James Ricketson: Letter to US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy

On the 27th July 2022, James Ricketson sent this letter of support to the US Ambassador, President Joe Biden and Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese

Ms Caroline Kennedy
United States Ambassador to Australia
US Embassy.
Level 11, MLC Centre
19-29 Martin Place,
Sydney 2000                                                                                      27th July 2022

Dear Ambassador

Welcome to Australia.

In your role as Ambassador it is not appropriate for you to engage in public discussion about political matters, be they Australian or those of the United States. I understand that.

In my role as a journalist it is appropriate, however, to advocate on behalf of fellow journalist, Julian Assange – an Australian citizen facing a probable death sentence if he is extradited to the United States. 

Mr Assange’s crime: Exercising the First Amendment rights that would apply to him if he were a US citizen.

On 27th April 1961, your father, John F. Kennedy, expressed the importance of freedom on the press most eloquently. Speaking to the assembled media at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York,  he said:

“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment. That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control. And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know.”

John F. Kennedy 27th April 1961

These words apply in 2022, as much as they did at the height of the Cold War.

In reference to the USSR, JFK said:

 “Its mistakes are buried, not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed. It conducts the Cold War, in short, with a war-time discipline no democracy would ever hope or wish to match.

It is the unprecedented nature of this challenge that also gives rise to your (the 4th Estate’s) second obligation–an obligation which I share. And that is our obligation to inform and alert the American people–to make certain that they possess all the facts that they need, and understand them as well–the perils, the prospects, the purposes of our program and the choices that we face.

No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary. I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.

I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers–I welcome it. This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: “An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment– the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution- -not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply “give the public what it wants”–but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.

This means greater coverage and analysis of international news–for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission. And it means, finally, that government at all levels, must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security–and we intend to do it.”

John F. Kennedy In reference to the USSR

Julian Assange has applied the precepts outlined here by your father, and reiterated by President Biden.

Please remind your President, and those in the Biden administration that you serve, of your father’s words.

yours sincerely
James Ricketson
cc President Joe Biden
Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese

This AAP story has been widely syndicated across Australia.
Refer Shepparton News website Assange advocates quote Kennedy to Kennedy