John F. Kennedy and the Press

John F. Kennedy was the first president to effectively use the new medium of television to speak directly to the American people. No other president had conducted live televised press conferences without delay or editing.

"The fact of the matter is that the time when President Kennedy started televised press conferences there were only three or four newspapers in the entire United States that carried a full transcript of a presidential press conference. Therefore, what people read was a distillation... We thought that they should have the opportunity to see it in full."

Pierre Salinger, Press Secretary to President Kennedy

The public loved John F. Kennedy's press conferences, although some of his advisors worried about the risk of mistakes by the president and others thought the press showed insufficient respect for the dignity of his office. By November 1963, President Kennedy had held 64 news conferences, an average of one every sixteen days. The first, less than a week after his inauguration, was viewed by an estimated 65 million people. A poll taken in 1961 indicated that 90 percent of those interviewed had watched at least one of JFK's first three press conferences. The average audience for all the broadcast conferences was 18 million viewers.

President Kennedy helped to significantly enlarge the role of television as a news medium, but he continued to be a voracious consumer of print journalism. During an interview in December 1962, Sander Vanocur of NBC asked Kennedy about his reading habits, and the president gave his overall view of the contributions and responsibilities of the press in a free society.

Sander Vanocur (NBC): You once said that you were reading more and enjoying it less. Are you still as avid a newspaper reader, magazine—I remember those of us who traveled with you on the campaign, a magazine wasn't safe around you. 

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. No, no, I think it is invaluable, even though it may cause you—it is never pleasant to be reading things that are not agreeable news, but I would say that it is an invaluable arm of the presidency, as a check really on what is going on in the administration, and more things come to my attention that cause me concern or give me information. So I would think that Mr. Khrushchev operating a totalitarian system, which has many advantages as far as being able to move in secret, and all the rest—there is a terrific disadvantage not having the abrasive quality of the press applied to you daily, to an administration, even though we never like it, and even though we wish they didn't write it, and even though we disapprove, there isn't any doubt that we could not do the job at all in a free society without a very, very active press.

Read transcripts of President Kennedy's press conferences.