Source Material: The 1997 Published Transcripts of the JFK Cuban Missile Crisis Tapes: Too Good to Be True?



Scholars now have access to audiotapes of the meetings between President Kennedy and his advisers made during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Since 1997, a set of transcripts edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow has been available from the Harvard University Press. This article, by the former Kennedy Library historian who listened to these tapes between 1981 and 1996 and recently checked selections from the published book against the recorded words, reveals that the transcripts contain many errors that significantly distort the historical record. The author discusses a representative sample of these inaccuracies, suggests how they can mislead scholars, and argues that subsequent printings and future revised editions should document and identify all changes and corrections of the original 1997 transcripts.