Ed Schultz as Historian: Invents Speech JFK Never Gave About First Glenn Space Flight

Achtung, Sgt. Schultz -- you're making it up again.

The liberal radio host and MSNBC flamethrower got carried away in his indignation Monday over controversy about whether Obama's speech on education should be shown in classrooms.

My how things have changed, Schultz pontificated (audio here) --

I don't know, when I was a kid, and I was a little dude when John Glenn was flying around the, in outer space, and the president was going to speak to the nation! And all the kids in the elementary school, I remember, we were all so fired up! That we were going to hear from the president! And the president was going to say something about being in outer space and is John Glenn going to get home OK?! The president was going to talk to us, we were kids! We were excited! And then when John Glenn splashed down, we heard from the president and it was so cool! It's just not cool anymore, I guess. It's a different country.

Notice how Schultz implies Kennedy gave two speeches that day -- about a space mission lasting all of five hours. Will Glenn "get home OK?" Schultz recounts Kennedy telling what surely was an anxious nationwide audience, the anxiety based on fear of a faulty heat shield imperiling Glenn during his fiery re-entry.

"And then when John Glenn splashed down," Schultz claimed, embroidering along the way, "we heard from the president and it was so cool!"

Only problem is, Kennedy didn't give this speech -- or should I say, either of them.

At least not according to the Web site of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. (known around town as "The Shrine").

A listing at the site of scores of Kennedy's speeches from 1946 to the day of his death in 1963 makes no mention of any speech on Feb. 20, 1962, the day Glenn became the first American to orbit the globe.

Moreover, another part of the library site, the "White House Diary" of Kennedy's daily schedule, does not cite any speech that day about Glenn's mission. A different part of the diary mentions that Kennedy spoke by phone with Glenn after he splashed down and was on board the destroyer U.S.S. Noa. (Thanks, Mr. President ... loved your speech, by the way!)

Kennedy's alleged speech on Glenn's first space flight (he flew again on the shuttle in 1998, at age 77, and remains the oldest person to have flown into space) is also mysteriously absent from two memoirs by Kennedy hagiographers.

In his 1965 book "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House," court historian Arthur Schlesinger did not even cite Glenn's mission in his index. That same year, in his book "Kennedy," speechwriter Ted Sorensen wrote that Kennedy watched Glenn's flight "most of the day on TV," with no mention of any speech.

Presumably Sorensen would have elaborated had a speech been given, if only to point out the sweep and beauty of the prose.

Which is not to say Kennedy didn't give speeches about the space program. That he did, including one I suspect Schultz was thinking of when he made this claim.

Addressing a joint session of Congress in May 1961, only a few weeks after Alan Shepard became the first American to fly into space, Kennedy pledged that the US would send astronauts to the moon and return them safely to earth by the end of the decade.

The speech was given on May 25, 1961, on a Thursday at 12:30 p.m. In other words, in the middle of a school day.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts