Is a Blog a News Service? Smith-Mundt on DipNote (Update)

No time for a deep analysis, so a superficial commentary will have to do. One of the more interesting aspects of Smith-Mundt was its opposition to a USG-owned news service in light of recent memory of not only Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine, but also of the Creel Commission, or Committee on Public Information (CPI). The prohibitions against internal propagandizing in Smith-Mundt focused on the point of dominating information channels to the public. Argued as First Amendment violations and as a potential infringement on the free press, Smith-Mundt prevented the USIA from becoming a domestic news service.

Today, there’s lots of discussion on the role of the New Media: the blogosphere. While there is some interactivity, blogs are alternative, and too often superior, news sources than traditional media.

Thus the question: is State’s new blog, when used to provide news or timely commentary or analysis, a modern equivalent of the Four Minute Men of the CPI?

This question isn’t too suggest that State should stop blogging. On the contrary, they should blog and, by the way, welcome to the 21st Century experts on Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.

No, this is to suggest that the misplaced and overreaching application of Smith-Mundt is selective at State, and the rest of USG. If State were to be rigid on their application of Smith-Mundt, as they have overly been, then it is is easily argued their blog crosses the line into the realm of a news service and in competition with the press and is thus prohibited under Smith-Mundt.

What to do? First, remember what Smith-Mundt was intended to cover, allowing for perversions in later amendments to the Act, and stop over-applying it. Continued overly-broad application would mean the blog has to go. That’s bad, and wrong. Second, change or dismantle Smith-Mundt altogether. 

Update: Responding to a reader’s email, I want to emphasize that I don’t think the blog is covered by Smith-Mundt. As the reader points out, "pertains to activities funded primarily in [Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP)], not the [Bureau of Public Affairs (PA)], which is the source of the blog. … [Karen Hughes] can use PA resources to address a domestic audience without violating [Smith-Mundt]."

I know that, the reader knows that, but many don’t, including too many in USG. For example, I’m told Karen Hughes only recently learned DOD believes itself to be covered under Smith-Mundt, which it has for some time. The recent RAND report by new friends of MountainRunner captured this.

The purpose of this post and others like it is to emphasize that more people need to know and understand the purpose and limits of Smith-Mundt. There is more on this topic to come.