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Pierre Emil George Salinger

In office
August 4, 1964 – December 31, 1964
Preceded by Clair Engle
Succeeded by George Murphy

In office
1961 – 1964
President John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Preceded by James Hagerty
Succeeded by George Reedy

Born June 14, 1925
San Francisco, California
Died October 16, 2004 (aged 79)
Cavaillon, France
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Rachel Wilson Young
Religion Roman Catholic[1]
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Battles/wars World War II

Pierre Emil George Salinger (June 14, 1925 – October 16, 2004) was a White House Press Secretary to U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He later became known for his work as an ABC News correspondent, and in particular for his stories on the American hostage crisis in Iran, the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, and his claims as to the cause of the explosion of TWA flight 800.

Salinger served briefly as a Democratic United States Senator in 1964 and was campaign manager for the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign.


Early life

Salinger was born in San Francisco, California. His father, Herbert Salinger, was a New York City-born mining engineer, and his mother, Jehanne (née Biétry), was a French-born journalist.[2][3][4] His maternal grandfather, Pierre Biétry, was a member of the French National Assembly and devised Yellow socialism.[2] Salinger was raised in his mother's Catholic religion, though his father was Jewish.[1] After serving with the United States Navy to Lieutenant, junior grade during World War II, Salinger earned a B.S. from the University of San Francisco in 1947.[5] Salinger then began his journalism career as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and as a contributing Editor to Collier's in the 1940s and 1950s.

1960s: The Kennedy years, Presidential Press Secretary, U.S. Senator

In 1961, when John F. Kennedy became President of the United States, he hired Salinger as his press secretary. When JFK was assassinated, Salinger was on a plane flying with six Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, going to Tokyo. Salinger's visit was to have been for an economic conference, and to start working on a visit JFK was going to take in February 1964 as the first American president to visit Japan since World War II. Salinger was retained by President Lyndon Johnson as Press Secretary after JFK's death.

Following his service in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Salinger returned to California and ran for the Senate. He defeated then California State Controller Alan Cranston in a contentious Democratic Primary. Governor of California Pat Brown, who had supported Cranston in the Primary, appointed him a Democratic United States Senator to fill the vacancy resulting from the July 30, 1964 death of retiring Senator Clair Engle; he took office on August 4, 1964. In his bid for a full six-year term in the 1964 election, he was defeated by former actor George Murphy following a campaign in which Salinger's only recent return to his native state became an issue, his legal residency even being challenged in court. Salinger was also hurt at the polls by his adamant support (despite advice from his political managers) of legislation banning racial housing discrimination.[6]

Salinger resigned from the Senate on December 31, 1964, only three days before his term was to expire. Senator-elect Murphy, who was to take office on January 3, 1965, was appointed to fill the remaining two days of Salinger's term, giving Murphy a slight advantage in seniority in the Senate over other members of the "class of 1964" at a time when seniority was even more vital in Senate affairs than now.

Salinger was one of the managers of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign. When Senator Kennedy was shot to death in June, Salinger was 10 to 12 feet (3.0 to 3.7 m) away from him. Salinger claims that Jim McManus, who was also working on the campaign, said to him, "I've got to get the message to Los Angeles, under no circumstances should Bobby go through that (Ambassador Hotel) kitchen ... there's usually grease on the floor. He's going to fall or something." Salinger was devastated by RFK's assassination and moved to France as a correspondent for L'Express.[7]

Career in broadcast journalism



In 1978, he was hired by ABC News as its Paris bureau chief. He became the network's chief European correspondent based in London in 1983.

In 1981, he was bestowed with a George Polk award for his scoop that the US government was secretly negotiating to free the Americans held hostage by Iran.[8]

In 1989, Salinger provided commentary on the Tour de France for ABC Sports.

In 1991, two Libyans were indicted over the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988, but Salinger believed Libya had been set up. In a 1989 ABC Prime Time Live Special, he and his producer, Lex Coleman named the so-called "Kenyan Three" as the masterminds of the bombing. The program won an Emmy Award.[9]

After the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, ABC started work on a special program about the invasion and sent Salinger to the Middle East, where he obtained a transcript in Arabic of a conversation between Saddam Hussein and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie, in which Glaspie famously told Saddam: "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts," interpreted by some as giving Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait, which he did days later.[10]

Life after ABC

After leaving ABC, Salinger moved back to Washington, D.C., and became an executive with the Burson Marsteller public relations firm before returning to France in 2000. Until the late 80s, Salinger had been a popular TV pundit in France, and was a frequent guest on French news and public affairs shows when someone was needed to explain or interpret American events for French viewers. Salinger even hosted a program for the cable network A&E in the early 1990s called Dining in France.

Salinger later became known for his claims in November 1996 that friendly fire from the United States Navy was the cause of the TWA Flight 800 crash, based on what was later explained to him as being part of a widespread Internet hoax. Salinger's fervent initial belief in this information has led to the coining of a new term, which refers to the belief in the veracity of all information found on the Internet: "Pierre Salinger Syndrome".[11]

In November 2000, he became exasperated when he was denied permission to give exonerating evidence as part of his testimony before the Scottish Court in the Netherlands to try two Libyans for the downing on December 21, 1988, of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Salinger stated that he knew who the real bombers were, but was told by trial judge, Lord Sutherland: "If you wish to make a point you may do so elsewhere, but I'm afraid you may not do so in this court."[12]

He later made a permanent move to France, making good on his promise that, "If Bush wins, I'm going to leave the country and spend the rest of my life in France."

Salinger died in October 2004 of heart failure in Cavaillon hospital near his home in Le Thor, France, at the age of 79.[13] He is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.


  • A Tribute to John F. Kennedy (editor, with Sander Vanocur), 1964
  • With Kennedy (1966)
  • An Honorable Profession: A Tribute to Robert F. Kennedy (editor with Edwin Guthman, Frank Mankiewicz, and John Seigenthaler), 1968
  • On Instructions of My Government, 1971
  • Je Suis un Americain (I am an American), 1975
  • La France et Le nouveau Monde, 1976
  • Venezuelan Notebooks, 1979
  • America Held Hostage: The Secret Negotiations, 1981
  • Reporting U.S.-European Relations (with Michael Rice, Jonathan Carr, Henri Pierre, and Jan Reifenberg), 1982
  • The Dossier(With Leonard Gross), 1984
  • Above Paris: A New Collection of Aerial Photographs of Paris, France (author of text), 1984
  • Mortal Games (co-author with Leonard Gross), 1988
  • Secret Dossier: The Hidden Agenda Behind the Gulf War (co-author with Eric Laurent), 1991
  • Tempete du Desert: Les Secrets de la Maison Blanche, 1991
  • P.S., A Memoir, 1995
  • John F. Kennedy, Commander in Chief: A Profile in Leadership, 1997


External links


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