Deplorable Schoolboy

October 6, 1951 — The Day

The Mossadegh Project | May 18, 2017                 

U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972)

The Day newspaper of New London, Connecticut (estab. 1881), published this lead editorial on Pres. Truman.

Harry Truman editorial archive

Dizzy Performance

PRESIDENT Truman’s inexplicable tirade at his last press conference, on Thursday, concerning information which he seems to think ought to be secret despite the fact that it gets into newspapers and certain “slick” magazines, constitutes one of the most amazing performances in history on the part of an American president. To say that the correspondents, listening to the president tangle himself up in the most amazing inconsistencies, were flabbergasted at what he said would be putting it mildly.

Instead of backing up, withdrawing misstatements which must have been apparent to him, however, the president bull-headedly forged ahead. He succeeded in getting himself into such an astounding mess that, shortly after the meeting with the press was all over, the White House secretariat had to repair the damage as best it could. It issued a “clarifying” statement which, in effect, made the president in person sound like an irresponsible schoolboy.

It all began when the president sought to defend his order which gives executive departments the right to withhold information from the press when, in its judgment, the information might be of value to an enemy. The first application of the order, incidentally, was an attempt on the part of OPS [Office of Price Stabilization] to withhold information which, charitably speaking, might have been embarrassing to its high officials. The president stepped in and killed the OPS decision, but the incident nevertheless pointed up the issue of newspaper protests that the executive order amounts to a form of news censorship.

* * * * *

Having defended his executive order, the president began talking extemporaneously, and soon was in water far over his head. He had the correspondents goggle-eyed at some of his statements. Ninety-five per cent of our secret information, he said, has been published in newspapers and magazines. He referred particularly to air views of large cities, with key installations spotted on the maps, and a magazine map showing our atomic energy installations in detail. The reporters asked if it is not a fact that all this information was released to the press by governmental agencies—the atomic energy commission, civilian defense authorities, the military, and so on—and the president seemed at first a little uncertain on the point, but nevertheless determined to stick to his guns. He didn’t care, he said, who released the information: the newspapers and magazines should not have printed it!

Frankly floored by this unique view, the reporters tried to discover what the president meant—whether he held that there should he a sort of self-censorship of the press. The president dodged that one, but said he thought the newspapers and magazines ought to be as concerned about the safety of the country as he is, and should use judgment in such instances. No one asked why, if government agencies are releasing vital secret information, he does not do something to stop it. But the point was made that some of the information he mentioned came directly from the atomic energy commission’s annual reports, printed by the government, and sold to anyone who is interested. The president brushed that aside: he still doesn’t think the newspapers and magazines should print such material. Told that a Fortune magazine article he had mentioned was cleared through all responsible government agencies and some of the pictures and maps supplied by them—he still said the material should not have been published.

* * * * *

The corrective statement, issued by the White House secretaries soon after the conference, flatly contradicted the president—said, in effect, that material properly released by governmental agencies is publishable, without protest or recriminations.

All of which brings one down to the basic issue. What was the president’s reason for this strange performance? Does this sort of thing represent his best judgment? Or was he completely at sea on the subject, and simply “sounding off” in his lack of knowledge of what he was talking about, thereby getting himself into his ridiculous situation? At a time when the nation faces such grave problems, it is highly disconcerting, to say the least, to have such convincing proof that the chief executive is in the muddled state indicated at this press conference.

The final, deplorable indication of the slowness of his thinking in this situation involves his comment recently about the explosion of a second A bomb in Russia. [atomic bomb] At the press conference he lambasted the press—a segment of it—for having speculated, as a result of advices from reliable sources, as to when the Russian blast took place. At least a few papers said it was believed to have been three or four days before the president’s announcement. This was unthinkable, Mr. Truman said—revealing the time element, which thereby might endanger our sources of information indicating something of how they got their information out, etc.

And yet in a few moments the president absent-mindedly said he got word of the blast on Sept. 24!

Related links:

Motives And Dangers | Anti-Truman editorial, October 9, 1951

Just What Statements Are Lies? | The Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 1, 1951

George E. Sokolsky Blasts Truman’s Treatment of Korean War Veterans (Oct. 9, 1951)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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