BOSTON -- President John F. Kennedy opened the newspaper one day in 1963 and learned to his horror that military aides had built a hospital bedroom for his pregnant wife at an air base on Cape Cod in case she went into labor. He thought the $5,000 spent on the furniture was wasteful and would be a public-relations disaster that would prompt Congress to cut his military budget. The angry president picked up the phone.
First, he took a press underling to task. He demanded that the furniture be sent back and that those responsible -- including "that silly fellow who had his picture taken next to the bed" -- be transferred to Alaska.
He then called Gen. Godfrey McHugh, his Air Force aide. "What the hell did they let the reporters in there for?" the president thundered. "You just sank the Air Force budget!"
And he was not finished venting his rage about the aide who appeared in the newspaper picture. Before hanging up, he characterized the entire episode with an expletive.
The story came straight from Kennedy himself.
Though even some of his closest aides did not know at the time, Kennedy recorded more than 260 hours of Oval Office conversations, telephone calls and dictation into his Dictaphone. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation has culled the highlights into a new book of annotated transcripts and two audio CDs. Some of the audio portions will be online.
The book, "Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings
"This is the memoir that President Kennedy never got to write," Putnam said.
Like Richard M. Nixon after him and several presidents before him, Kennedy installed hidden recording devices in the Oval Office. Almost no one knew about the practice until the existence of the Nixon tapes was revealed in 1973 during the Watergate hearings. This lifted the curtain on stealth self-bugging in the White House that began with Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Kennedy's recording system was dismantled after his assassination. The family kept the tapes until 1976 and then gave them to the National Archives.
The Kennedy Library later acquired them and began to make them available to historians in 1983. Their release was a slow and laborious process because the sound quality was uneven and they had to be transcribed and declassified.
Historians have turned to the tapes for insight into major events of the Kennedy presidency such as the Cuban missile crisis, the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. The value of this book, Putnam said, is that "it is the first time the material has been published in one collection with annotations and a serious historian providing context for each conversation."