Sixty years ago, the elements of America’s national power – diplomacy, information, military, and economics – were retooled with the National Security Act of 1947 and the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. The former has received significant attention over the years and is currently the subject of an intense project to recommend updates. In contrast, the latter, a direct response to the global ideological threat posed by Communist propaganda, has been variously ignored, glossed over, or been subject to revisionism. Smith-Mundt was a largely successful bipartisan effort, establishing the foundation for the informational and cultural and educational engagement that became known as “public diplomacy.”
While today is unlike yesterday, it is worthwhile to look back on the purpose of Smith-Mundt and the debates surrounding the dissemination prohibition that has taken on mythical proportions. The modern interpretation of Smith-Mundt has given rise to an imaginary information environment bifurcated by a uniquely American “iron fence” separating the American media environment from the rest of the world.