JFK'S FIRST NEWS CONFERENCE BROADCAST LIVE 56 YEARS AGO
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-six years ago today, January 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy held his first official news conference as President of the United States.
The meeting with the press, held in the State Department Auditorium*, was the first presidential news conference to be televised live across the nation. Sixty-five million Americans tuned in for the conference in 21.5 million homes.
JFK was to have an average television audience of 18 million for all his news conferences.
Press secretary, Pierre Salinger, said...
"The ideas and philosophy of (President Kennedy)...were best displayed during those moments of truth when he stood alone before the representatives of the press..."
Mr. Salinger went on to say that JFK was well prepared for each of his news conferences. The staff would provide, beforehand, questions they thought might be asked which gave the President the opportunity to formulate his responses. It also afforded him the opportunity to request more information on a topic if needed.
According to Assistant Press secretary Malcolm Kilduff, President Kennedy had a unique ability to predict what questions would be asked and sometimes would imitate the reporter's voice who would most likely ask them.
When the double doors of the auditorium opened, the President would stride through and all reporters would stand. After JFK made a brief opening statement, the floor was open for questions. Reporters who had questions would stand and say "Mr. President!"
JFK would select one, point at that reporter, while the others would sit back down and wait for their next opportunity.
Following is one of the questions John F. Kennedy answered in his first presidential news conference and his response.
Mr.President, there has been some apprehension about the instantaneous broadcast of Presidential press conferences such as this one, the contention being that an inadvertent statement no longer correctable, as in the old days, could possibly cause some grave consequences.
Do you feel there is any risk or could you give us some thought on that subject?
Well, it was my understanding that the statements made by...President Eisenhower were on the record. There may have been a clarification that could have been issued afterwards but it still would have been on the record as a clarification, so I don't think that the interests of our country are (threatened).
It seems to me they're as well protected under this system as they were under the system followed by President Eisenhower. And this system has the advantage of providing more direct communication.
At the end of the news conference, UPI's Merriman Smith said, "Thank you, Mr. President."
Well today TWITTER certainly provides an even MORE DIRECT and personal form of communication for a President of the United States who wishes to use it. We wonder what President Kennedy would have thought about President Trump's role as "twitter-n-chief?"
*State Department Auditorium, capable of seating 800 people, had an entrance on 23rd Street. President Eisenhower laid the cornerstone for the building on Jan 5, 1957 & it was dedicated on Jan 5, 1961.
"Extended, remodeled New State Building," Office of the Historian, www.history.state.gov/
"Kennedy and the Press: The News Conferences," Edited & Annotated by Harold W. Chase & Allen H. Lerman, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, 1965.