October 17, 2004

Pierre Salinger, JFK Press Secretary, Dead

WASHINGTON - Pierre Salinger, who was press secretary to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, died of a heart attack on Saturday at a hospital near his home in Le Thor, France, his wife told The Washington Post.

Salinger, who was also chief foreign correspondent for ABC News, rose from a newspaper reporter in San Francisco to a top position at the White House before he was 40, the Post reported in Sunday editions.

He was an appointed senator from California for five months, wrote books and became ABC's Paris bureau chief.

Salinger won a number of prestigious journalism prizes, including a George Polk award for his 1981 scoop that the U.S. government was secretly negotiating to free the Americans held hostage by Iran.

Salinger had been ill, his fourth wife, Nicole, told the Post in a telephone interview from their home. They moved there four years ago from London and Washington.

"He was very upset with the electoral system in the States," she told the newspaper. "He said, 'If George Bush is elected president, I will leave the country,' and we did."

Salinger worked for both John and Robert Kennedy on their presidential campaigns, and for George McGovern in 1972. He was White House press secretary from 1961 to 1964 and ran the first live televised presidential news conference in 1961.

He was born in San Francisco to a French-born mother and a father who was a mining engineer, the Post reported.

Salinger enlisted in the Navy at 17 during World War II, finished his degree at the University of San Francisco and then began work at the San Francisco Chronicle.

He worked for Collier's magazine in the mid-1950s before becoming an investigator with Robert Kennedy on the Senate anti-racketeering committee from 1957 to 1959, when he went to work for Sen. John F. Kennedy, according to the newspaper.

In the 1990s, he insisted the public stories on two major airline crashes were wrong.

He said the 1988 crash of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was a Drug Enforcement Agency operation that went wrong. He also said TWA Flight 800 was shot down near Long Island by a stray Navy missile in 1996.

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