Cuba: Bob Hotz Goes Nuclear On Pentagon Flack (1962)

by Bill Sweetman
Jan 07, 2015

The Cuban missile crisis was the first event on such a scale to be observed and managed by overhead reconnaissance, with both Lockheed U-2s and Navy Vought RF-8As providing imagery. The first shots confirmed that the Soviet Union was preparing to install R-12 (SS-4 Sandal) and R-14 (SS-5 Skean) missiles on Cuba; the last showed that the missiles were being removed. The only fatal casualty of the confrontation was U.S. Air Force Maj. Rudolf Anderson, killed on October 27 when his U-2F was shot down. 

President John F. Kennedy and Russia's premier, Nikita Khruschev, had reached a settlement agreement before any reconnaissance images were released to the press, in time for Aviation Week to publish them on November 5, 1962. But Aviation Week's editor, Bob Hotz, did not focus on that good news in his editorial. Instead, he opened up with all six barrels on Arthur Sylvester, chief media representative for defense secretary Robert MacNamara. 

Sylvester, Hotz wrote, was the latest in a succession of "inept, amateur bureaucrats" to stumble through the job of Pentagon spokesman, dismissing another as a "blunt tool" and referring to one as "tripping over his brother-in-law's pants". But Sylvester, who had defended the government's right to censor and distort the news and previously told Air Force communications professionals that their job was to make sure that credit was reflected on the Kennedy administration, was worse: "The chief commissar in this newly-formed Ministry of Truth", adminstering a "thought control policy" and (in a particularly damning statement) providing briefings that made the State Department's look "more accurate, perceptive and complete." 

Sylvester survived.  Hotz's judgment may have been right, because Sylvester is remembered most widely for his 1966 comments to a group of correspondents in Vietnam: 

“I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here,” CBS' Morley Safer reported him as saying. Another correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government."

“That’s exactly what I expect,” came the reply. Another reporter raised concerns about the credibility of American officials. Sylvester responded:  “Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — stupid.”

You have to wonder if any single person has ever done that much damage to the Pentagon's image. 

Read Hotz's editorial and see all of the photos from that issue:

Editorial and Latest Photos Show Speed of IRBM, MRBM Buildup in Cuba

Latest Photos Show Speed of IRBM, MRBM Buildup in Cuba (Part 2)

► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

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