Kennedy recordings recall other presidential tapes
Revelations that President Kennedy secretly taped selective private conversations and telephone calls in 1962-63 produced an inevitable comparison here with the tapes recorded for President Nixon in 1970-73, which helped fuel the Watergate scandal.
Daniel H. Fenn, director of the Kennedy Library in Boston, said his assistants have spent six years analyzing and transcribing up to 150 hours of Kennedy White House recordings, mostly of conversations with prominent figures.
According to Mr. Fenn, the tapes were not used politically, so far as is known, and were designed as a historical record.
Evelyn Lincoln, personal secretary of Mr. Kennedy, said that when a red light flashed in the next room from the President's White House offices she turned on the recording system.
Kennedy papers are deposited at the memorial library for use by historians and the public, as governed by congressional requirements under the Presidential Records Act of 1978. The Kennedy tapes, according to Mr. Fenn, include 325 intermittent meetings and 275 telephone conversations. They begin July 30, 1962, or 18 months after the inaugural. The last was Nov. 7, 1963, or 15 days before the assassination.
The mass of this material is only now being appreciated. The library has prepared a log of recordings, which lists conversations with such figures as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Adlai Stevenson, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Dean Rusk, W. Averell Harriman, Robert McNamara. During Watergate, spokesmen for the Kennedy family said that JFK recordings were stored in the Boston library for ultimate release.
It was recently disclosed that President Franklin Roosevelt made a recording of gossipy White House conversations in the Oval Office during his 1940 third-term campaign, but these reveal little save his exuberant personality.
In the case of President Nixon, Alexander Butterfield, in testimony on Watergate, revealed the existence of the White House tapes in connection with other routine evidence. Beginning in 1970, Mr. Nixon arranged to have taped every phone and personal conversation in the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, his so-called ''hideaway'' office in the Executive Office Building, and his office at Camp David.
These subpoenaed conversations ultimately proved Nixon's undoing. When played , they showed the President's awareness of the break-in by five men into the sixth floor of the Democratic National Committee's Watergate headquarters at 2 a.m. June 17, 1972. They also showed the President's later efforts to cover it up.
The talks taped by President Kennedy 10 years earlier were made secretly and apparently without the visitor's knowledge. The tapes will be made available to the public shortly under present plans.
Deep interest is attached to the material. Dwight Eisenhower, the oldest president to serve until that time, and Kennedy, who replaced him as the youngest elected chief executive, talked for two hours on Sept. 10, 1962. It was a time of intense tension both over Berlin and over Soviet missiles in Cuba.
How did Ike advise his successor?