Throughout the episode, Kennedy repeatedly benefited from a cocoon of time and privacy afforded by the absence of intensive television scrutiny. The first occasion of this was on October 16, 1962, when the CIA informed him of overhead reconnaissance findings that there were Soviet offensive missiles in Fidel Castro's Cuba. This caused him an enormous political problem. A month earlier he had assured the public that there were no such missiles on the island and that if there were, it would cause a confrontation of the first magnitude with the Soviet Union.
Had this occurred in the environment of the 1990s, one of the U.S. television network's satellites might have discovered the missiles at roughly the same moment the CIA did. The news might have been revealed in an ABC special report that included tape of Kennedy's assurances and pictures of the missiles. On that report and on "Nightline" that evening, angry conservative senators and congressmen would have demanded to know why Kennedy had kept the Soviet outrage a secret from the American people, and called on him to fulfill his pledge by bombing the missile sites immediately. Kennedy would have been faced with almost unbearable congressional and public pressure to order an air strike. We now know from Soviet sources that had he done so, it would almost certainly have led quickly to nuclear war.
Ironically, the presence of U.S. television network satellites might have
deterred the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, from slipping the missiles into
Cuba. As McNamara said, "When Khrushchev made the decision to introduce the
missiles into Cuba, he made it for certain reasons. We can argue whether he
was wise or unwise, but he had certain objectives in mind.... He took account
of the environment he was operating in. If an element of that environment had
been the availability of satellite photographs, he would have changed his
program, and he would have behaved in a way that made it unlikely that the
satellite photographs available to the press would have disclosed what he was
doing. . . .He would have planned his operation differently."The Camera Never Blinks...'the camera never blinks'
is supposed to be a slogan for 'it always tells the truth.' Well, it doesn't
always tell the truth. . . .If you had a week of silence, with those cameras
there and 'no comment,' and statesmen going back and forth. . .I promise you
someone in the Congress of the United States would get up and say, 'We do not
know. I will issue articles of impeachment. I will find the clause where the
president is supposed to report."