History

A news hungry Europe

This cartoon appeared in the New York Herald Tribune on October 21, 1947. I found it in the Truman library (Truman Library, President’s Personal File, Box 540, PPF 1971) attached to a letter from Bill Benton to the President dated October 25. Benton had just departed as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and was working as a Special Consultant for State on UNESCO, an effort he had long been involved as, while preparing for a bid for the Senate. In his letter, Benton mentions he meant to give the cartoon to the President when they met the day before and had a suggestion: 

In your State of the Union message, might it not be appropriate to refer to the importance or the information program? And would it not be a good move politically for you, in this message, to welcome the overseas travels or Congressmen of both parties? The Smith-Mundt Committee is an excellent illustration or the bi-partisan handling or foreign policy.

The President did not mention the bipartisan & bicameral committee or the information program. That may be because his 1948 State of the Union came before the final legislation was passed and signed into law. In fact, just hours before he read the SOTU at 1:30pm, which was broadcast nationwide, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met at 10am in executive session for a last discussion on the so-called Mundt bill.

Back in late October, when the cartoon ran, the truth was the appropriations fight was largely won. What was needed was authorizing legislation, but this was a sure thing following the Smith-Mundt committee trip. The hang up was the scope of the program, which included libraries, interchanges of all sorts (government to government, government to people, people to people; teachers, students, professionals; technology), and more. The State Department was granted the authority to ‘disseminate abroad’ information across all of these mediums, including but limited to shortwave, when Truman signed the bill into law on January 27, 1948. The ‘disseminate abroad’ language was requested by State and required because their existing authorities were limited to the Western hemisphere and did not permit interchange or libraries or radio broadcasting in Europe, Asia, or Africa.

Note the label of the person next to character representing Secretary of State Marshall. In 1947, Europeans wanted news, not ‘second opinions’ or propaganda, and they turned to the U.S. to fulfill this need.