Massachusetts

The Kennedy Press Conference, Always Good for a Laugh

A Kennedy press conference. Photo courtesy JFK Library, taken by Abbie Rowe.

A Kennedy press conference. Photo courtesy JFK Library, taken by Abbie Rowe.

A Kennedy press conference was something to look forward to because of the young president's witty responses to reporters.

John F. Kennedy knew he looked good on television, and as the new president he wasted no time in exploiting that advantage. He held the first live, nationally televised presidential news conference on Jan. 25, 1961.

Thirty minutes into that first press conference, Kennedy realized something else: His wit disarmed the press and won over the viewers.

Walter Shapiro writes in The New Republic,

Through most of the January 25 broadcast, JFK treats the format with the gravity of a presidential debate. There is no hint of levity ... About a half hour into the press conference, Kennedy tries a small joke at the end of a lengthy answer about the House Rules Committee, a Southern-reactionary bastion that continually would bottle up liberal legislation during his presidency. After expressing the vain hope that "a small group of men" would not prevent the entire House from voting, Kennedy added, "I merely give my view as an interested citizen." As the reporters in their rumpled suits and narrow ties burst into laughter, a puckish grin crosses Kennedy's face as he revels in his look-what-I-discovered-about-live-television moment.

Sixty-five million people watched that night.  A poll taken in 1961 found 90 percent of respondents had seen one of his first three press conferences. Kennedy would hold a total of 64.

During a 1962 press conference, he was asked whether he was annoyed by the ribbing he and his family took, especially by Vaughn Meader’s comedy record, The First Family. Kennedy replied, "I listened to Mr. Meader's record and, frankly, I thought it sounded more like Teddy than it did me. So, now he's annoyed.”

During another, correspondent May Craig asked him whether he thought “Mrs. Murphy” should have to take into her home a lodger she doesn’t want -- or would he accept a change in the civil rights bill to exempt small boardinghouses?

Kennedy replied, “The question would be, it seems to me, Mrs. Craig, whether Mrs. Murphy had a substantial impact on interstate commerce.”

During one press conference, he was asked if he had to do it over again would he work for the presidency and whether he recommended it to others.

"The answer to the first is yes and the second is no, I don't recommend it to others," he said.

Kennedy’s delivery was key to his wit. You can see all 64 of the Kennedy press conferences here.

This story was updated from the 2014 version. 

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Molly Landrigan

    January 25, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Oh my gosh, yes. He was so quick with witty asides. I always looked forward to his press conferences.

  2. Margaret Dragon

    January 25, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    I watched all his press conferences.

  3. Cecily Muller

    January 25, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    I remember this day well, living in Freeport, Maine, snowing, sitting with my mum on the couch in our very small bungalow…

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