John F. Kennedy: Former FCC chair Newton Minow says JFK legacy is public service

November 21, 2013

VIDEO: Complete interview with Newton Minow

We were the same generation. We'd both been in the military in World War II. Both had a hankering for public service.

When they first met, Newton Minow knew that Jack Kennedy was his guy. They were on the same page on many things - most notably their understanding of the power of television.

'He told me more than once that he would not have been elected, but for television," Minow said.

Specifically the1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate televised from Chicago. It's often said that radio listeners considered Nixon the winner while viewers thought the opposite.

"What you saw was his intellect, his directness, the credibility, and you realize that this guy had the stuff to become a great president," said Minow.

After he won, Kennedy appointed Minow to chair the Federal Communications Commission. It was a time when television news was blossoming and the televised news conference was a natural fit for the wit, humor and charm of the young president.

"He was so quick. So clever," Minow said.

As he looks back, Minow remains most proud of convincing Kennedy of the importance of satellite communications, now a staple of our world, and something else about his friend.

"JFK proved that politics can be an honorable profession. In a country dedicated to self-government - all of us, all of us should devote part of our lives to public service," Minow said. "JFK said it all when he said one sentence in his inaugural address when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for our country."

That, Minow believes is the Kennedy legacy. "Ask what you can do for your country." Public service.

Minow was good friends with the late Ted Sorenson, Kennedy's closest advisor and master speechwriter.

When asked who wrote those famous lines, Sorenson would say "the president", though in later years he would simply respond to the question by saying "ask not."

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