136. News Policy Note From the Chief, Political Guidance Staff, Office of Policy and Plans, United States Information Agency (Pauker) to the Assistant Manager for Policy Application, IBS (Clarke); International Press Officer, IPS (Sayles); Information Specialist, ICS (Vogel); Visual Information Specialist, IMS (Broecker); and Political Officer, ITV (Ehrman)1
Civil Rights and Race Relations
The twin issue of civil rights and race relations is a major detraction to U.S. policy objectives in many countries.
Our difficulty is heightened by (1) genuine misunderstanding abroad of an extremely complex domestic problem, rooted in U.S. history and current U.S. economic, social and political realities, (2) [Page 355] commercial media coverage which misrepresents the situation by emphasizing sensational developments, on the principle that violence makes headlines while nonviolence makes dull reading, and (3) deliberate distortion by our enemies who are fostering and exploiting an impression of pervasive injustice and intolerance in the United States, a nation which claims to champion equality and equal opportunity.
Our essentially corrective task is to do everything possible to offset the effect of distortions and misrepresentations, dispel misunderstandings born of ignorance, incomplete information and oversimplification, and thus, where possible, obtain sympathetic understanding and support of interested nations for the national government’s civil rights efforts.
The issue, and the problems it creates at home and abroad, will be with us for a long time. While controversy and disorder are features of the situation, we shall not be able to undo wholly such unfavorable impressions of the United States as those features will inevitably generate; so our secondary corrective task is to show that controversy and disorder are inevitable by-products of the national drive to realize the ideals of equal rights and equal opportunities for all.
In his June 11 TV address2 and his June 19 message to Congress,3 President Kennedy set the tone for output and established the direction to follow: (1) Candor in recognizing the dimensions and complexity of the problem, (2) full and active Administration support of all measures required to solve the problem.
The President said: “The very struggles which are now calling worldwide attention to the problems are themselves signs of progress and the results of these struggles will be increasingly visible.”
Commercial media assure overseas awareness of the “struggles” and the “problems.” It is up to us to redress the balance by seeking to assure that the “progress” and the “results” are indeed increasingly visible.
Without sacrifice of candor in reporting major news, we must round out the picture by emphasizing all available evidence that the nation is moving to complete the task of providing equal rights and opportunities for all its citizens. This means:
(1) Giving priority to developments which show constructive movement toward solution of the problem at whatever level—national, regional, state, local. Bear in mind that—nationwide—more schools, [Page 356] theaters, restaurants, labor unions and public housing developments are integrated than are not; every new instance of integration adds to an already favorable balance. Graphic material on other subjects should show the high degree of integration which exists in many aspects of American life.
(2) Looking for and using sources which will give us a continuing flow of news about significant constructive developments, however unspectacular.
(3) Making a deliberate effort to background each positive item or positive sequence of items with materials to show that such developments are not unique but part of a mounting trend.
(4) Providing frequent, regularly scheduled recapitulations of positive developments to show consistent progress. When appropriate, in these recapitulations and in the course of regular reporting, we should recall official recognition of the enormity of the problem, as stated by the President in his June 11 speech and by Administration witnesses at Congressional hearings.4 Such candor should help reduce the unfavorable impact of legislative delays and renewed violence.
(5) Focusing attention on (a) the support of the majority of Americans for the goals of the civil rights movement and the programs, legislative and voluntary, which the President has proposed, (b) white participation in civil rights campaigns, and (c) the positive response of major elements of the nation—church groups, trade unions, women’s organizations, business and professional associations—to the President’s call for cooperation.
(6) Whenever possible, humanizing stories of civil rights efforts and advances. In feature form, we should tell the stories of prominent and less prominent individuals who help to win local gains.
(7) Giving prominence, in materials for special audiences (e.g., labor, women, students), to civil rights activities of their U.S. counterparts.
This treatment applies to output by all media—radio, press, publications, photos, films, television and exhibits. Volume of output to a given country should be commensurate with the need for corrective materials in that country. The media should consult with Area Policy Officers in determining the level of volume to specific countries.[Page 357]
(1) By Executive Order alone, the President can set reforms in motion. Federal and State legislatures can do so through legislation. The courts, both Federal and State, can do so through their rulings.
Look for and give prominence to such moves. But do not suggest that legislation, executive orders or court rulings—alone or in combination—can solve complex human relations problems wholly or finally. Solution will also require a wide range of voluntary, cooperative and continuing initiatives on the part of communities, professional, business, labor and other groups, and individuals.
The reasons for this—stemming from the nature of the U.S. political, social and economic structure—require explanation in commentary and other output. The Administration is actively encouraging voluntary, cooperative initiatives.
(2) No single day of Congressional hearings will fairly or accurately represent the course and prospects of the President’s proposals for civil rights legislation. Beyond the requirements of credibility, the fast media are not obliged to provide detailed, day-by-day accounts of civil rights proceedings in the Congress. Periodic situation reports, which permit fuller explanation of the legislative process and its intricacies, are preferable.
The testimony of witnesses who favor the President’s program often presents examples of progress, e.g., the successful application of existing antidiscrimination measures. We should watch for such items and include them in our periodic roundups.
We should avoid speculation about the outcome of Congressional action on specific features of the President’s legislative proposals, and relate passage of economic and social legislation—e.g., Federal support of job training—to the enhancement of equal opportunities for which the President’s total civil rights program calls.
(3) In explaining the nature of the U.S. federal system, we should make it clear that local police and law-enforcement officials are locally appointed and directed. Unlike the system in most countries, local police are not, in this country, under the control of the national government.
(4) We should bear in mind that, particularly in Africa, President Kennedy is a positive symbol of current U.S. efforts toward progress in civil rights.
The positive emphases which this guidance advocates are not intended to gloss over negative developments. It is a key feature of our open form of society that we disclose both rough and smooth sides of the way we work toward national ideals.
Therefore this guidance should not be interpreted as an injunction against reporting, in perspective, newsworthy unfavorable or contro[Page 358]versial developments or resistance to the Administration’s programs. However, local disturbances which are not likely to be exploited abroad should not be reported. Our positive emphases are intended to keep the national goal in sight—even when other sources of information, however motivated in their reporting of developments, tend to obscure that goal.
- Source: National Archives, RG 306, Office of Plans, General Subject Files, 1949–1970; Acc. #66–Y–0274, Entry UD WW 382, Box 117, Master Copies 1963. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Pauker, Gausmann, and Sorensen. The News Policy Note is attached to Infoguide No. 64–2, dated July 26 and entitled “Civil Rights and Race Relations,” which was sent by pouch to all USIS posts. The Infoguide stated: “The attached News Policy Note is the Agency’s guidance to the Media for treatment of U.S. civil rights and race relations. It is also intended to guide you in handling those subjects.”↩
- See footnote 2, Document 130.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 131.↩
- In late June and August, House and Senate committees, including the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees, held hearings on the Kennedy administration’s civil rights bill (see footnote 3, Document 131). (E.W. Kenworthy, “Politics Clouding Rights Issue,” The New York Times, June 30, 1963, p. 111) The Senate passed the Civil Rights Act, P.L. 88–352 (78 Stat. 241), on June 19, 1964, and President Johnson signed it into law on July 2.↩