This week on Q&A, our guest is Ted Widmer, editor of “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy.” The book contains two audio CDs with 75 minutes of recorded conversations from the oval office, cabinet meetings, telephone calls, and private dictations during Kennedy’s presidency.
Mr. Widmer describes how he was approached by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation to select, introduce and transcribe the recordings. Widmer shares numerous clips throughout the program including a phone call from President Kennedy to Defense department advisors about the best way to board inbound Soviet ships during the Cuban missile crisis. We hear as President Kennedy calls Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman seeking advice. Widmer also chose to share the contentious discussions between Kennedy and then Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett as they dealt with the riots over the enrollment of James Meredith as the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi. Widmer also reveals a more light-hearted side to the President in several of the recordings. Widmer reflects upon his academic training at Harvard, as well as his experiences serving both President Bill Clinton, during his presidency, and Hillary Clinton, during her time as Secretary of State.
Ted Widmer earned his Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate in American history from Harvard University. He is a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton, as well as an assistant to Brown University President Christina Paxson. He was the Librarian and Director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. In 1997 he was a foreign policy speechwriter for Bill Clinton, and conducted interviews with the former President in 2001 for Clinton’s autobiography. This is Widmer’s eighth book. He is married to Mary Rhinelander, a Cambridge, Massachusetts printmaker and artist.