President John F. Kennedy's information strategy and foreign policy

Date of Completion

January 1996


History, United States|Political Science, General|Political Science, International Law and Relations|Mass Communications




This dissertation investigates whether President John F. Kennedy had an information strategy to influence media coverage of his handling of foreign policy. In depth case studies examine Kennedy's handling of four broad areas of foreign policy: Cuba, Southeast Asia, Nuclear Arms, and China. The case studies are based upon recently declassified U.S. government documents, oral histories, memoirs, and the private papers of journalists, publishers, and Kennedy aides.^ The New Frontier never sparked a debate over American foreign policy because President Kennedy decided not to challenge the "firm" policies already set in place to fight the Cold War. Nevertheless, the struggle to maintain a strong Cold Warrior image was a constant consideration driving Kennedy's foreign policy because his public stance contradicted his policy preference to win the Cold War on the cheap with a tough pragmatic stance. The documentary evidence indicates that Kennedy handled his public relations dilemma by following political instincts and lacked a social scientist's approach to public relations. The case studies underscore Kennedy's personal role in developing information strategy through political appointments, individual contacts with reporters, press conferences, and speeches. This study found evidence that polls were consulted by President Kennedy on an ad hoc basis to understand public opinion, but no evidence to support the conclusion that polls were systematically used as part of his governing strategy.^ This study adds to scholarship in the literature on the presidency and political communication by identifying the uniqueness of the Kennedy era in terms of presidential relations with the press and foreign policy. Throughout the Kennedy years, television news was in its infancy and offered viewers only fleeting glimpses of the stage of world politics. He used television on his own terms through live speeches and press conferences and made foreign policy without the pressure of live on the scene cameras. He focused primarily upon influencing newspapers and magazines and believed that history would be based upon the printed word. During the final days before his assassination television news expanded from fifteen minutes to thirty minutes and Kennedy realized his information strategy needed to adjust to a new political era. ^