Fifty years since John F. Kennedy was president, details of his presidency are still unfolding. In July of 1962, President JFK installed hidden recording systems in the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room to record conversations between him and cabinet leaders on national and international issues. These newly released secret tapes from inside the Oval Office and some private conversations offer a revealing look inside his presidency and a personal glimpse of the man as well. Historian Ted Widmer wrote about these 265 hours of recordings in “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of JFK.”
Widmer describes the recordings as highly sophisticated and clandestine. “It was a very closely held secret,” Widmer says. “A tiny number of people knew. Most of his top advisers had no idea.”
Widmer credits JFK with knowing their value, though JFK never said what his goal was for recording them. “I think it was for history,” Widmer says. “I think he was getting ready to write his memoirs, for that long into the future day when he wouldn’t be president anymore. And he just wanted to capture the raw stuff of what was happening.”
Widmer explains that the recordings demonstrate JFK’s true character and personality as president. “Throughout a capacity to learn, he was a decisive president, and you get that feeling. But he was also evolving, in the way we hope our presidents do. On civil rights, there was a lot of movement,” he says.