October 23, 2007

45 Years Ago in News History: The Cuban Missile Crisis

The Miami Herald, Oct. 23, 1962. (Newseum collection)
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The Miami Herald, Oct. 23, 1962. (Newseum collection)

The Kansas City (Mo.) <i>Times</i>, Oct. 29, 1962. (Newseum collection)
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The Kansas City (Mo.) Times, Oct. 29, 1962. (Newseum collection)

Life, Nov. 2, 1962. (Newseum collection)
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Life, Nov. 2, 1962. (Newseum collection)

For seven tense days in October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union stood at the brink of nuclear war. U.S. surveillance of the island of Cuba had discovered the presence of secret Soviet missile bases.

While the world watched and waited, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev engaged in a standoff in which neither side would back down. President Kennedy ordered a naval blockade to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more missiles. The threat of air strikes and an invasion of Cuba loomed.

Amid the crisis, Aleksandr Fomin, a Soviet intelligence officer, offered the United States terms of a settlement — through reporter John Scali, state department correspondent for ABC News. On Oct. 26, 1962, Scali met Fomin for lunch at Washington’s Occidental Restaurant, located two blocks from the White House.

"War seems about to break out," Fomin reportedly explained. He told Scali of a Soviet proposal to withdraw the missiles if President Kennedy would agree not to invade Cuba. Fomin asked Scali to relay the message to his contacts at the state department to see if the confrontation could be resolved peacefully. Scali did not hesitate to act as a go-between.

"At times like that," he said, "a reporter has no choice. Because whatever he can do to save humanity … even just an ounce worth, he must do."

Scali took the information to Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who relayed it to President. Kennedy. Scali continued working behind the scenes. But tensions rose when the Russians seemed to amend their proposal. Nuclear war seemed imminent. Scali accused Fomin of a "stinking double cross." The president issued a final offer to end the crisis. By Oct. 28, Khrushchev announced that he would remove the missiles.

Scali left ABC in 1971 and worked for two years as a foreign affairs adviser to President Richard Nixon. From 1973 to 1975, he was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He returned to ABC two years later before retiring in 1993. He died Oct. 9, 1995, at age 77.

The story of John Scali’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis is featured in the Newseum’s News Corporation News History Gallery.

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