On October 1, 1999, the United
States Information Agency ceased to exist. Its functions were swallowed
up by the U.S. Department of State in what was essentially described by
the Clinton administration as a cost-cutting move. The end of the
agency came with virtually no fanfare or public notice.
This is in sharp contrast to the agency's creation in 1953. USIA's birth was in response to the threat of global communist expansion. It was an attempt to win the battle for hearts and minds, one waged with words and not bullets. At least that was what the public was told.
As previously classified documents demonstrate, the battle against international communism was just one of a number of factors that led to the birth of USIA. There were also concerns within government bureaucracy, the Congress, the press and the public relations profession over the scope and direction of American overseas information programs. While some felt the U.S. should match communist propaganda with its own variety, there were others who felt that American ideas and virtues needed no embellishment. There was also a question of oversight: Should overseas information reflect U.S. foreign policy aims as defined by the State Department, or should it reflect the independent and diverse voices of American public opinion? And, as is so often the case in government agencies, the impetus for change had as much to do with internal turf wars as it did the Cold War.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the forces that led to the creation of USIA -- with a special focus upon the deliberations of the Jackson Committee. This includes a review of USIA's short-lived predecessor, the United States International Information Administration. It also briefly touches upon USIA's dismantling by the Clinton administration. While the post-Soviet world at the turn of the century is a much different place than the Cold War world of the early 1950s, many of the issues that attended the USIA at its birth remain relevant at its demise.
Propaganda - An Historical Perspective
"For a propagandist, and I use
the word with pride, the United States is the best of clients -- and the
worst," wrote broadcast journalist/commentator John Chancellor, who also
served two years as director of Voice of America. "Best because of its
unmistakable virtues, worst because its vices can't be hidden." (1)
For as long as humans have organized themselves into groups of shared values and concerns, communication has been used strategically to advance their self interests. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence dating back to 1,800 BC of primitive agricultural extension agents giving farmers advice on how to improve their crop yield. During the fifth century BC in the city-state of Athens, new political freedoms gave rise to the birth of rhetoric, the study of public opinion and how to influence it. A philosophy of vox populi, the voice of the people, was embraced four centuries later in the Roman Republic. The spread of Christianity during the Middle Ages was also linked to strategic communication. The faith was passed along by word of mouth through missionaries such as Francis of Assisi, who spread his teachings of self-imposed poverty and service to the poor across Europe and the Middle East during the 12th century. The Catholic Churchís efforts became more formalized in the 17th century with the establishment of the Congregato de Propaganda Fide for the purpose of spreading church doctrine. (2)
The use of strategic communication in the United States predates the founding of the nation. Exaggerated claims were often the basis for encouraging settlement of the wilderness. At first they were aimed at attracting Europeans to fledgling East Coast settlements. Later, the myth of frontiersman Daniel Boone was created to woo settlers into the new nation's interior. (3) During the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin spread false stories about British acquiescence in Seneca Indian atrocities against colonists. He did so to undermine the British war effort and to bolster overseas public opinion in favor of American independence. (4) Less than a century later, President Abraham Lincoln delayed publication of the Emancipation Proclamation until he could link it to a Union victory in the battlefield. Lincoln did not want the abolishment of slavery (limited to the Confederate states) to be seen as an act of desperation. When Lincoln got a much-needed victory at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, it gave the proclamation credibility and eliminated the threat of European intervention into the American Civil War. (5)
The history of the use of propaganda is somewhat confusing because its very definition is a matter of dispute. Historian Brett Gray wrote, "Propaganda as a label suffered (and suffers) from a certain imprecision; it is not unlike Justice Potter Stewart's fabled definition of pornography: 'I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.'" (6) Webster's Dictionary defines propaganda in a broad context as "the propagating of doctrines or principles; the opinions or beliefs thus spread." (7) Taken quite literally, that definition implies that propaganda is an umbrella covering all forms of persuasive communication, including advertising and public relations. In that context, propaganda appears to be a kin to press agentry, which Todd Hunt and James E. Grunig described as being "public relations programs whose sole purpose is getting favorable publicity for an organization in the mass media." (8) Even the man considered the father of modern public relations, Edward L. Bernays, gave credence to this interpretation when he defined public relations -- the term he coined in his seminal book Crystallizing Public Opinion -- as "the new propaganda." (9)
However, that interpretation draws criticism from many quarters, especially communication professionals. Public relations historian Scott M. Cutlip wrote that Bernays' efforts to further define public relations in his 1928 book Propaganda served only to muddy the waters and "handed the infant field's critics a club with which to bludgeon it." (10) However originally intended, propaganda has become a pejorative term associated with the likes of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels. Gray argued that propaganda should not be confused with advertising and public relations. He wrote, "For my part, I try to maintain that distinction by defining propaganda as the organized manipulations of key cultural symbols and images (and biases) for the purposes of persuading a mass audience to take a position, or move to action, or remain inactive on a controversial matter."(11) Historian Leo Bogart wrote that the propaganda studies of the mid-1930s were "prompted by the assumption that the statements of totalitarian governments represented cunning and deliberate distortions of the truth to serve deeper strategic objectives." (12)
It is not just communication professionals who have sought to distance themselves from the propaganda label. The United States government has backed away from that terminology since an initial flirtation with it at the outbreak of the First World War. In what is a common government tactic, officials have attached the label "public diplomacy" to the effort to influence foreign public opinion. However, few are fooled by the use of creative language. USIA veteran Fitzhugh Green acknowledged in his 1988 book American Propaganda Abroad that public diplomacy is "a euphemism for the word modern Americans abhor - propaganda." (13)
The same skittishness holds true for the more benign term "public relations." Although thousands of public relations practitioners are employed in all levels of government, they tend to operate under stealth job titles such as press secretary, public information officer, public affairs officer, and communications specialist. As early as 1913, Congress adopted the Gillett amendment, which declared that "appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose." (14)
It is important to remember that the term "propaganda" did not hold the same meaning during the first two decades of the last century. When the United States was drawn into global conflict in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson saw the creation of the Committee on Public Information as a necessary counterweight against the propaganda of the Central Powers. He appointed a long-time friend and political ally, newspaperman George Creel, to head its operations. Creel saw the application of American-style propaganda as being preferable to the wartime censorship favored by some in the military. However well-intentioned, CPI had its critics. As David M. Kennedy has written:
"According to historians critical of Creel's work, CPI propaganda 'frequently wore a benign face, and ... its creators genuinely believed it to be in the service of an altruistic cause,' but on the whole it showed an 'overbearing concern for correct opinion, for expression, for language itself.' Creel's agency promoted jingoism, intolerance, and vigilantism, an assessment that quickly became the reigning interpretation of both Creel's legacy and, at war's end, of the powers of propaganda." (15)As the public became disenchanted with the outcome of the so-called "war to end all wars," propaganda became a source of widespread concern. One postwar researcher wrote, "As writers for popular magazines reevaluated the nation's experience with war propaganda, there was more shock and concern about precisely this aspect of the propaganda than any other: the fact that propaganda appeared to be a force of boundless power." (16)
"The struggle abounded in personalities, but was not fundamentally personal. It rested on differences between those who believed that propaganda should form part of the program of subversive operations, and should consist of any action, true or false, responsible or irresponsible, which would effectively hamper the enemy at any point; and those who believed that propaganda should be a public, responsible government operation to tell the truth about the war, about the United States and its allies, as a means of describing democracy and freedom, our war aims, and our determination to win both the war and the peace." (21)At the start the Cold War era, there was a reluctance among U.S. government officials toward having their strategic communication activities perceived as propaganda. Former Senator William Fulbright (D-Ark.) once echoed this sentiment when he said, "there is something basically unwise and undemocratic about a system which taxes the public to finance a propaganda campaign aimed at persuading the same taxpayers that they must spend more tax dollars to subvert their independent judgment." (22) Nevertheless, there were others who felt the government should be doing more to counter the communists. Allen M. Wilson, vice president of The Advertising Council, told a New York gathering on March 22, 1949, "Is propaganda an effective weapon? It must be. How else, since the communists have nothing to offer France but promises, could the communist leaders have captured control of great sections of the French labor movement?" (23)
Truman and "The Campaign of Truth"
The realization that the United
States needed to engage in an aggressive campaign of strategic communication
came slowly to President Harry S Truman. When Truman signed an executive
order abolishing the OWI on August 31, 1945, he said, "This government
will not attempt to outstrip the extensive and growing information programs
of other nations. Rather, it will endeavor to see to it that other
peoples receive a full and fair picture of American life and the aims and
policies of the United States government." (24) To John B.
Whitton, founder of the Princeton Listening Center for the Study of Political
Broadcasting, Truman had erred. "Our failure to understand (political
communication's) proper role was sharply demonstrated....when President
Truman, by decree, almost completely demolished the formidable information
apparatus so laboriously assembled during the war." (25)
Truman's acceptance of strategic communication in the national interest appeared to evolve over the next two years as a result of both foreign and domestic pressures. According to historian Richard M. Freeland, Truman administration officials were frustrated by the communists' ability to influence public opinion through use of "apparently patriotic appeals or organizations that concealed their relationship to the communist movement" -- a coalition that President Truman referred to as "reds, phonies and parlor pinks." However, Freeland wrote that by March 1947, "the Administration had devised no effective tool to combat it." (26)
Domestic politics also played an important role in this evolution. Truman suffered from comparison with his dynamic and martyred predecessor. The mounting economic and social strains on post-war America appeared to be too much for the man from Missouri. A popular joke of the day ended with the punch line "I wonder what Truman would do if he were alive." A Boston advertising agency developed a devastatingly effective two-word campaign slogan for Republican candidates, "Had enough?" In the November 1946 mid-term elections, Republicans scored a stunning triumph, taking control of the Senate, the House and a majority of state governorships-. Truman's popularity had plunged 50 points in one year to just 32 percent. His chances of being elected in his own right in 1948 appeared to be a remote possibility at best. (27)
Truman's embrace of strategic communications evolved over the next two years. The initial step in this evolution came on March 12, 1947, when the president first articulated what would become known as the Truman Doctrine in a nationally broadcast speech before a joint session of Congress. The purpose of the speech was to announce a $400 million economic and military aid package for Greece and Turkey. The fear was that British disengagement because of post-war financial strains would leave that area of the world open to Soviet domination. President Truman told the Congress and the nation "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." (28)
Prior to the speech, Assistant Secretary of State Will Clayton wrote in a memorandum that "the United States will not take world leadership effectively unless the people of the United States are shocked into doing so." (29) The GOP-dominated Congress had demonstrated an aversion to foreign aid programs. The Republican landslide had brought with it a new crop of lawmakers to Capitol Hill of whom Melvyn P. Leffler wrote, "Their concerns with overseas developments were limited; their willingness to incur shortages or postpone tax reductions was nonexistent. They were still committed to America first, and their antipathy to foreign entanglements and financial sacrifices were pronounced." (30)
This attitude appeared to mirror the prevailing feeling among the American people. The election results suggested that voters were tired of foreign entanglements. At the same time, in the eyes of a number of observers, the Russians had appeared to moderate their aggressiveness. (31) Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) told the president that he would have to "scare the hell out of the country" to win approval of the Greco-Turkish aid package. (32) Freeland wrote that Truman's speech was designed to do just that -- elevate the situation in Greece and Turkey to the level of a crisis and to wrap the loan package in anti-communist and anti-Soviet rhetoric that Congress was more likely to embrace. (33) The Truman Doctrine speech established the philosophical and rhetorical tone for the announcement of the administration's signature foreign aid program, the Marshall Plan, later that same year.
Following the declaration of the Truman Doctrine, the administration and Congress each tried to convince the public that it was "tougher than the other guy" when it came to communism. Overseas information programs were at the heart of this competition. The administration consolidated the State Department's Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs (a direct descendent of OWI) into a new Office of International Information and Educational Exchange in the fall of 1947. (34) However, to a Congress unhappy with what it saw as a timid American response to Russian propaganda, this was not enough. Just a few months later, this arrangement was superseded by the Smith-Mundt Act, which authorized the government to globally disseminate information about the United States and its policies. (35)
World events began to frame the debate. The Berlin blockade and the anti-communist, anti-administration rhetoric of the Republican-controlled Congress led to the creation of the Office of International Information and even larger, more aggressive overseas information program. (36) By the beginning of 1950, public pressure was building on President Truman to move beyond his policy of containment to one where the country would more aggressively engage communism in a variety of venues -- including the field of propaganda. As McCullough wrote, "With the onrush of so much sensational, seemingly inexplicable bad news -- China lost, the Russian bomb, Alger Hiss, the treason of Klaus Fuchs -- breaking with such clamor, all in less than six months, the country was in a state of terrible uncertainty." (37) Adding to the sense of public fear was Life, which devoted a single issue to the growing strength of the Russian military. (38)
Into this atmosphere of fear plunged Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.), who launched a full-fledged assault on the Truman Administration on February 9, 1950. In a Wheeling, W.Va. speech, McCarthy charged that the State Department was "riddled" with 205 "known" communist sympathizers and traitors. Although McCarthy's numbers kept changing with every new public appearance, he commanded center stage. This, in turn, led to the Subversive Control Act of 1950 and congressional probes into State Department employee loyalty. (39) It also increased pressure on the administration to explain its policy of containing communism.
Pressure to act also came from within the administration. On April 7, 1950, Truman was confronted by NSC-68, a National Security Council white paper which said that the administration's efforts to contain communism amounted to little more than a policy of bluff without adequate military force to back it up. NSC-68 advocated a massive military rearmament. The estimated cost of such a build-up was $40 to $50 billion, three times the existing military budget. (40) This would require a public debate in which the government's goals were clearly articulated. It may have also led Truman to a conclusion that most public relations practitioners and advertising executives instinctively understood -- that no good deed should go unnoticed. To put it another way, Truman had to do more than fight communism. He had to be seen fighting communism.
These many pressures culminated in the president's embrace of persuasive communication as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. In an April 20, 1950, speech before a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Truman articulated his vision of strategic communication and gave that vision a name:
"The cause of freedom is being challenged throughout the world by the forces of imperialistic communism. This is a struggle, above all else, for the minds of man. Propaganda is one of the most powerful weapons the communists have in this struggle. Deceit, distortion, and lies are systematically used by them as a matter of deliberate policy. This propaganda can be overcome by truth -- plain, simple, unvarnished truth -- presented by newspapers, radio, and other sources that the people trust." (41)Truman told the editors that his administration would embark upon a "Campaign of Truth." He said this campaign was "as important as armed strength or economic aid." (42) Truman's words would take on added weight within two months with the outbreak of the Korean War.
The International Information Administration
With just over one year remaining
in the Truman administration, the State Department announced the creation
of the United States International Information Administration. The
IIA was created "for the conduct of the Department's international information
and educational exchange programs." (43)
IIA's creation grew, in part, out of a rift between the Economic Cooperation Administration and the United States International Information and Exchange Program. While there were other domestic and foreign influences on this debate, this was, essentially, a turf battle along the lines articulated by the Brookings Institute in 1948. USIE was the operating agency responsible for the State Department's foreign information and exchange program. (44) In 1949, Congress also authorized ECA to publicize its Marshall Plan programs in the participating countries. (45) It wasn't long before the two public information staffs began stepping upon each other's toes.
Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Edward W. Barrett wrote on January 5, 1951, that once the need to publicize the Marshall Plan had diminished, ECA's public information staff began straying from its original mission. "The ECA boys have, naturally, tended to keep themselves busy by broadening out their activities," Barrett complained in a memorandum to his superiors. "Bluntly, in order to keep their large mechanism busy they are, consciously or unconsciously, moving into the whole USIE field." (46)
"Some of the ECA information officers, fighting for their own continued existence, have done some disparaging of our operations among members of Congress and others, on the grounds that we are too hemmed in by diplomatic considerations," Barrett continued. "There is an absence of a clear line of demarcation between the functions of the two agencies." (47)
As Barrett's memorandum suggests, this infighting had caught the attention of Congress. Senator William Benton (D-Conn.), who left an advertising and publishing career in 1945 to become Truman's first appointee to head the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs, OWI's successor agency, had a special interest. In a December 14, 1950, letter to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Benton wrote that he had been approached by a number of senators to introduce a bill to "take propaganda operations out of the State Department." (48) This wasn't a new idea: The Hoover Commission report on foreign affairs had recommended a year earlier that foreign information programs be moved out of the State Department. (49)
In reply to Bentonís letter, Acheson wrote, "My own judgment is that the expanded information program has in fact become the vital part of our national strategy you and others have always believed it should be.
"I am above all concerned that we do not at this critical period lose any of the vigor and momentum already gained, nor impair the close and effective working relationships which now assure that our overseas information output is constantly giving the maximum of fully coordinated support to current foreign policy decisions." (50)
There is irony in Acheson's response. The State Department's attitude toward foreign information programs was decidedly mixed. Fitzhugh wrote that while many in the department viewed overseas public relations as "harmless and vapid," professional diplomats kept a "fish eye" on this effort "lest it damage official American relationships with foreign nations." (51)
The creation of IIA as a semi-autonomous agency on January 16, 1952, was designed to end the ECA-USIE turf battle and maintain State Department control over overseas public information programs. Fitzhugh wrote that Truman also hoped that the appointment of long-time lobbyist Wilson S. Compton as the IIA's first administrator would ease some of the pressure emanating from Capitol Hill. (52) Under this reorganization, IIA's administrator reported directly to the Secretary of State. While the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs continued to serve as "the officer responsible for advising the Secretary on opinion and attitude factors in the development of foreign policy," he had no supervisory authority over a diminished USIE program and was empowered to provide only "broad guidance" to IIA. (53)
"It is clearly desirable that there should be a single U.S. program in the field of international information," wrote Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration Carlise H. Humelsine. (54) "The Department is now in a far stronger position than ever before to develop and apply sound information policy and to take into account in all of its actions the sound maxim that 'action is the best propaganda.'" (55)
While the creation of IIA supposedly settled the debate as far as the Truman State Department was concerned, it did not quell the criticism of those outside the department. On June 30, 1952, the Senate created a special subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee charged with examining overseas information programs. Among its members was the aforementioned Senator Benton. In an interim report issued January 30, 1953, the subcommittee said these programs needed strengthening. (56)
Even within IIA, there was a realization that the controversy over the control of overseas information programs had not been decided. Compton wrote Acheson in July 1952 that the agency "still has more problems than answers." (57) At about the same time, Compton told Congress that IIA "is not as good as its most enthusiastic advocates claim. It is not as bad as its severest critics say." (58)
While Senator McCarthy -- somewhat predictably -- was one of those "severest critics," he wasn't alone in his criticism of IIA. "Members of Congress feared its potential to serve as an organ of the executive branch; State Department traditionalists resented its incursions into conventional forms of diplomacy," wrote historian Jeff Broadwater. (59) He also wrote that budget-minded politicians, who saw the agency's $100 million annual budget as being far more tangible than its results, looked upon IIA as "a giant boondoggle." (60) At the start of 1953, the agency was faced with four congressional probes, including a McCarthy committee investigation into the location and construction of two Voice of America transmitters. If that wasn't enough uncertainty, the IIA was also confronted with the reality that the election of a new president would likely result in significant philosophical changes.
Taking A New Direction
The direction of U.S. overseas
information programs changed with the election of a new president in November
1952. With Harry Truman, the nation had a leader who had slowly embraced
the value of strategic communication in the pursuit of foreign policy goals.
However, Dwight David Eisenhower had a well-established record of using
public relations as an instrument of his leadership. That had
been evident from the moment he stepped foot in England 10 years earlier
to lead the Allied effort during the Second World War. "Eisenhower
proved to be outstanding at public relations," historian Stephen E. Ambrose
wrote. "He was more aware of the importance of the press, and better
at using it, than any other public figure of his day." (61)
Eisenhower's emphasis on public relations carried over to his days in the White House. During a September 1953 staff meeting, Eisenhower described his public relations philosophy as "nothing in the world but getting ideas put out in such a way that your purpose is actually understood by all people that need to understand it in order to get it done efficiently and well." (62) The significance of this statement is the implication that Eisenhower had an Aristotlean approach to persuasion, one that James Grunig has described in public relations terms as a compliance-gaining tactic. (63) What is also significant is that this philosophy is contrary to an approach of using propaganda as a tool of American foreign policy.
In fairness to President Truman, the goals of his "Campaign of Truth" appear to be philosophically compatible with Eisenhower's view of public relations. Both men felt it was unnecessary to embellish the truth. But the continuing bureaucratic struggle over control and content contributed to a growing public impression that American overseas information programs were unfocused and ineffective.
It came as no surprise that Eisenhower made the nation's cold war "psychological strategy" a campaign issue during an October 8, 1952, speech in San Francisco. "Many people think 'psychological warfare' means just the use of propaganda like the controversial Voice of America," Eisenhower said. "Certainly, the use of propaganda, of the written and spoken word, of every means to transmit ideas, is an essential part of winning other people to your side.
"But propaganda is not the most important part of this struggle," Eisenhower said. "The present Administration has never yet been able to grasp the full import of a psychological effort put forth on a national scale." (64)
Eisenhower specifically singled out the State Department when criticizing the Truman administration for compartmentalizing the nation's response to the Cold War. "We shall no longer have a Department of State that deals with foreign policy in an aloof cluster," Eisenhower said. "The Administration in power has failed to bring into line its criss-crossing and overlapping and jealous departments and bureaus and agencies." (65)
Just six days after taking the oath of office, President Eisenhower appointed the President's Committee on International Information Activities. It became widely known as the "Jackson Committee" because of its two most prominent members, William H. Jackson, the managing partner of a New York investment firm and the committee's chairman, and C.D. Jackson, a Time-Life executive who had become one of Eisenhower's closest advisers. It was C.D. Jackson, who had been an adviser to General Eisenhower on psychological warfare matters during the Second World War, who first suggested the creation of the committee. In a November 26, 1952, memorandum, he urged the President-elect to appoint a panel to recommend the future direction for U.S. government and psychological warfare programs. (66)
Other members of the committee were New York advertising executive Sigurd Larmon, University of North Carolina President Gordon Gray, New Jersey businessman Barklie McKee Henry, and New York textile executive John C. Hughes. General Mills executive Abbott Washburn served as the executive secretary of the committee. All of the members, except Larmon, had military experience in either intelligence or psychological warfare. Most had media experience. The committee's final report was due no later than June 30, 1953. (67)
In a letter to the executive secretary of the National Security Council, Eisenhower said the purpose of the committee was "to make a survey and evaluation of the international information policies and activities of the Executive Branch of the Government and of policies and activities related thereto with particular reference to the international relations and the national security of this country." The President went on to say, "It has long been my conviction that a unified and dynamic effort in this field is essential to the security of the United States and of the peoples in the community of free nations." (68)
The Jackson Committee met for
the first time on January 30, 1953. In the five months of deliberations
that followed, the committee and its staff interviewed over 250 witnesses.
Numerous individuals and organizations also submitted written suggestions.
(69) While the Jackson Committee was the focal point of the debate
over the future direction of American overseas information programs, it
was hardly the only game in town. Typical of Washington, several
congressional and executive branch committees -- each with their own agenda
-- laid statutory claim to a particular corner of the debate. Also
weighing in with their opinions were the media and public relations practitioners.
The challenge for Eisenhower was simple to define but difficult to accomplish. He faced a balancing act of paying lip-service to the many competing interests while maintaining control over the debate. As events unfolded, it became obvious that the many outside players were successful in garnering the thing they wanted most, media coverage. However, the record suggests that Eisenhower got the control he wanted. Most notably, Eisenhower did not choose to wait until his hand-picked panel had delivered its recommendations before beginning the process of reshaping American overseas information programs.
It didn't take long for Congress to jump into the fray. On February 20, the Senate extended the life of a special subcommittee investigating overseas information programs until June 30, the same day the Jackson Committee report was due. The Hickenlooper Committee, chaired by Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper (R-Iowa), held a series of hearings March 6 through May 13. (70) In a March 16 hearing, Lewis K. Gough, national commander of the American Legion, recommended that all U.S. information and counter-propaganda programs be consolidated under a new Cabinet-level agency.
In a 44-page memorandum, Hickenlooper Committee staff outlined a litany of criticisms of and suggestions for improving overseas information programs. Committee staff concluded that "Congress and the American people lack an accurate definition of what we are attempting to accomplish with overseas information programs." The report stated that the program had "strayed too far" from its original purpose and "has become increasingly less effective as it has become more an instrument of propaganda and less an instrument of information." And in a suggestion that undoubtedly caused concern at the White House, the committee staff recommended that Congress take a stronger role in determining overseas information policy. (71)
A similar proposal had been made three weeks earlier to the McCarthy committee from the Advisory Commission on Information, a five-member panel of specialists outside of government created by President Truman to review the operations of the IIA. The commission also recommended increased congressional oversight of international information programs and urged the United States to pursue a more aggressive information program. (72)
As already noted, this proposal came at a time McCarthy had his sights on the IIA. His committee had been probing allegations of waste and subversion at VOA. However, that probe expanded. McCarthy's staff had claimed that IIA overseas libraries had become a repository for "more than 30,000 books by Communist authors or those who have aided the Communist cause." (73) This led to nervous librarians banning some books and burning others -- developments that appalled Eisenhower. (74) While the activities of the McCarthy committee did not directly affect the deliberations of the Jackson Committee, it is clear from the volume of archived memoranda and newspaper clippings that the activities of the Wisconsin senator were being closely monitored.
Congressional reaction to the proposal to create a new Cabinet-level propaganda agency was mixed. Senator John L. McClellan (D-Ark.), the ranking minority member on the McCarthy committee, said the proposal "doesn't make any sense." (75) Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) said the only way to save overseas information programs from "certain death" was to transfer it from the State Department to an new federal agency. Senator Karl E. Mundt (R-S.D.), a member of both the McCarthy and Hickenlooper committees, predicted that the government's various overseas information programs would be placed under one head. (76)
The Jackson Committee also received indirect input from the President's Advisory Committee on Government Organization, chaired by Nelson A. Rockefeller. The Rockefeller Committee urged the Eisenhower administration to "establish a new foreign information agency, in which would be consolidated the most important foreign information programs and cultural and educational exchange programs now carried on by the United States International Information Administration, by the Technical Cooperation Administration, by the Mutual Security Agency, and by the Department of State in connection with the Government of Occupied Areas." The Rockefeller Committee recommended that the new agency be established under the National Security Council. (77)
Various journalists, through newspaper columns, contributed their thoughts on the proper role of U.S overseas information. The volume of newspaper clippings found in committee files suggests that these opinions were not ignored. And the tone of much of this commentary was along the lines of the editorial opinion of The Washington Post, which said "Psychological warfare, in addition to being contrary to the American way of doing things, is antithetical to the American way of life." (78) Columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop wrote "Democracy cannot be peddled like soap flakes." (79) Walter Lippmann, who wanted to abolish the Voice of America, wrote, "In a society where opinions are free, a government propaganda, which is a monopoly, is an inherent contradiction and practically unworkable." (80)
In an interesting twist, James Reston of The New York Times wrote that the process of deciding upon a national overseas information strategy was too public. "In short, the criticism being made here against the President and his Secretary of State is that they launched their psychological offensive and then appointed a committee to study it and a White House official to coordinate it, instead of the other way around." (81)
On at least one occasion, the work of the Jackson Committee was a source of amusement for the media. In the days leading up to the creation of the committee, Defense Secretary-designate C.E. Wilson suggested that radio entertainer Arthur Godfrey be named to the panel because "Godfrey knows how to reach the mass mind." Joseph and Stewart Alsop wrote "this kind of naivete can be dangerous in the extreme." (82)
Then there was the reaction of Radio Budapest, which was confused by the presence of W.H. Jackson and C.D. Jackson on the committee. In a blistering denunciation of the committee, Radio Budapest implied that the two men were the same person. "A few days ago it was announced that Eisenhower had set up a new body called the 'Strategic Office of Psychological Warfare' which will be entrusted with the task of centrally directing the slander campaign against the free peoples as well as the espionage and subversive activities," a Hungarian commentator said. "Whom else could he have appointed as head of the new office than Mr. Jackson, the astutest forger of slanders and organizer of espionage?" This broadcast, in turn, prompted a CIA official to suggest in a note to the two Jacksons that this new "composite arch fiend of espionage and slander" be named "The Super Jackson." (83)
Public relations professionals also took a keen interest in the Jackson Committee. "Psychological warfare must be an integral part of our national policy, not a thing apart," said public relations pioneer Edward L. Bernays. "The government should use social scientists who understand our activities as they relate to other countries." (84) Thomas J. Deegan, Jr., vice president and director of C&O Railway Company, told participants in a public relations workshop that the U.S. was "naive" in its counter propaganda and that the government had "traded down" public relations by using inadequately trained "press-release men." (85)
Perhaps the most comprehensive recommendations came from the weekly newsletter Public Relations News. Shortly before the Jackson Committee forwarded its final report to Eisenhower, PR News Publisher and Editor Denny Griswold made 14 suggestions for improving U.S. overseas information efforts. Committee files suggest that Griswold was well known to the committee and had met with its staff. Her suggestions included the establishment of a Cabinet-level information agency divorced from the State Department. "Set up an independent agency, free to operate a fast-moving, modern program where timeliness takes precedence over protocol," Griswold wrote. "Junk such terms as 'cold war,' 'psychological warfare' and 'political warfare,' and use new terms which better describe the policies of our non-bellicose nation." (86) Committee staff member Lewis C. Mattison, in a critique of Griswold's recommendations, wrote that "several of her numbered points should not gain currency." For example, Mattison said, "Cabinet rank is newspaper talk." (87)
The Committee Report
The Jackson Committee submitted
its formal report on June 30, 1953. However, by the time the report
was in the President's hands, Eisenhower had already stolen much of its
thunder. On June 1, the White House sent Congress Reorganization
Plan No. 8 of 1953, which created the United States Information Agency.
In many ways, it mirrored the Rockefeller Committeeís recommendations.
USIA represented a consolidation of overseas information programs administered
by IIA, the Mutual Security Agency, the Technical Cooperation Administration,
and by programs financed in connection with government in occupied areas.
However, the Rockefeller Committeeís recommendation that the new agency
be established under the control of the NSC was rejected.
"While divesting the Department of State of the foreign information programs, the reorganization plan does not transfer the responsibility of that Department for the educational exchange programs authorized by various acts of Congress," Eisenhower's message said. "Close coordination of our information and educational exchange programs will, of course, be effected by the Secretary of State and the Director of the United States Information Agency." (88)
The Jackson Committee report favored the consolidation of foreign information services. In a news release issued July 8, the committee said, "Lack of coordination and planning in the past has resulted in the haphazard projection of too many and too diffuse information themes. No single set of ideas has been registered abroad through effective repetition." (89)
However, where such a new agency should be housed was another matter. Noting that the White House had already sent its proposal to Capitol Hill, the Jackson Committee declined to make a specific recommendation. But the report did say, "In our opinion, the most satisfactory arrangement would be to retain within the Department of State those functions now assigned the IIA and combine them with the information activities handled by MSA and TCA." (90) In a strategic footnote, the Jackson report stated that the committee had considered the recommendations of the Hickenlooper and Rockefeller committees to remove overseas information functions from the State Department. By declining to make a recommendation, the Jackson report appears to have acknowledged the political reality. (91)
Other aspects of the Jackson report met with administration approval and were eventually adopted. The committee recommended the creation of an Operations Coordinating Board under the National Security Council. In its July 8 news release, the committee said, "The Operations Coordinating Board is designed to achieve better integrated direction of the program of the United States in the world struggle and to fill the gap which has existed in the past between the formulation of general objectives and the detailed actions needed to give effect to them." The board was comprised of the Under Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Director for Mutual Security, the Director of Central Intelligence and a special assistant to the President. (92)
At the same time, the Jackson report recommended that the Psychological Strategy Board be abolished. President Truman created the PSB on April 4, 1951, "to authorize and provide for the more effective planning, coordination, and conduct within the framework of approved national policies, of psychological operations." The PSB had been charged with reporting to the National Security Council "on the Boards's activities on the evaluation of the national psychological operations, including the implementation of approved objectives, policies, and programs by the departments and agencies concerned." The PSB role was designed to be that of strictly coordination. It did not conduct any operations of its own. (93)
With this recommendation, the Jackson Committee heeded the advice of Congress, the media and public relations practitioners who felt that the PSB had been established on a false premise. "It is founded upon the misconception that 'psychological activities' and 'psychological strategy' somehow exist apart from official policies and actions and can be dealt with independently by experts in this field," the committee stated in its July 8 press release. "In reality, there is a 'psychological' aspect or implication to every diplomatic, economic, or military policy and action." (94)
The Jackson Committee also objected to the use of terms such as "psychological warfare" and "cold war." The committee report said "they should be discarded in favor of others which describe our true goals." (95)
One recommendation of the committee that won praise from both reporters and public relations practitioners was its rejection of the use of propaganda in pursuit of American foreign policy goals. "American broadcasts and printed materials should concentrate on objective, factual news reporting," the committee news release said. "The tone and content should be forceful and direct, but a propagandist note should be avoided." (96)
The abolition of the IIA and
the PSB, as well as the creation of the USIA, set the parameters for government
overseas information programs for the remainder of the 20th century.
The Jackson Committee, with the backing of Congress, journalists and public
relations practitioners, rejected the use of state-sanctioned propaganda
in the pursuit of American foreign policy objectives. In keeping
with both Truman's and Eisenhower's philosophies, the Jackson Committee
report promoted the use of overseas information programs as a compliance
gaining tactic -- one which lets the facts speak for themselves.
Both Truman and Eisenhower were uneasy about using the propaganda tactics employed first by the Nazis and then by the Communists. At the same time, neither man did a particularly good job of articulating this view to either the public or to people within their administrations. Many times their public words -- especially the use of rhetoric such as "campaign of truth" and "psychological warfare" -- led to a misreading of their true intentions. This was due, in part, to the political environment of the time. With the "loss" of China, the outbreak of the Korean War and the ranting of Senator Joseph McCarthy, no politician could afford being seen as being "soft" on communism. This confusion was also due, in part, to a lack of understanding of how public opinion was formed. The post-war era was a time in which alternatives to the so-called Magic Bullet Theory were just emerging. Many still believed that with the just the right combination of words you could make anyone do anything.
Freeland wrote that the Truman administration used two successful techniques to garner public support for perennially unpopular foreign aid programs. First, it would interpret world events within a framework consistent with the administration's policy aims. The administration would then cultivate the broadest possible acceptance of that framework. (97) However, Freeland also wrote that this "exaggerated representation of the dangers of international and domestic communism" were turned against Truman by his opponents in an effort to discredit the administration as the champion of the anti-communism crusade. (98)
In many respects, Eisenhower was also held hostage by the same double-edged sword. On the one hand, Eisenhower used the inflamed rhetoric of the day to advance his administration's Cold War strategy and partisan political goals. However, that same rhetoric also fueled Senator McCarthy's many challenges of Eisenhower's authority. In turn, this conflict helped fuel early interpretations of Eisenhower's legacy as that of an ineffective and unengaged leader. It wouldn't be until much later, after the declassification of White House documents, that an alternate view of Eisenhower would emerge. That view, articulated in Fred I. Greenstein's The Hidden-Hand Presidency, is of a president who behind the scenes helped orchestrate McCarthy's eventual demise. (99)
Truman and Eisenhower also had to deal with the bureaucratic debate over where to house overseas information programs. There was considerable sentiment during both administrations that these programs needed to administered outside of the State Department. The creation of IIA was the result of an internal review done mostly outside of the public's view. While Truman compromised on some points, he decided to leave most of these functions under a State Department umbrella. Eisenhower's creation of the Jackson Committee was a very public act designed to demonstrate a strong hand on the reins of government at the start of his administration. However, this high profile proved to be a mixed blessing. The process was exposed to the pressures of public opinion and intense congressional oversight. By the time the Jackson Committee had concluded that overseas information programs should be under State Department control, Eisenhower had already short-circuited that proposal with Reorganization Plan No. 8.
The two leaders eventually came to the same realization -- that public information programs play an important role in implementing foreign policy. However, Truman did not come to appreciate this until late in his administration. This was evidenced by his summary dismantling of OWI in August 1945. It wasn't until he unleashed his "Campaign of Truth" -- first in spirit and later in name -- that Truman advocated an aggressive program of public information. In contrast, Eisenhower viewed public relations as an important tool of his leadership. As Ambrose has written, Eisenhower had used public relations and media manipulation to advance the Allied cause during World War II. (100) It came as no surprise that the direction of overseas information programs was one of the earliest foci of his administration. It also led to the Reston criticism -- one echoing the complaints of others -- that the overseas information policy debate had become too public.
Echoes of the Past
When it comes to U.S. overseas
information programs, that which is past is truly prologue. It appears
that many of the same issues raised during the early 1950s reemerged during
the 1990s with much different results.
Under the direction of Vice President Al Gore, the Clinton administration embarked upon a cost-cutting program in 1993, the National Performance Review. USIA was one of the agencies targeted for fat-trimming. In a September 7, 1993, statement, Gore announced that USIA was reducing the number of its overseas libraries and reference centers. "Eliminating some of these facilities or turning them over to their host countries could save an estimated $51.5 million through 1999," Gore said. (101) The significance here is that Gore was talking about belt-tightening at USIA, not its elimination.
Less than a year later, there was a discernable change in tone. At that time, Gore said, "It is imperative that both the State Department and USIA look for efficiencies and economies that result from the elimination of redundant programs, duplicative functions, and excess capacity in the infrastructure that supports the conduct of foreign affairs." (102) In the context of the Jackson Committee's deliberations 40 years earlier, this sounds a lot like movement toward the consolidation of overseas information programs under a State Department umbrella.
As late as February 15, 1995, the White House remained committed to an independent USIA. "After a review under auspices of the Vice President's National Performance Review, the Administration concluded that USIA, AID and ACDA should continue to pursue their missions as independent agencies under the foreign policy direction of the Secretary of State." However, the same White House statement foreshadowed the future when it said, "The review the Vice President directed also concluded that the State Department, and each of the other agencies, should continue to conduct thorough reinvention activities to attain greater efficiency and effectiveness and eliminate activities that can no longer be justified." (103)
On December 30, 1998, the White House announced that USIA's functions would be consolidated within the State Department. Because it came during the holiday season and in the period immediately following President Clintonís impeachment, the move received little attention. On October 1, 1999, USIA ceased to exist. (104) Ironically, the one Jackson Committee recommendation ignored by President Eisenhower had finally come to fruition.
What happened? Until the classified documents of the Clinton administration become available, one can only speculate. While the public debate over the future of USIA centered on budgetary issues, there appears to have been a deeper, philosophical debate under the surface. USIA was born of the Cold War. With the demise of the Soviet Union, many felt the agency had outlived its mission. However, as the events of September 11, 2001, would tragically demonstrate, the decline of communism did not leave the United States without foreign threats. If anything, the need to explain U.S. foreign policy may be greater today than ever.
It is also possible that -- just as was the case a half-century earlier -- the reorganization of overseas communications programs may have been hastened by an internal government turf battle. It may well be that the same tensions that Fitzhugh said existed between the professional diplomats and professional communicators 50 years ago -- and probably never entirely disappeared -- reintensified under an atmosphere of budget cutting. It is also likely that the opinions of Secretary of State Madeline Albright, one of the most popular members of the scandal-ridden Clinton administration, carried considerable weight in the inner-governmental struggles that may have ensued. At a time President Clinton was fighting for his political life -- the Starr Report had been released and the House was engaged in an impeachment inquiry -- the survival of USIA was a presumably a low priority item.
Whatever the real reason for USIA's demise, the move has been met with criticism. Former USIA Foreign Service Officer Kenton Keith has written that "public diplomacy with State may turn into a spin machine." (105) Nancy Snow, who has written extensively about USIA, wrote "the move suggests business as usual." (106) In many ways, these views echo the essential conflict outlined in the 1948 Brookings Institute study -- whether U.S. propaganda should be white, gray, or some shade of gray.
The control and direction of U.S. overseas information programs remain issues at the start of a new century as much as they were in the middle of the last. And much of the debate that surrounded the Jackson Committee in 1953 remains relevant a half-century later. It is still an area of great interest that merits future study.
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