Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004

Pierre Salinger

THE MAN WHO SPOKE FOR JOHN F. KENNEDY "Without him, I'm nothing," Pierre Salinger once jovially confessed to a few reporters in Paris, referring to his boss, John F. Kennedy. Salinger, a legendary bon vivant who was a child piano prodigy and later an investigative reporter before being named Kennedy's press secretary, was sipping cognac in the elegant Lasserre restaurant, on his way to the 1961 Vienna summit. Salinger immediately grasped the implications of Kennedy's meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. "This was a rough meeting," Salinger later confided to reporters. "Tough times ahead." Salinger initially struggled in his job, since the new President was used to dealing directly with his many friends in the media. But Salinger soon mastered the trade. He helped orchestrate Kennedy's live news conferences, which he termed "the best show in town," and happily admitted to planting questions. When steel price hikes in 1962 prompted Kennedy to erupt privately, "My father always told me [Big Steel men] were s.o.b.s," Salinger promptly leaked the profanity to the press. Big Steel rolled back the increases. And he held off questions about Kennedy's rumored womanizing with a blunt "What proof have you got?" Years later, such answers wouldn't do it, but Salinger kept the issue off the table.