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CNN Profiles: The secret tapes of JFK
October 26th, 2012
08:30 AM ET

CNN Profiles: The secret tapes of JFK

By Michael Schulder, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @Schuldercnn

(CNN) - 72 years ago, when John F. Kennedy was just 23, he was visiting Minnesota with his parents and was invited on to a local radio show.

You’ll hear what he said about his aspirations – in his own voice – on this CNN Profile.

50 years ago this month, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy in the Oval Office, calmly questioned his generals and other advisors about his military and diplomatic options. The generals pushed for military action. With the very real possibility of a full scale nuclear war, you’ll hear how Kennedy handled himself. And you’ll hear the generals’ infuriated reaction when Kennedy left the room and the tape was still rolling.

When JFK was alone, recording his thoughts about a critical mistake he believed he made on Vietnam, you’ll hear him make an amazing transition from President to Parent, when his toddler John Jr. suddenly walks into the room.

JFK didn’t always keep his cool, as you’ll hear when he learned the U.S. hockey team was pounced by Sweden.

You will hear a lot of JFK’s voice in this CNN Profile – from tapes that had been collecting dust for many decades, until our guest, historian Ted Widmer, was given access, to sort through them and select audio highlights of JFK’s life in the Oval Office.

You’ll even hear a campaign song. Whatever happened to those?

Editor's Note: Listen to the complete story above and join the conversation below.

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Filed under: CNN Profiles • Culture • History • Politics • Stories • Voices
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    Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It in truth was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! By the way, how can we communicate?

    November 2, 2012 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. smknbluebear

    LBJ said "Kennedy needed a good ear cleaning so we gave him one." He didn't really say that–but LBJ did ok the assassination and helped cover it up...Americans have been hoodwinked by the CIA–there is absolutely no reason in the world to withhold any of the JFK evidence at this point–but that is what they are still doing...

    October 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Diamond

      hi bluebare, yeah, LBJ & JFK Hated each other to the Core!!!" Why? JFK hired him god only knows?" The.. ""Coverup?"" Would you "Cover up the facts if you were involved in an "Assination Plot to Kill your Commander & Chief?" "Their is Many 'underhanded things done and Jack Ruby knew all about it!" "It has been said.. that on the way back to Washington DC, they the.. (USN) unloaded the body of JFK into the drink, off the Fla. coast!""My guess would be where most of all the.. Sharks hang out!" "Ordered.. by.. LBJ himself!" " "And, the biggest coverup of all is the grave of JFK is not there under the flame!""And, if theres a body 6' feet under who is it???" "Lee Harvy Oswald, a Soviet Trained Killer, was paid by the Soviets to kill JFK, and the 'mob with LBJ's help set it all up!" "And, Jack Ruby was the Fall Guy!" And, Lee H. Oswald the Killer, and other mob capo's shot JFK!" "They are all Dead!" "So..what a Cover-up!!!".. p.s. "I don't give a rats ..., about the retched spelling!!!" "Thanks.. " JD

      October 27, 2012 at 7:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack Diamond

      hi catharus, "Guess What?" "I got a little story to tell you.." "If it wasn't for 'FDR'.. we'd be dead.. or.. NAZI..!!!" ..JD..

      October 27, 2012 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. footballsux

    Re the Kennedy assasination: I do not think that Oswald's trip to Mexico City (if in fact that was Oswald) provides the key. Rather, what Oswald did and who he associated with in New Orleans from April to September of 1963 is the Rosetta Stone of the mystery. In the very first days of the FBI's post-assasination investigation, David Ferrie, a known employee of Carlos Marcello, was on the radar screen. I think Marcello, Trafficante, Giancana and Hoffa pulled the hit job off, and RFK was the architect of the coverup, because a thorough investigation would have revealed that the US was actively involved in attempting to assasinate Fidel Castro, a fact which if revealed would have caused very bad problems with the USSR.

    October 26, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick Irby

      I am fairly sure that the things LHO learned in NO caused him to begin to make plans to "defend Castro and his revolution".
      But the people and influences of Mexico City were such that he was put on a course to become a MAJOR political force.
      Of course this is just speculation on my part, I guess anything is possible. But I agree RFK did all he could to keep the secret
      of the covert operations against Castro's regime.

      October 26, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Parker

      Your exactly right that Marcello ordered the hit on both Kennedys! Traficanti was the assasain contractor and Oswalds trip to Mexico was to talk to his accomplice on the knoll at Dally Plaza, a French hitman now dead! It is more then obvious that Kennedy's head was hit from the front of the vehicle from the knoll as the back of his head came out in a large piece that Mrs. Kennedy fetched off the back of the Limo! Did Oswald fly to the ground in front from the book depository and shoot another weapon?? Of course not and so the Warren Commission was a intended whitewash by the government to keep the CIA from being ended! CIA trained some of the Cubans that made it back from the Bay of Pigs and got even! They provided the weapons and FBI got a warning call from Miami the night before of an ambush of the motorcade! They recommended the bullet proof limo but Kennedy refused! Big mistake! Marcello and other Mafia members were pissed about Joseph Kennedy a "bootlegging banker" for the Mafia asking for contributions for JFK's election and then Bobby announced he was going after the mob as Attorney General! The assasination involved Bay of Pigs Cubans "Alpha 66" Bay of Pigs Survivors, a French hitman now dead in a French prison and Lee Oswald! The CIA stands for Corporate Intelligence Agency and not Central Intelligence Agency!!!

      October 26, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
      • footballsux

        The 1960 Presidential Election was the most mobbed-up election in US history. Both Kennedy and Nixon took mob money. RFK, however, was so naive to believe that if he only went after the mobsters that donated to Nixon there would be no problems. It doesn't work that way; those mobsters are all connected by a complex network of alliances.

        The assination was a result of a perfect storm, at the intersection of p-o'ed hoodlums, disgruntled anti-Castro Cuban exiles, and elements of the CIA who were scared to death Kennedy was going to break up the Company. I have doubts that Oswald pulled a trigger. He was found in the second floor break room of the TSBD, calmly drinking a Coke, 90 seconds after JFK's head was blown off.

        October 27, 2012 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
  4. Anonymous

    It is always very entertaining to me when loosely bolted together imbeciles come to a political website and then froth and moan about the evil of politics.....

    October 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. David

    Please, please, please ... get back on those meds baby.

    October 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Anonymous

    Wow! Somebody put a little to much flake in their corn this morning!!! ROFL!!!

    October 26, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DAVE

    This is CNN, Not the Christian News Network. Try Google and find the right place to post your rant!!

    October 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. yeah yeah

    religion has no place in POLITICS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  9. yeah yeah

    some of you missed the point, he was human, he wasn't a methodical machine, he was a normal human being ACTUALLY trying to make things right, most poignant moment was the Cuban missile crises, The war-mongering generals where ready for Nuclear aggression as if there was no option (hits close to home ehhh?) and yet this man found the strength somehow to not bow down to lies that where apparently thrown at him, It's thanks to him mostly likely that all of you are here today and not letting Judgement day come to be, much can't be said for the people in charge for the last 30 years.

    October 26, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  10. catharsus

    You know, when I clicked on the article about "secret tapes of JFK", I was truly hoping to get a mixed language paean to Christianity. No wait, that was last Sunday when I went to church. On second thought, although I'm sure some of us really appreciate the sentiment, COULD YOU PLEASE STICK TO THE TOPIC???

    October 26, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. Betty

    Politics are always so arguable. I agree with Bill just based on what we learned in high school and college. They were great men focusing on civil and equal rights, conserving our beautiful land....there is so much to argue, but that's the thing it was all unfinished which is why it is an argument. Had they lived none of us would want to listen to the tapes, or think about what the future could have been. But bc their time was cut so short, and what was accomplished in such a short span was enourmous, every mind interested in history and government has pondered that thought. All we have are the tapes and photos of glimpses into their lives and how they worked and processed and when something unheard of. Is released it really is interesting. I am all for tapes being released bc their is so much mystery to the past. Especially when it was cut so short.

    October 26, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  12. bill

    Okay, you all got me thinking about this... Really one last and final thought. I also believe Teddy should have been convicted of manslaughter. And other bad behaving relatives of RFK and JFK have tarnished the reputations of these two men. When I think Kennedy, my mind goes to spoiled, arrogant, entitled jerks. But I'm not thinking about RFK and JFK – it's the latter generations of these men, who hurt history. But when I separate the brothers from their clan, there is no confusion for me. We would have been better off.

    October 26, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • yeah yeah

      I agree with you whole heartily bill, about Teddy and about the Kennedy clan that tarnished that name.

      October 26, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. bill

    One more thought on this... The other option in Kennedy's election was Nixon. Nobody can say Nixon was not the antithesis of great. Aside from being corrupt behind closed doors, he is the one who turned health care into a money making machine for conscious-less corporations. So... when calling Kennedy a terrible president – perhaps he made mistakes, but if we judge the man he had a great soul and an honorable mission. So few presidents can be compared. And again, we will never truly know how he would have ultimately faired had he not been murdered. But I believe he is on the right side of history. As is his brother.

    October 26, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Ron

      JFK and Bobby are most definitely on the right side of history – their ability to connect with people from all walks of life and genuine compassion is unsurpassed. JFK was also a true war hero, unlike most of the politicians today who freely 'talk the talk' but haven't taken that walk.

      October 26, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • catharsus

      Well, you're entitled to your opinion, of course, but in spite of your attempts at even-handedness in your remarks, you reveal yourself to be a partisan Democrat. That's fine, but don't use terms like "one cannot argue that Nixon was not the antithesis of great" if you want to be taken seriously. Maybe Nixon wasn't the greatest president we've ever had, but that puts him in the same category with over 40 others as well. One day, hopefully soon, Obama will join the pantheon of terrible presidents. The debacle in Libya that he is covering up got people killed, unlike Watergate.

      October 26, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
      • yeah yeah

        I know your not going to bring up Libya when W Jr can be left accountable not only for the death of hundred of thousands of Iraqi's as well as the thousands of dead Americans and all for what? war profiteering for his cronies?????? and that's just in my lifetime.

        October 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
        • catharsus

          (eye roll). What a drama queen...First of all, you clearly haven't lived very long. Republicans don't have sole propriety over getting the US into wars, and I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that not all wars have been popular with all people all of the time. Even WWII, in which FDR (a Democrat, btw) got a lot more of our boys slaughtered than either of the Bushes, which was a "'popular" war wasn't very popular with the Japanese who got rounded up and confined. But I wasn't trying to make the point about getting soldiers killed, only equating Obama's deadly cover up with Nixon's non-deadly one. And look who took the bigger beating over it.

          October 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
      • KR

        Nixon attempted to subvert democracy – what criteria do you use to determine the quality of an American President?

        October 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
        • catharsus

          Not trying to defend Nixon. But I'll take a non-deadly subversion of democracy over a deadly one any day.

          October 26, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Agreed he was on the right side of history, Kennedy was also working for the good of the country, when compared to the current occupant of the Oval Office, there is a stark contrast - Obama is clearly working for his own glory with the country being secondary.

      October 26, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tutuvabene

    I suppose this will be the beginning of a long line of secret tape collections, to include "The Secret Tapes of Eisenhower," The Secret Tapes of FDR," The Secret Tapes of Gerald Ford" etc.

    October 26, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. max3333444555

    kennedy wouldnt even make it through the democrat primaries today.

    October 26, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Jack Norstrom

      @max3333444555, I think you got Kennedy confused with Reagan. It's Reagan who would not have made it out of the republican party. Obama is very similar to Kennedy. In fact Obama is a mix between Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln.

      October 26, 2012 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
      • BurstBubble

        I wondered about Obama, I use to think he is like Hitl** from world War II. I am not sure anymore? Without the TelePrompTer he isn't such a great speaker as I thought. He is just a plan old Joe. To say that he matches up to Kennedy is a bit of a stretch. Kennedy stood up to people and was a statesman. Obama doesn't do either of those things.

        October 26, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
      • Thor

        Kennedy never bowed to the enemy.

        October 26, 2012 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
        • Chuck

          Seriously? Would not have bowed to the enemy ...you have no proof of that. But just think Sen John Mcain and the rest of the republicans would have critisicized Kennedy over his handling of the cuban missle crisis, by saying using a quarantine approach is weak even though there were Bombs in cuba courtesy of Russia.

          October 26, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
        • yeah yeah

          you've missed the entire segment

          October 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
      • rheffero

        To all on Vietnam, Kennedy order to pull out 1000 MILITARY personnel, but post coup, during the trip to Dallas, the feeling was that US would have broader support with the new group and he ordered a complete review, escalation and withdrawal.

        When Robert Kennedy was asked in 1964 what his brother would have done if the South Vietnamese had been on the brink of defeat, he replied, "We'd face that when we came to it."

        Yes, the navy blockade successfully blocked missiles in Cuba. It is a LONG stretch to say that mean nuclear war, but he made the deal for the Turkey missiles and prevented an ongoing crisis. He also approved the Bay of Pigs.

        Obama and JFK are about as different on the political stage as Reagan was from Carter.

        JFK was a fiscal conservative, believed in US intervention in foreign affairs. To the Economic Club of New York, he spoke in 1963 of "... the paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and revenues too low; and the soundest way to raise revenue in the long term is to lower rates now...
        Economically, he and Obama are opposites as well as their view in Israell; "Kennedy initiated the creation of security ties with Israel, and he is credited as the founder of the US-Israeli military alliance (which would be continued under subsequent presidents). Kennedy ended the arms embargo that the Eisenhower and Truman administrations had enforced on Israel. Describing the protection of Israel as a moral and national commitment, he was the first to introduce the concept of a 'special relationship' (as he described it to Golda Meir) between the US and Israel..:

        "When JFK took office the Eisenhower administration, through the CIA, had begun formulating plans for the assassination of Castro in Cuba and Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Kennedy privately instructed the CIA that any such planning must include plausible deniability by the U.S. His public position was in opposition to his actual orders"

        October 26, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
      • Scott

        You wish!

        October 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
      • Dave

        Obama will be seen correctly by historians as a mix between Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon. Like Nixon: For his corruption (giving Billions to bankers and Solyndra) his coverup (the Benghazi gate scandal and lying), and Carter for his weakness and apology tour, his cow towing to the Russians, disparaging speeches to the European community where he puts blame on the USA, etc. He is a disgrace for those of us whose families who have fought and died for freedom. You really have no clue and lack any objective intellect if you are trying to mention Obama in the same sentence as Lincoln.

        October 26, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave L

      Max- You're out of mind if you believe that Kennedy -who still owns the title of the most charismatic politiciain in our nations history,- "would not make it out of a Democratic primary today" You clearly do not understand what it takes to make good politcian and you not at all a very bright person- this is a case of the light is on but no one is home for sure.

      October 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Rick Irby

    JFK was a tragic figure.
    He was torn between his elitist background and trying to be the leader of the
    free world, during the height of the Cold War.
    His life was full of contradictions. If he (and RFK) had taken a wiser path in dealing with Castro, he could
    have survived to be the Best of our modern presidents. Another case of what might have been...

    October 26, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • bill

      So you're saying the Kennedys were murdered by Castro?

      October 26, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
      • Rick Irby

        We can never answer that question. But Gus Russo's book "Live by the Sword", seems to definitely point to that
        conclusion. What Oswald did and who he met in Mexico in 1963 is key to the mystery. At least in my humble opinion.

        October 26, 2012 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Io47

      - how about the Miami Cubans ?

      October 26, 2012 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
      • Rick Irby

        Well what about them..? Are you talking about the current (Cuban) exiles in Miami? Or are you referring to
        the situation in 1962 -1963. If you are referring to the past, I think there were many Cubans in Florida, Louisiana,
        New York state, etc. that had a lot of hostility toward the "brothers Kennedy". And maybe their were justified...
        The slaughter at the Bay of Pigs could be laid at JFK's door. He made promises and then decided, Oh S*** ! maybe
        we cannot defeat Castro with the Soviet Union backing him (Castro). The militant Cubans were killed or imprisoned
        and paid a very high price for the aborted invasion.

        October 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  17. r.e. durham

    I often wonder where would our country be today if he had served two terms as president. I think we would have been better off.

    October 26, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • bill

      Undoubtedly.

      October 26, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • John A

      I agree with you Bill. Kennedy wanted to get us out of Vietnam and would have done so. We'd be a different country today if he had.

      October 26, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
      • rheffero

        JFK of course, was the one who raised the US profile, and was fully vested into protecting South Vietnam. The chance to rewrite history here for the "JFK myth" believers is too intense. The reality is, that he would have been lampooned in the press for being soft on communism by not supporting the South Vietnamanese. USSR was a real and present danger threat, and JFK fully supported a strategy of containing Communism. Communism impacted the US powers to influence world events, and that was the real agenda. Fiscally, he sounded like a current GOP candidate. He was a complex guy whose actual accomplishments as President offer very little reason for the worship he receives today. Interestingly, for a guy as disengaged as he was with the details, he was his on Chief of Staff.

        As an executive and as a lawmaker, his ability to reach across the aisle and influence was limited, he was pretty ineffective in anything he took on except lowering taxes.

        LBJ was much more effective, and he had no interest in getting more involved in S Vietnam either. This was a time of your neighbors building bunkers, economic growth, and school children practicing bomb raids. Airplane travel was glamorous, and people dressed up to fly.

        On the other hand, if he had lived, we would have been spared the Oliver Stone movie..

        October 26, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
        • Ron

          Actually, in his first 24 hours in office LBJ overturned JFK's decision to stay out of Vietnam. LBJ and the other powers that may be, wanted that war – not JFK and certainly not Bobby.

          October 26, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
        • bill

          He was president two years, ten months and two days. We are all judging this man before his "at bat" was up. But I do believe this country would have been better off had both Kennedys a chance to finish their go at the plate.

          October 26, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
        • Chuck

          Wrong...get your facts right. National Security Action Memorandum Number 273 clearly stated US troops were to be pulled out. 4 days after Kennedy was buried Johnson reversed that order.

          October 26, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
        • JH

          Rheferro, you obviously did not live during the Cuban crisis and do not realize that without Pres. Kennedy we would have been in a nuclear war.

          October 26, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
      • Dave L

        John ,the country would still be the same because he would never have survirved the multiple attempts on his life which surely would have been made on life by the military industrial complex. The only way it would have been a different country would be in Kennedy found a way to neutralize the members of the military industrial complex who had him whacked in the first place. A very sad, but true fact of life.

        October 26, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  18. eroteme

    Kennedy became a great president after his assassination.

    October 26, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
    • bill

      You really need to pick up a history book. You can type. So you must know how to read.

      October 26, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
      • history_book

        No, actually eroteme is correct. Kennedy's popularity picked up after his death. During his presidency it was very much like it is today, many people who liked the president (e.g. you, Bill) and many more who thought he was a horrible president.

        October 26, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
        • bill

          And as hindsight often proves, he was actually one of the best presidents this country will ever know. Contradicting my own opinion, his job was also unfinished. So who are any of us to judge? His portrait was unfinished.

          October 26, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  19. Concerned in Cleveland

    Sadly, the only good Kennedy, seems to be a dead Kennedy.

    October 26, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
    • bill

      How clever. Can I quote you? You cannot judge these men as their potential was violated and extinguished by hate. Both Bobby and John had the best intentions for all human beings. We have never seen such compassion in a politician since. And probably never will. Pick up a book and read. Bobby Kennedy, especially, could have changed this country and this world for the better.

      October 26, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
      • Ron

        100% Agree. The world would have been a better place had the brothers not been killed – but wanting peace and a better life for the majority, isn't something the minority elitists agree with.

        October 26, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
        • Jon

          ....then screw the "minority elitists".

          October 26, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack Diamond

      "Stay in Cleveland..as there are lots of of us that liked JFK and his brother Bob.." "You belong there!"

      October 27, 2012 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
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