A young Senator JFK tried to have legendary journalist Tom Wolfe (RIP) fired when he refused to keep a conversations with Springfield Massachusetts businessmen off the record.
Senator John F. Kennedy tried to have legendary Tom Wolfe fired in 1958 when he refused to keep a conversation off the record between Senator Kennedy and a group of Springfield Massachusetts businessmen.
Forty years later Wolfe, who was working with the Springfield Union newspaper at the time, when the incident happened talked about it with Boston radio host Chris Lydon. The interview was uncovered by Newsbusters.com.
LYDON: I want to go back to this, the novelist as reporter. There's a wonderful picture in Time magazine (Lydon referring to a November 1998 cover story on Wolfe), I'd never seen it before, 1958, you and John F. Kennedy, 40 years ago, a politician on the make and a newspaper reporter from the Springfield Union on the make. You're a Yale Ph.D in American studies, doing reporting. And it's been, you know, 40 years now that you've been just watching this stuff. How do you do it?
WOLFE: Well, that particular scene that you mentioned, it was taken outside the Springfield armory in Springfield, Mass. The armory used to be a major manufacturer of rifles, particularly for the United States military. And Kennedy when I interviewed him was Senator Kennedy, the year was 1958 ...
Lydon: Getting re-elected that year ...
Wolfe: ... yes, right, and he had been asked to come to Springfield to see if he could do something to keep the government from getting rid of the armory. The armory had become kind of redundant by now, and so he met with a group of Springfield businessmen and the Springfield mayor, a man named Danny Brunton, and he was saying to them, this is the gist of what he was saying, he was saying, look, we've got to be just like these Southern politicians, these Southern senators and congressmen, they just grab whatever they feel like it of government money and they'll make a gym for a university and name it after themselves, but that's the way you have to play the game and that's what we have to do to save the armory.
At which point one of his aides said, senator, did you realize that there's a reporter in the room (Lydon laughs) and that was me. There was one reporter, me. And (Kennedy) said no, then he turned to me and he said, this is all off the record. So rather timorously I said, well, there's 25 Springfield business leaders here and the mayor, I don't see how I can keep it off the record. And he said, well, it's off the record.
So afterwards he came up to me and took me outside, he said look, I know your publisher, I know your editor really well…
Lydon: (astonished; like Wolfe, a former reporter): Wow!
Wolfe:... I know that they would never want anything like this to appear in their paper and jeopardize the future of the armory. So, I said, my hands are tied, I'm sorry, this is something that has happened in front of a lot of influential people in Springfield. So, I went ahead and wrote the story and about a week later, Larry O'Brien, who later became postmaster general of the United States, one of Kennedy's longtime aides (and Springfield native), came to the Springfield Union where I worked and complained to the editor that I had violated an off-the-record embargo and in effect tried to get me fired. But fortunately, my editor was a Republican and he seemed to rather like me and so it didn't cost me. But that's what we were talking about in that picture.