It’s an iconic image — Bill Clinton as a teenager shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy in the Rose Garden in 1963.
Clinton credited that handshake for inspiring his life in public service. But as the 30th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death approached, White House advisers worried it would seem Clinton was “haunted by JFK’s ghost.”
In multiple memos released today as part of the Clinton documents, speechwriter Carter Wilkie revealed his belief that the press corps was “irreverent” in its coverage of President Clinton and President John F. Kennedy. In a Sept. 7, 1993, memo, Wilkie advised that Clinton not conduct any interviews or hold events related to the 30th anniversary of the death of JFK for fear that “an irreverent press corps” would “charge overkill, hero worship, or worse.”
Wilkie also wrote: “We should not encourage a revisionists debate by having some academic like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. speak about JFK at a White House event. And the last thing we need is a pompous headline, ‘You’re No Jack Kennedy!’”
In a separate memo that same month, Wilkie took issue with the way LIFE Magazine framed an upcoming story about JFK and Clinton.
“My argument is not with the story they want, but the way they want the story told. The tone they seek from the President is so self-centered, it’s actually solipsistic,” Wilkie wrote in a memo to David Dreyer, a communications director for Clinton.
“Furthermore, the images of JFK are more LIFE-like than Clintonesque. The President does not need to idolize JFK, nor does he need to sound haunted by JFK’s ghost around the White House just to keep readers interested,” Wilkie added. “I think compromising on this point would suit LIFE’s style, but would not serve the President’s personal or political interests in any way. It may even be counterproductive, given the irreverence in the press anytime this President recalls JFK.”
Clinton shook hands with Kennedy in 1963 during an event at the White House for the American Legion Boys Nation, and in 1998, President Clinton hosted a reunion at the White House for the men who traveled with him to Washington for that event.
Clinton and his fellow Boys Nation delegates recounted his brief meeting with JFK in interviews with ABC News’ “Nightline.”