Truman’s Press Censorship
October 9, 1951 — The Troy Record

The Mossadegh Project | November 10, 2016    

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

U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s attempts to muzzle the press (all in the name of national security, of course) outraged many in the media, including The Troy Record in New York, who produced this lengthy lead editorial. In fact, scathing editorials like this popped up all over the country.

Harry Truman editorial archive

Motives And Dangers

The more the President and his official spokesmen attempt to explain his recent censorship order, so much more are the American people justified in their distrust of the President’s motives.

The President tried to defend his position at his most recent press conference, but he succeeded only in baffling the White House press corps. So confused did the President leave the situation that his press secretary, Joseph Short, later issued a “clarifying” statement which only succeeded in compounding the confusion.

Mr. Truman led off by declaring that newspapers and magazines had published 95 per cent of the nation’s secret information. Pursuing this subject the correspondents discovered that Mr. Truman was referring chiefly to an article in Fortune Magazine, in which a map was printed showing the location of atomic energy plants. Also, the President said, papers had printed maps of principal cities with arrows pointing to key points.

It was then brought out that all of this information came either as direct handouts or was cleared by military agencies, qualified to release information, and to judge its security effects. In the case of the Fortune article, it was prepared in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Commission which furnished the ordered reprints for wider distribution.

It was at this point that Press Secretary Short stepped into the breach in an unsuccessful effort to give the thing a semblance of integrity. Short read a lecture on the duty and obligation of every citizen to protect the country. One of these duties—and this, of course, applied to newspaper reporters—is not to accept information from officials qualified to issue it because the judgment of the latter might not be good.

To simplify everything, it was the President’s intent, Short implied, to put the lid on all information.

In other words, he made it sound as if the President was trying to protect his department heads from their own errors. But this explanation is hardly acceptable.

A few days ago, when President Truman issued his iron-curtain order, it was to the effect that executive department heads should use their discretion about suppressing news that might be “embarrassing” to their agencies. The question is: Just whom is President Truman trying to protect by his self-ordained censorship?

In one breath it is the nation’s security he is defending from what he insultingly implies is an unpatriotic press; in the other it is department heads and government officials who are, in his opinion, too irresponsible to be permitted to talk for publication.

There is something frightening about all this double talk and what it may be leading to. If there is any serious danger to national security through publication of certain kinds of information, that can be handled without blanket censorship rules. A discussion of the matter between officials and representatives of the nation’s press could quickly arrive at an understanding.

As a matter of fact, the newspapers of the United States, observing self-imposed censorship during two world wars, are perhaps more aware right now of what can safely be told than Mr. Truman and his cronies are.

The disturbing thing is what lies behind this. Assuming that the President is sincere in his motives, is there anything in his record to assure the American public that it is safe to rely solely on his discretion of what they ought to know, to deliver into his hands the custody of the constitutional liberties? If these rights are waived now, is there any guarantee that a future President will not abuse them?

Are Americans to send their sons to die in foreign wars; are they to pay oppressive taxes, many of which represent waste; are they to accept a declining standard of living with no questions asked because, in the President’s opinion, the answers might be “embarrassing” to him?

If the President’s order stands, he will furnish the cue for every office holder on every level of government—state, county and municipal. Everywhere it will be the executive, from President to dog catcher, who will decide—and always to his own political advantage—what the public should know.

When that happens, the lights of freedom in this land of constitutional liberties will flicker out.

The Crisis Technique | Bruce Barton on Emergency Powers (1951)
The Crisis Technique | Bruce Barton on Emergency Powers

Related links:

He Smells A Dictator — Anti-Eisenhower letter in The Chicago Tribune, July 10, 1953

Mossadegh Appears Ready For BusinessThe Troy Record, October 9, 1951

We Asked For ItThe Times Record, November 19, 1951

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

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