John A. Scali, a journalist who acted as a go-between in defusing the Cuban missile crisis--and then was scooped by The Times on the story of the negotiations--died Monday after a lengthy illness. He was 77.
Scali's journalistic career included many years with the Associated Press and ABC News, punctuated with government service as ambassador to the United Nations replacing George Bush and as a White House media consultant.
He covered Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev's visit to the United States and Richard Nixon's trips as vice president to Russia and Poland. He stood between Khrushchev and Nixon during the famous "kitchen debate" in which the two leaders traded barbs on the relative merits of democracy and communism.
In 1962, when Scali was a diplomatic reporter for ABC News, President John F. Kennedy disclosed the existence of offensive missile sites in Cuba and warned that if any were fired at the U.S., the nation would retaliate against Moscow, not Havana.
Two days later, Scali was contacted by Alexandr S. Fomin, a KGB official in Washington and a personal friend of Khrushchev.
"Is Kennedy serious? Would he really do that?" Fomin asked Scali. "You're goddamn right he would," Scali said, according to a friend, Warren Rogers.
Over lunch, Fomin outlined a proposal under which the Soviets would dismantle the Cuban missile bases if the American government would pledge not to invade Cuba.
Scali got the message to the President. The next day, Khrushchev added a stipulation to the proposal that the United States abandon its missile bases in Turkey. A furious Scali met Fomin to denounce a "dirty, rotten, lousy, stinking double-cross."
The United States ignored the Turkey-base proposal and concluded the negotiations through Scali.
However, Kennedy would not allow Scali to tell the story.
ABC planned to disclose the account after Kennedy's assassination, but the Los Angeles Times and its New York sister publication Newsday published the story first.
Scali was born in Canton, Ohio. He got his bachelor's degree in journalism from Boston University in 1942 and worked briefly for the Boston Herald and United Press. He went to work for the AP in Washington on April 12, 1945--the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died--and covered the State Department until 1961.
He was diplomatic correspondent for ABC News for 10 years, and returned as a senior correspondent for the network after his White House and U.N. assignments.