Swedish Meatballs’s post on Smith-Mundt, with its rare quoting of Dave Grossman (perhaps SM was motivated by this post), shows how the Smith-Mundt Act has been distorted over the years to become something it was never intended to be. Because of this, as SM points out, Smith-Mundt needs to be drastically revised, or better, yet, ditched.
Forgotten is the purpose and focus of the Act. The Act focused on raising the quality of American propaganda that was so dysfunctional as to actually aid the enemy (sound familiar?). Discussions about domestic broadcasting were focused on Free Speech and guaranteeing the government wouldn’t compete with rich domestic broadcasters.
Meatball One asks
Might an abolition of Smith-Mundt open the door to aggressive, intelligent, and creative methods for manufacturing a reformed and resilient Will among the homeland’s citizenry for the long and grinding wars we are told to expect and accept?
Current mythical "prohibitions" limiting the Defense Department are seemingly based on Defense moving into the realm of State and assuming its liabilities, but only partially. For example, for State to even discuss any literature or photos it is broadcasting overseas requires clearance, a series of hurdles Defense has not adopted.
Unlike today, there were memories of not only Hitler’s effective ownership and thus monopolizing broadcast mediums, but also of the Creel Committe (See ZenPundit for a short bit on Creel) in the United States. There was strong public backlash against what was perceived as an attempt to manipulate domestic public opinion.
If the Executive Branch fully embraced the prohibition against propagandizing its own public there’s a certain treaty it would not have excepted out of and, more importantly, Tony Snow and Dana Perino wouldn’t have a job (perhaps their office would look and sound more like their United Kingdom’s counterpart… note the references to the PM and the PMOS).
Meatball One closes his post with these two questions:
So what do you say, Bernays – any hidden costs? Is this where democracy ends or perhaps where democracy only truly can begin?
The answer: Yes and no to both. In part, Smith-Mundt is a response to Bernays’ activities thirty-five years earlier. During the massive restructuring of the United States to counter the emerging ideological threat coming from all angles (remember the National Security Act of 1947 was passed during the two years of debate on Smith-Mundt), Smith-Mundt was to protect democracy, not from itself but from the outside. Protection inside was mainly for the broadcasters, which Benton vigorously and successfully courted the broadcasters and continued to do so afterward its passage in a period of increasingly rapid (relatively) news cycles and accessibility.
The Swede is right, something significant needs to be done with Smith-Mundt, but attempts at an outright dismissal will be met by a swift and emotional counter-reaction. What is necessary is a conversation on the topic to understand its purpose and intent.