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Pierre Salinger

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 Johnson. He also worked as a journalist and is well known for his work as an ABC News correspondent.

He was born in San Francisco, California, his father was a German Jewish mining engineer and his mother a French journalist whose father was a member of the French National Assembly. After serving with the United States Navy during World War II, Salinger graduated from the University of San Francisco and worked for the San Francisco Chronicle and as a contributing editor to Collier's in the 1940s and 1950s. His investigative journalism into Jimmy Hoffa brought him to the attention of Robert F. Kennedy who hired him in 1957 as an investigator for the Senate Select Committee investigating organized crime. When John F. Kennedy became President of the United States, he hired Salinger as his press secretary. Following his service in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he was appointed as a Democratic United States Senator from [[California] ] to fill the vacancy resulting from the July 30, 1964 death of Senator Clair Engle. Salinger took office on August 4, 1964. In his bid for a full six-year term in the 1964 election, he was defeated by George Murphy following a campaign in which Salinger's recent move to California, following many years living elsewhere, became an issue. He 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.

Salinger worked on Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and was devastated by his assassination. He moved to France and returned to journalism as a correspondent for L'Express. In 1978 he was hired by ABC News as its Paris bureau chief. He became the network's chief European correspondent based out of London, England in 1983.

In January 1989, Salinger began a three-year investigation with ABC News into the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. During this time, according to an article by Christopher Bryon in the American Spectator, Salinger passed confidential ABC News memos on the bombing to the CIA. Salinger admitted doing this to Byron, saying he was only trying to help. Those who worked with Salinger believe he later passed ABC News information on the bombing to Colonel Gadaffi of Libya. Two Libyans were indicted over the terrorist attack but Salinger believed Libya had been set up. In a 1989 ABC Prime TIme Special, he named the so-called “Kenyan Three” as the masterminds of the bombing: three Palestinians no one else had ever heard of. Although there was no evidence to support this widely ridiculed claim, the program won an Emmy, much to the disgust of other journalists who had worked on the PA 103 story.

One year later, after being approached by a conman, Salinger went on air for ABC with a story blaming PA 103 instead on a CIA drugs-smuggling operation that went wrong, in which terrorists inserted a bomb into a suitcase on a CIA-protected drugs-route. He also arranged for the conman, who had offered no evidence to support his claims, to be paid for the story, thereby violating ABC News policy that sources must not be paid. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) set up an inquiry into Salinger's claims but found them to be without merit.

After the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, ABC started working on a special program about the invasion and sent Salinger to the Middle East, where he managed to obtain 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 Arab-Arab border disputes,” thereby apparently giving Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait, which he promptly did. Salinger brought the transcript back to London amid great excitement, ordering a London-based Arab journalist and an ABC researcher to sit through the night translating it into passable English. But ABC wasn't sure whether to air the transcript immediately on World News Tonight or hold it back for a few days for their invasion special, which had paid for Salinger's trip. Salinger was furious at the suggestion of delay and leaked the transcript to Hella Pick of the British newspap er, the Guardian, thereby ensuring that ABC would have to run with it that day.

It was because of incidents like this that relations with the network soured. Salinger was not a popular figure inside ABC, especially with anchors like Ted Koppel and Peter Jennings, but he always had the support of Roone Arledge, the president of ABC News. Salinger would frequently telephone Arledge directly about something he wanted to put on air, bypassing the usual route of consulting with producers, correspondents and anchors, so that when they objected, as they often did, the message would come down that “Roone has approved it.” But eventually even Arledge couldn't save him and Salinger left ABC in 1993, 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 “talking head” 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 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 seen as an Internet hoax. He lent his name to the Pierre Salinger syndrome, the tendency to assume everything written on the Internet is true.

In November 2000, he embarrassed himself further by refusing to step down from the witness box in the Netherland court where the two Libyan intelligence officers were on trial for PA 103. Salinger shouted incoherently that he knew who the real bombers were and had to be asked to leave the stand by the judge.

Salinger died of heart failure near his home in Le Thor, France, after a decade or more of suffering from dementia, which may have been the real reason for his 1996 TWA claims and Lockerbie court outburst.


  • With Kennedy
  • America Held Hostage
  • Secret Dossier: The Hidden Agenda Behind the Gulf War
  • Je Suis un Americain
  • La France et le Nouveau Monde
  • P.S.: A Memoir, 1995
Preceded by:
Clair Engle
United States Senators from California Succeeded by:
George L. Murphy

External links[edit]

[[Category:1925 births|Salinger, Pierre]] [[Category:2004 deaths|Salinger, Pierre]] [[Category:United States Senators|Salinger, Pierre]] [[Category:White House Press Secretaries|Salinger, Pierre]] [[de:Pierre Salinger]] [[fr:Pierre Salinger]] [[nl:Pierre Salinger]]