Peacetime Censorship

June 28, 1961

Report Outline
New Policies to Fit a Time of Peril
Responsibility for Open Intelligence Breaches
Models for Censorship in National Emergencies
Modes of News Control in Foreign Countries

New Policies to Fit a Time of Peril

Newspaper executives and the federal government have agreed to continue their study of means by which publication of vital security information helpful to enemies of the United States can be prevented. Despite a preliminary rebuff, President Kennedy still is believed to attach great importance to eventual development of some system of voluntary censorship that will head off harmful disclosures. Meanwhile, the press has been given a general guide for exercise of its function in a period of national peril. The President set forth that guide in an address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27: “Every newspaper now asks Itself, with respect to every story: ‘Is it news?’ All I suggest is that you add the question: ‘Is it in the national interest?’”

President Kennedy's Call for Voluntary Censorship

The administration's concern over the flow of information on matters affecting the country's security was first expressed only a few days after President Kennedy took office. Pierre Salinger, White House press secretary, told the National Press Club, Jan. 25, of a test in which a committee had been asked to develop estimates of the nation's military strength, policy and capability, using only such materials as were publicly available. “Their estimate was almost totally accurate,” Salinger said, “and I believe this indicates we have been going too far in discussing matters affecting the national security.” Later the same day, the President said at his first news conference: “I am anxious that we have a maximum flow of information, but there quite obviously are some matters which involve the security of the United States, and it is a matter on which the press and the Executive should attempt to reach a responsible decision.”

Failure of the April 17 invasion of Cuba by exiles—a paramilitary operation under management of the Central Intelligence Agency which suffered from security leaks—prompted a more specific appeal from the President for press restraint. In his speech to the newspaper publishers in New York, ten days after the landings in Cuba, Kennedy voiced harsh criticism of current news practices:

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 16, 2004  Broadcast Indecency
Mar. 28, 2003  Movie Ratings
Nov. 17, 1995  Sex, Violence and the Media
Feb. 19, 1993  School Censorship
Dec. 20, 1991  The Obscenity Debate
Dec. 07, 1990  Does Cable TV Need More Regulation?
May 16, 1986  Pornography
Jan. 04, 1985  The Modern First Amendment
Oct. 19, 1979  Pornography Business Upsurge
Mar. 09, 1979  Broadcasting's Deregulated Future
Mar. 21, 1973  Pornography Control
May 17, 1972  Violence in the Media
Jan. 21, 1970  First Amendment and Mass Media
Jul. 05, 1967  Prosecution and the Press
Jun. 28, 1961  Peacetime Censorship
Apr. 12, 1961  Censorship of Movies and TV
Dec. 23, 1959  Regulation of Television
Jul. 29, 1959  Control of Obscenity
Jul. 27, 1955  Bad Influences on Youth
Mar. 21, 1952  Policing the Comics
Apr. 12, 1950  Censorship of Motion Pictures
Sep. 20, 1939  Censorship of Press and Radio
Freedom of Information
Freedom of Speech and Press
General Defense and National Security