalist asked, “Mr. President, now that you have been in office for three months, how do you like it?”70 Following another round of laughter, Kennedy replied, “Well, I liked it better up to about nine days ago.”71 After another round of laughter and applause, the president departed, and Tubby reminded reporters, “This is off the record, what the President said. In the beginning, I said that, and I want to reiterate: everything he said now was off the record.”72 There had been nine questions posed about the Bay of Pigs and Cuba, and nine other questions on other Cold War–related topics, including Vietnam, Berlin, and the space race with the Soviet Union.

One notable parallel between what we know about the remarks by Dulles and what Kennedy said at the off-the-record briefing is their avoidance of personal responsibility. Although the president had publicly stated days earlier that he was the “responsible officer” in the case of the Bay of Pigs, he said no such thing on 25 April. Instead, he spoke of possible military and intelligence failures.73 As for Dulles, judging from the limited reporting of his comments and what we know he said earlier in the day to the House subcommittee, he, too, seems not to have acknowledged any failure on his part or on the part of his agency.

Almost no reporting appeared about the president's responses or even his appearance at the event. One partial exception was a story by Chalmers Roberts of The Washington Post, published on an inside page the day after Kennedy made his remarks. “Press Hears Top Brass Plumb Souls on Crisis” was the headline, with a briefer subheading: “Gloom Reigns.”

The Kennedy administration has been going through a period of semi-public soul-searching about the Cuban fiasco, and about the state of the problem ahead with the Sino-Soviet bloc. Several hundred editors and commentators have been sitting in the State Department Auditorium, listening to just about all the top brass, ending yesterday afternoon with President Kennedy.74

But Roberts said nothing about what the president had said.

As for others who spoke to reporters during the two-day event, little is known, and even that small amount comes from the few news stories published. The limited reporting suggests that some of the officials engaged in a good deal of finger-pointing, or “sharp disagreement,” in Warren Rogers's words.75 Roberts of the Post (claiming he was “probably” not violating the off-the-record rule) reported that “there was some recrimination as to who goofed in Cuba, with interested parties defending themselves and their parties.”76 Norris's account in the Post portrayed a “top” official denying any sort of CIA “miscalculation” and thus “giving a version of what occurred that differed completely from any that has been passed to newsmen by other high … government sources.”77 Such “confessions” might be “good for the soul,” Roberts said, but the “stories which it produces do confuse the American reader.”78

Beyond the blame assignments, one Kennedy administration official is described as saying “plaintively that probably some countries can't be saved from communism, anyway, and we'll just have to get used to it. He seemed to be suffering from shock in the aftermath of Cuba.”79 Another “went so far as to say that it could be that, within five years, the United States will begin to lose its ability to influence world events.”80 Another official, however, claimed that the aftermath of Bay of Pigs was “turning into a bonanza in Latin America” for the United States. Yet another official said the country “probably will have to send guerrillas into Communist North Vietnam.”81

Beyond that, details of remarks by the fifteen or more participants went unpublished.82

“Reds Admitted on Equal Basis at World Issue Briefings”

One other aspect of the off-the-record briefings of journalists on 24 and 25 April is even more significant and surprising: a reporter for a Soviet-bloc newspaper, Trybuna Ludu, an organ of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR, the Communist party), was in the audience. He represented Poland's most widely circulated newspaper. Some U.S. journalists angrily observed the reporter, whose name is unknown, as he took extensive notes during President Kennedy's talk. Apparently, State Department officials had not thought through the consequences of holding off-the-record briefings open to anyone with State Department or (perhaps) White House press credentials.83

In light of repeated Kennedy administration complaints “that too much information of value to the Soviets” got into the press, columnist Roscoe Drummond (apparently an attendee) wrote: “On what possible basis does the State Department deem that it is setting a standard by giving two days of confidential briefings to 250 United States editors and permitting a Communist bloc correspondent to sit through it … and take exhaustive notes to transmit behind the Iron Curtain?”84 Similarly, Chalmers Roberts observed that there was something strange about having a “Communist newspaperman” present when a U.S. official said (paraphrased by Roberts)), “Sure, the U.S. probably will have to send guerrillas into Communist North Vietnam.”85 A “grievous blunder,” Drummond said, on the assumption that Soviet leaders would soon be devouring the contents of the reporter's detailed scribbling.86

Drummond's and Roberts's concern that the reporter's details regarding Kennedy's (and others’) thinking reached Soviet leaders was reasonable, as the newspaper was very much controlled by the PZPR. Still, the U.S. officials had no way of knowing the destination of the Polish reporter's detailed notes. Presumably, he at least transmitted his information to the newspaper's editors (all of them acceptable in the eyes of the Polish Communist party). However, for reasons unknown, Trybuna Ludu did not publish a story about the off-the-record briefings. Whether the newspaper's editors shared the notes with Polish officials or passed them on to Soviet intelligence remains unknown.87

To complicate this element of the story further, Press Secretary Salinger had engaged in efforts to improve relations with (and working conditions for) foreign reporters based in Washington. This had an unintended but handsome payoff, according to Salinger: high-quality intelligence from some of these reporters covering the White House. As he later wrote in his memoir,

Very often, the first hint we had of important developments in foreign capitals came from their correspondents. Even Communist reporters, especially, those from Poland and Yugoslavia, were quite frank in discussing their government's intentions with White House personnel. In almost all cases, their tips were to prove correct.88

Because Trybuna Ludu did not publish a story about the briefings, it is unclear whether the Polish reporter passed along the content of his detailed notes. Perhaps someone in the State Department or White House press office successfully held the reporter to the rule that there could be no attribution of remarks to any official who spoke.

Lingering Questions

Why was the two-day off-the-record briefing barely mentioned in U.S. newspapers in the following days, and why has it gone unmentioned in history books? A simple answer is: That is how it was supposed to be—the event was off-the-record. But that is an unsatisfactory answer. Even in the years well before the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and Edward Snowden, significant leaks frequently occurred in the press, even about matters supposedly concerning national security. Kennedy and his immediate predecessor and successor, for example, were chronically angry over such leaks. A better answer may also be a simple one: The New York Times published no news stories or commentaries about the event. The New York Herald-Tribune and The Washington Post published stories that (with the exception of the report by Roberts) indirectly treated the event, and one such story made a front page. Syndicated news stories of similar vagueness appeared in newspapers around the country. But in The New York Times there was nothing.

Why the newspaper abstained from any coverage is unclear. Certainly, its editors knew about the event and noticed the limited coverage by others. Grogan wrote to Dulles on the morning of 26 April,

Robert Whitney of The New York Times telephoned me last night. He said their competitor, The New York Herald-Tribune, had just hit the streets and Warren Rogers had a story which mentioned “CIA sources.” This, he said, was a violation of the agreement of those covering the State Department two-day briefing, and he asked if The New York Times might now say that Allen W. Dulles made the statement. I told him I could not do that; that Mr. Dulles was a guest of the State Department, accepting an invitation to the briefing under certain ground rules that had been accepted by the press and by Mr. Dulles; and that therefore we in the CIA were not in a position to say that these rules now, after the event, could be changed.89

Not being allowed to describe remarks by, or attribute them to, Dulles, The New York Times chose to publish nothing about the briefings.

Politicians and working journalists in Washington widely agreed that The New York Times was the country's best and most influential newspaper; it was the “standard setter” to which other journalists and editors (both print and broadcast) in Washington looked most regularly.90 This was based on the (perhaps imperfect) assumption that The New York Times was guided only by “substantive and quality considerations” in its journalistic choices.91 “If The Times did not exist, it would probably have to be invented,” Herbert Gans wrote.92

The two officials in the Kennedy administration most focused on the matter of influential news outlets were Salinger and the president himself. In the press secretary's words, “The New York Times has long been recognized as America's greatest daily newspaper. No top policymaker in Washington, DC starts his day without reading The Times.”93 Some White House staffers thought Salinger and Kennedy paid too much attention to The New York Times, but the press secretary later wrote, “I'm still willing to bet that from now into infinity, it will continue to be the first newspaper our Presidents glance at every morning and its reporters will continue to receive the red carpet treatment at the White House.”94

Even though Kennedy often was irritated by coverage in the Times, he agreed with Salinger about the newspaper's special status. Once, when the president met with his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (FIAB) to discuss a damaging leak to the paper, he seemingly agreed with the comments of Clark Clifford (the FIAB member closest to the president), who urged the administration to reach out to the newspaper's publisher. “There's only one New York Times,” Clifford said, adding that every other newspaper in the nation subscribed to it.95 Similarly, after the grim encounter with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in June 1961, Kennedy told his aide Kenny O'Donnell, “I'd like to get across to the people at home the seriousness of the situation, and The New York Times would be the place to do it.”96 (The president thereupon spoke frankly to the prominent Times reporter James Reston, who wrote two front-page news articles and two opinion columns on Kennedy's difficult meeting with Khrushchev.)97 Kennedy's estimation of the paper's influence was perhaps too great. He later told the publisher that he wished the newspaper had printed stories that had revealed in great detail what the U.S. government was about to do at the Bay of Pigs. The newspaper's editors instead had suppressed significant details in their reporters’ stories, out of national security concerns. “I wish you had run everything on Cuba,” Kennedy told Orville Dryfoos.98 That, he said, might have induced him to cancel the entire operation.

Arguably, if The New York Times had published a story similar to that of Roberts in The Washington Post—describing the two days of off-the-record briefings, the participation of the president and his chief foreign policy advisers, and their pessimistic and finger-pointing moods—other newspapers would have followed their lead. Such a story in The New York Times might also have led scholars in subsequent years to search out the event, learn more about it, and describe it as fully as possible. Perhaps, well before the 21st century, they would have discovered or demanded the declassification of the part of the transcript with Rusk's remarks at the National Archives and the other part of the transcript with the president's remarks at the Kennedy Library.

The near-complete silence of the 200-plus journalists who attended the briefings is perhaps the most remarkable feature of this story. However, the two recently discovered portions of the once-complete transcript are also historically significant. Although they do not fundamentally alter our understanding of what happened at the Bay of Pigs, they are the only surviving extended remarks made by Rusk and Kennedy (including replies to questions) explicitly analyzing the event shortly after it occurred. The secretary's remarks give verbatim contemporaneous confirmation of what was plausibly rumored—that Rusk blamed the failure at the Bay of Pigs on bad intelligence. Similarly, the presidential transcript shows Kennedy simultaneously claiming that he would not assign blame, even as he implied that the Bay of Pigs failure was rooted in either bad intelligence or bad military strategy. He spoke about a “good many able people, with long military experience and all the rest” being wrong but never once suggested he himself was to blame.99

Maybe, just maybe, some enterprising researcher will yet find the rest of the transcript, with comments by more than a dozen other members of the administration, including Dulles, if indeed that document still exists.

Notes

1. 

Thomas W. Benton, author of Writing JFK: Presidential Rhetoric and the Press in the Bay of Pigs Crisis (College Station, TX: Texas A&M Press, 2004), seems to have been the first to discover the president's off-the-record remarks in the Pierre Salinger papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (JFKL). Benton indicates no awareness that Kennedy's remarks were part of a larger two-day event, with more than a dozen other speakers, but he claims reasonably (p. 48) that his discovery of this document was “a significant addition to the historical record.” Benton includes the entire text of Kennedy's remarks (pp. 86–99).

2. 

Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1961 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1962), pp. 204–306.

3. 

Ibid.

4. 

“News Conference of April 21, 1961,” in Harold Chase and Allen Lerman, eds., Kennedy and the Press: The News Conferences (New York: Thomas Crowell, 1965), p. 65.

5. 

George Dixon, “No Time for History,” The Washington Post, 26 April 1961, p. A19.

6. 

Chase and Lerman, eds., Kennedy and the Press, p. 66.

7. 

Ibid., p. 69.

8. 

Ibid., pp. 69–70.

9. 

As a result, Schlesinger contacted one journalist at Time Magazine, two at Newsweek, two at The New York Herald-Tribune, one at The New York Times, and one at The New York Post. Schlesinger journals, n.d. (but referring to 21 April 1961), in Schlesinger Papers, New York Public Library.

10. 

Hugh Sidey, John F. Kennedy, President (New York: Atheneum Books, 1963), p. 141.

11. 

Pierre Salinger, With Kennedy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 154–155.

12. 

Chase and Lerman, eds., Kennedy and the Press, p. 69.

13. 

The limited State Department records of the event do not include a list of journalists present, so whether Vanocur ended up attending is unknown.

14. 

Tubby to Rusk, 6 February 1961, in White House Staff: Salinger, Box 134, JFKL.

15. 

Ibid.

16. 

Ibid.

17. 

Ibid.

18. 

Ibid.

19. 

Ibid.

20. 

Rusk to President Kennedy, 17 February 1961, in White House Staff: Salinger, Box 134, JFKL.

21. 

Rusk to Dulles, 7 March 1961, in White House Staff: Salinger, Box 134, JFKL.

22. 

“Foreign Policy Briefing Conference for Broadcasters in Public Affairs,” 4 April 1961, in CIA Records Search Tool (CREST), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, MD. (This document, featuring Dulles's remarks but not those of other participants, became available only in 2016.)

23. 

Ibid.

24. 

Ibid.

25. 

The foreign policy “briefing conferences” continued through much of the Kennedy administration but are barely mentioned in the literature on his presidency. An exception is Salinger's memoir, which notes: “Our efforts at public understanding also were extended in other areas. The State Department, first during the tenure of Roger Tubby and then under Bob Manning, organized briefing sessions for radio, TV, and newspaper reporters and editors from around the country, where these journalists were given briefings on current foreign policy problems by government officials up to and including the President of the United States.” See Salinger, With Kennedy, p. 134.

26. 

“Foreign Policy Briefing Conference for the Daily and Periodical Press,” 24 April 1961, in Sec. Rusk, Speeches and Statements, Box 2, Record Group 59, NARA.

27. 

Ibid.

28. 

Ibid.

29. 

Ibid.

30. 

Ibid.

31. 

Ibid.

32. 

Ibid.

33. 

Ibid.

34. 

Ibid.

35. 

Ibid.

36. 

Ibid.

37. 

Ibid.

38. 

Ibid.

39. 

Ibid.

40. 

Ibid.

41. 

Ibid.

42. 

Stanley Grogan to Dulles, 26 April 1961, in CREST. Grogan was the DCI's press aide. Although Grogan wrote this memorandum after Dulles spoke to the reporters, and thus two days after Rusk spoke to them, he made clear that this was not his first such report on reactions to his and the secretary's remarks. My searches have not located those earlier documents, if they still exist.

43. 

Grogan noted that “there was a recording made of what you [Dulles] said which State was making available to the working press,” presumably meaning the journalists who were at the event. Grogan had been pressed by Earl Voss of The Washington Star to interpret Dulles's remarks but had declined to do so and urged him to look at the record of the DCI's remarks. See ibid.

44. 

The only mention of the briefings in The New York Times occurred on 25 April, the day of the second series of briefings, in the daily listing of expected activities of the president and Congress. Kennedy “departs for the State Department for off-the-record briefing of editors and columnists, 4:45 p.m.,” it states, with no further explanation. See “The Proceedings in Washington,” The New York Times, 25 April 1961, p. 23.

45. 

Warren Rogers, “It Was Right, the CIA Insists: Whose Fault?” The New York Herald-Tribune, 26 April 1961, p. 1. In part of another story treating the CIA, the Associated Press summarized Rusk's remarks but did not name him or his position or mention that off-the-record briefings had occurred. Among the many papers that published that vague account was the Wellsville (NY) Daily Reporter, 25 April 1961, p. 3.

46. 

John Norris, “CIA Expected to Lose Some Top Functions,” The Washington Post, 26 April 1961, p. A12. Proof that Dulles was the anonymous source defending the CIA in both the Rogers and Norris stories is in Grogan to Dulles, 26 April 1961, in CREST.

47. 

Grogan to Dulles, 26 April 1961.

48. 

Ibid.

49. 

Untitled Pearson transcript, n.d. (but note reference to “this week”), in Pearson Papers, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library (LBJL), Austin, TX.

50. 

Grogan to Dulles, 26 April 1961.

51. 

Lawrence Houston, Memorandum for the Record, 27 April 1961, in Central Intelligence Agency Records, http://gdc.galegroup.com.ezp1.villanova.edu/, in U.S. Declassified Documents Online (until 2016 known as Declassified Documents Reference System) through Falvey Memorial Library, Villanova University.

52. 

Ibid.

53. 

Ibid.

54. 

When the subcommittee showed itself to be extremely hawkish on the Cuba topic and incredulous about White House decisions, Dulles did allow that air support, though “critical,” was “just one aspect of it.” In response to a member who supported military intervention, Dulles said that the “Cuban rebel leaders had been very definitely briefed that there would be no U.S. backup.” Ibid.

55. 

Norris, “CIA Expected to Lose Some Top Functions,” p. A12; and Grogan to Dulles, 26 April 1961.

56. 

Walter S. Poole, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy, 1961–1964 (Washington, DC: Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2011), ch. 8.

57. 

Untitled transcript, 25 April 1961, in White House Staff: Salinger, Box 134, JFKL.

58. 

Ibid.

59. 

Ibid.

60. 

Ibid.

61. 

Ibid.

62. 

Ibid.

63. 

Ibid.

64. 

Ibid.

65. 

Ibid.

66. 

Ibid.

67. 

Memorandum No. 3, Cuba Study Group to President Kennedy, 13 June 1961, in U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of the United States, Vol. XI: Cuba, 1961–1962, p. 603.

68. 

John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA (New York: Touchstone, 1987), p. 379.

69. 

Memorandum No. 3, Cuba Study Group, p. 603.

70. 

Untitled transcript, 25 April 1961, in White House Staff: Salinger, Box 134, JFKL

71. 

Ibid.

72. 

Ibid.

73. 

Chase and Lerman, eds., Kennedy and the Press, p. 70; and Untitled transcript, 25 April 1961.

74. 

Chalmers Roberts, “Press Hears Top Brass Plumb Souls on Crises:,” The Washington Post, 26 April 1961, p. A12.

75. 

Rogers, “It Was Right, the CIA Insists,” p. 1.

76. 

Roberts, “Presss Hears Top Brass,” p. A12.

77. 

Norris, “CIA Expected to Lose Some Top Functions,” p. A12.

78. 

Roberts, “Press Hears Top Brass,” p. A12.

79. 

Ibid.

80. 

Ibid.

81. 

Ibid.

82. 

The Drew Pearson Papers at the LBJ Library have handwritten notes apparently made by James Higgins, an assistant editor of the York, Pennsylvania Gazette and Daily, which may well be a description of remarks by participants at the briefing. They have Roger Hilsman, head of the intelligence bureau at the State Department, saying, “Our information was quite different from CIA, but we weren't even consulted.” Rusk said, “intelligence from Cuba was [indecipherable word] and poor. Intelligence from Algiers totally lacking.” About the latter remarks, the notes have an incredulous Dulles saying he had learned of them being voiced by “a high official.” But, Dulles said, “I can't imagine any responsible official saying this. We knew what was going on in Algiers. We may not have expected it quite so soon.” The notes also show Adolf Berle, who spoke on the same day as Rusk and Dulles, saying that “sentiment is crystalizing in favor of the U.S.,” presumably in the aftermath of Bay of Pigs. Reflective of that day's event as the notes might seem, the date written (again, by hand) is 30 April, not 24 April. Perhaps Higgins made the notes some days later, or perhaps the 30 April designation was made by Pearson or an assistant when Higgins shared the information. Or, perhaps Higgins interviewed those figures on 30 April, though that seems unlikely for someone from a small-city newspaper.

83. 

“Reds Admitted on Equal Basis at World Issue Briefings Here” was the headline of a brief story, with no byline, in The Washington Post, 27 April 1961, p. B4. The story claimed that journalists with White House press credentials also were allowed at the event. This may be accurate. When Salinger referred in passing to the briefing on the afternoon of 24 April, noting that Kennedy would speak at the event the next day, a reporter asked, “Is that to be off the record?” Yes, replied Salinger. “Is that open to us?” a reporter asked. “No,” said Salinger. But he suggested they check with the State Department: “I don't suppose, just between us, it really makes any difference.” Notes, 24 April 1961, in Salinger Papers, White House Staff, Box 46, JFKL.

84. 

Roscoe Drummond, “Press Asked for Answers on Cuba Invasion Fiasco,” The New York Herald-Tribune, 28 April 1961, p. 21.

85. 

Roberts, “Press Hears Top Brass,” p. A12.

86. 

Drummond, “Press Asked for Answers on Cuba Invasion Fiasco,” p. 21. See also “Reds Admitted on Equal Basis at World Issue Briefings Here,” p. B4.

87. 

My graduate assistant, Eric Swanson, worked with a person fluent in Polish in combing through tdaily issues of Trybuna Ludu for approximately two weeks beyond the dates of the briefings. Although a few stories mentioning Bay of Pigs appeared, there was nothing on the briefings at the State Department auditorium.

88. 

Salinger, With Kennedy, p. 131.

89. 

Grogan to Dulles, 26 April 1961.

90. 

Herbert Gans, Deciding What's News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time (New York: Pantheon, 1979), p. 180. Some reporters took this to an extreme. Salinger later wrote (With Kennedy, p. 133) that some foreign correspondents were supposed to cover “government events in Washington DC and the United Nations at the same time. Because of limits on their time … they frequently carried out their tasks by rewriting the morning editions of The New York Times.”

91. 

Gans, Deciding What's News, p. 180. Richard F. Shepard, The Paper's Papers (New York: Times Books, 1996), pp. 5–6, makes similar points.

92. 

Gans, Deciding What's News, p. 181. The Washington Post was the second most influential, Gans wrote. His research was conducted especially in the mid-to-late 1960s, with follow-up research in the mid-1970s. In the latter decade The Washington Post was widely thought to rival The New York Times, reputationally, for its political news coverage.

93. 

Salinger, With Kennedy, pp. 116–117.

94. 

Ibid., pp. 116–117. The New York Times achieved this status through “excellence,” he said. The Washington Post was the other most influential newspaper, in Salinger's view.

95. 

Timothy Naftali, Ernest May, and Philip Zelikow, eds., The Presidential Recordings: John F. Kennedy, Vol. 1 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), p. 201. Clifford added, “It's considered generally to be the most influential.”

96. 

Kenneth O'Donnell and David Powers, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye:” Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972), p. 298.

97. 

Reston wrote that Kennedy had “come out of it very well.” See James Reston, “Vienna Talks End,” The New York Times, 5 June 1961, p. 1. The analysis was less positive in James Reston, “Kennedy is Firm on Defense Aims,” The New York Times, 6 June 1961, p. 1; James Reston, “How President Kennedy Hurt His Aching Back,” The New York Times, 9 June 1961, p. 32; and James Reston, “Old Rocking Chair's Got JFK at Last,” The New York Times, 11 June 1961, p. E10. Reston's front-page news article of 6 June said Kennedy “approached the conversations thinking he knew what to expect. But nevertheless, he was astonished by the rigidity and toughness of the Soviet leader.” His column on 9 June joked that the cause of the president's well-known back troubles was the Vienna encounters with Khrushchev. Reston's accounts remain more influential in shaping published histories of the meeting than Kennedy might have wished. Among other things, the president blurted out that Vietnam was “the place” to show Khrushchev that the United States was tough. But Reston did not mention the Vietnam remark in his 1961 newspaper accounts. He included it in his Deadline: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1991), p. 291. O'Donnell thought Reston's news articles and columns exaggerated Kennedy's grim, even fragile, mood. O'Donnell and Powers, “Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye,” pp. 297–298.

98. 

Kennedy later told a New York Times reporter, Tad Szulc, that he did not really believe this claim, but there is no doubt he made it. The story is recounted in many places, among them, Harrison Salisbury, Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and Its Times (New York: Times Books), pp. 151–163; and Shepard, The Paper's Papers, p. 188. The two accounts have Kennedy saying this to different New York Times editors. Also, Salisbury writes (p. 158) that the president told Turner Catledge that although certain other newspapers had printed details about the impending incursion at Bay of Pigs, “It was not news until it appeared in the Times.” As Gay Talese wrote in The Kingdom and the Power (New York: World Publishing, 1969), pp. 5–6, 23, Clifton Daniel, by then managing editor of The New York Times, gave a speech in 1966 describing this incident. The “presumption that the mere printing of words in The Times could stop a military invasion” was a “notion acceptable to many people who respect The Times’s persuasive power in Washington,” Talese wrote.

99. 

Untitled transcript, 25 April 1961.