Speechwriting, Speechmaking, and the Press: The Kennedy Administration and the Bay of Pigs

By Thomas W. Benson

A paper by Thomas W. Benson, spring 1999 fellow, follows the construction of presidential leadership through public rhetoric, including the authorship of that rhetoric, and its mediation through the press. As a master example, Benson analyzes the case of John F. Kennedy’s speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 20, 1961. President John F. Kennedy delivered many important speeches; he is especially remembered for the Inaugural Address and his speeches on foreign policy, international crises, and civil rights. Though others might have made the arguments offered in those speeches, only the president could have said the precise words and only the president could have enacted the performances embodied in those speeches. And yet President Kennedy was not the sole author of his speeches, and many of the speeches became known to his audiences through the contexts, interpretations, and mediation of the press. How that process worked – how those utterances came to be made and understood is the subject of this paper.

Download the paper (PDF).